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The Granary's developer, architect have big plans for Easton

EASTON — Adaptive reuse. Sustainability. Green architecture.

This is the envisioned future of a planned redevelopment that would convert 10 silos now owned by Perdue Farms in downtown Easton into at least 40 residential units.

The Granary at Easton is being proposed by SVN Miller Commercial Real Estate and its partnership with a local architect Mitch Hager. Project proponents are calling the adaptive reuse of the old silos the the most ambitious development the town has ever seen.

“We’re saving the old grain bin complex and rejuvenating it with a really sustainable approach to construction,” Hager said. “I’m biased, but the project is quite beautiful. ... The idea for the project was really driven by how can we take the history and legacy of this place and really honor it.”

The Granary will evolve from an old, 2.4-acre Perdue parcel of property off Higgins Street, Maryland Avenue and Needwood Avenue, close to the Rails-to-Trails. The 10 silos will be converted into apartment-like structures with various housing types, including condominiums, workforce and affordable units, and penthouses — while retaining the cylindrical shape of the silos with an updated and sleek, polished look.

SVN Miller CRE and Hager are looking for development partners and potential buyers to help bring the ambitious designs to life.

The roofs of the silos, the highest landmark in Easton, will have rooftop gardens and views of the town. The yard space on the property has the potential to include a community pool and small parkland, and four hoppers (or smaller silos) on site could include additional amenities for residents,

Easton — and the Eastern Shore — has never seen anything like The Granary, and the project is indicative of a futuristic transformation of the town and a novel approach to sustainable and green architecture on the Delmarva Peninsula, Hager said.

Bob Greenlee, the managing director of the Easton office for SVN, said the project will “put Easton on the map.”

“For sure on the Eastern seaboard,” he added. “It does as Mitch says — connects legacy, history, culture, agricultural and residential (aspects) — it connects all the important things that created Easton in the first place.”

The Granary is the brainchild of Greenlee, a longtime real estate developer who worked with Oxford Commercial for 17 years before joining SVN. An expert in the field, he’s put in about $6 billion worth of development work on the Eastern Shore.

He’s in tight partnership with Hager, a private architect now living in Easton. The two became fast friends when they met at a local rowing club, Eastern Shore Community Rowers.

Greenlee had been aware of Perdue Farm’s interest in selling the Easton silos since 2007, when the poultry company contacted him to look at the site. In 2017, Greenlee joined SVN, and during the summer of 2020 Perdue tapped him again to look at the property.

“Perdue asked us to appraise the property, and as I was going through that exercise, I saw a lot of value on the site — the infrastructure, the grain bins,” said Greenlee. “So why don’t we create mini-houses? That’s where it all started. Apartments, condominiums, sizable, high ceilings. How can we maximize Perdue’s value?”

When Greenlee discussed his idea with Hager at the rowing club, the two instantly connected on the project, seeing similar visions for the site. It was especially exciting for Hager because the architect had moved for the first time to the Eastern Shore in 2012 to design a family house in Easton that built the foundations for his future work.

The house, which The Star Democrat toured, sits behind a driveway in a quiet neighborhood off Oxford Road. The driveway takes you through a small meadow field to a wide, rectangular house on the Tred Avon.

Inside are high ceilings and wide open spaces, replete with large windows. The home mostly uses a sustainable wood foundation.

The family home was Hager’s first open space and sustainable design, and he considers it a precursor to The Granary. But converting silos into homes is still a major step up for the architect.

“Sustainability is my first priority, and this is to me is by far the most exciting project I have worked on to date,” he said.

After Greenlee drafted him for The Granary, Hager spent countless hours on a video presentation for the project, and then drew up sketches and mockups of the silo conversion.

The 10 steel silos, each a 10-foot-by-48-foot structure in size, will largely remain as is (but will be painted over and modernized), at least on the exterior. Developers will remove the tops, or roofs, of the structures to convert the space into rooftops and insulate the housing units from storms.

With the interior, each individual residential unit will be constructed off site and essentially inserted and stacked into the silos. Hager envisions about four units per silo for maximum efficiency.

In his design, Hager has stuck to green infrastructure, eliminating materials like concrete and brick, and opting instead for cross-laminated timber (CLT) for the interior of the housing units. CLT is a lightweight but sturdy and sustainable wood. The units are expected to be airy, with lots of space and large windows, all inviting in a flood of natural light.

The CLT material, airiness of the units, and the general adaptive reuse of existing infrastructure not only reduces needed structural material and required insulation, but will save residents money in energy savings.

It also benefits the developers, saving them money in the long run and allowing them to design anything from an actual penthouse to an affordable apartment unit. Hager said they would be “driving down costs” with the sustainable approach. The end result is flexibility with housing units, and an attractive development for people of all demographics.

“The key is the overall use of space,” said Hager. “The luxury is the atmosphere of the units. Any age group could live in it.”

Each unit will, at least, have two beds, two-and-a-half bathrooms, and a private balcony or rooftop access. The units will average about 1,300 square feet but can be customized for potential buyers and residents.

Hager said a crucial aspect of The Granary is consistency, which surprisingly coincides with diversity in his design plan.

“The way it’s designed is you can make any silo convertible. All these units work where they can stack on top of each other,” he explained. “We have four different types of housing units, but the outside shell of the silo is identical between each unit. They all fit in the same overview. But diversity is really key (in the unit design). And that’s the power of it.”

Greenlee added that the housing units will be “enhanced” in some extremely unique ways. The design also includes inverted roofs to divert rainfall off the sides of the buildings, creating a tranquil pattering sound as it falls.

And the rooftops are envisioned an entire world to themselves, with refined egresses, connected stairwells and catwalks, and earthy gardens.

Since going public with the design, Greenlee and Hager have received a lot of feedback — most of it positive — from the community, including a number of potential buyers. SVN plans to begin development of the units off-site once they land a majority of the buyers for the project.

Greenlee estimates the project will be completed in four years, a shorter time frame than usual for this scale of development, given the infrastructure already exists and only needs to be converted.

Additionally, the housing units should be relatively quick and easy to develop and apply to the silos once submitted for off-site construction.

“The other thing that drives this is iteration, repetition,” Greenlee added, “which drives down cost when repeating units.”

Both Hager and Greenlee are moving fast on the development. Since it’s their largest and most ambitious project yet, both see it as something of a “testing ground” for their bigger and bolder plans on the Mid-Shore.

CLT material, as well as sustainable and green infrastructure, are becoming the future of real estate and construction globally, with New York City a prime example of modernizing buildings in a smarter, more climate-friendly way. The city imposed strict regulations in 2019, capping emissions from large buildings and skyscrapers, and forcing many owners and developers to rethink how they construct buildings, to inevitably design them in a more sustainable way.

While sustainable designs and architecture are fast becoming the norm elsewhere, little of it has been seen over on the Eastern Shore to date.

Hager and Greenlee plan to change that.

Hager has a “lifelong passion” for sustainability, especially in light of climate change, and has been fascinated with architecture since adolescence. He won an international architecture competition sponsored by the Walt Disney Company when he was 18, and has closely followed other sustainable projects from famous architects, including a similar silo conversion project in Germany.

Looking ahead, both Hager and Greenlee have already identified another area for a potential. project like The Granary on the Mid-Shore. If The Granary is a success, as they predict, the partners expect to accomplish even more on the Shore — but first, they’ll start with Easton.

“Easton does not know the assets it has that could make it an unbelievable town,” added Hager. “We are utilizing what is there (while) keeping the identity of the place intact.”

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Easton gets $16.4 million from federal COVID relief for grant program to help local businesses, nonprofits, community

EASTON — The town of Easton is getting $16.4 million from the federal pandemic spending package passed in March and will use the money to launch a COVID-19 relief grant program for residents, small businesses and non-profit organizations, while also upgrading crucial town infrastructure.

Easton plans to spend all the money by the end of 2024. The town received half of the funding — $8.2 million — on Aug. 12. The remaining funds are expected to arrive in August of 2022, according to the town. The money comes from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Act.

The spending bill was passed by Congress earlier this year to help alleviate the coronavirus pandemic’s impact, and the bill was signed by President Biden on March 11.

Tracy Ward, executive director for the Easton Economic Development Corporation, applauded Easton for working with the federal government to get the funding during the pandemic.

“Easton is to be commended for its prompt action on this relief program that will result in critical one-time investments strengthening the town’s economic base,” she said.

The coronavirus pandemic has hurt many businesses, nonprofits and workers impacted by shutdowns, restrictions and changes in consumer and business spending.

Easton will financially support small businesses, non-profits and impacted industries through the grant program.

All Easton non-profit and business owners that have been in operation since at least January 2020, and can show a loss of revenue or expenses incurred since March 3, 2021, are encouraged to fill out an application at: https://eastonmd.gov/562/American-Rescue-Plan-Application.

Applications will be approved, and monies will be disbursed on a rolling basis. There is no application period with a specific open and close date.

Easton will set up a committee, made up of its finance officers, that will review and recommend approval of applications, which will be formalized after the Easton Town Council votes on the recommendations.

ARPA funds will also assist workers performing essential work during the COVID-19 public health emergency by providing premium pay to eligible workers. And it will benefit Easton by supplementing the loss of revenue for the town, and help with necessary investments in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure.

The town does not have a breakdown on the exact allocation of funds, but Mayor Robert Willey said Easton will prioritize its needs in a specific order with the goal to “help a lot of people and businesses. We will do our best to get it into needed hands as quickly as possible.”

“I would expect the council to zero in on those projects where the most people are affected i.e., drainage and flooding issues, non-profits that serve the greater number of people, ones that have not previously received funding,” he said in an email. “Infrastructure needs, public safety issues, small businesses and non-profits would be the order to categorize applications. The council has the discretion to change the order mentioned.”

Still, businesses and non-profits should get a large share of funding. Willey said that Easton “intend(s) to honor as many requests as possible and fund the many necessary infrastructure repairs and upgrades.”

“In many cases, we will be adding amenities to the town that will benefit everyone, such as park improvements, environmental upgrades, streetscapes,” he said in a press release. “The process of application reviews will take a significant amount of time, so as always, your patience will be appreciated.”

Charlie Connolly, Easton’s assistant finance officer, said this was a “unique, generational opportunity for the town.”

“We need to ensure that this one-time infusion of funds has lasting impacts on the families and businesses of Easton.”

Activists counter county's arguments in Talbot Boys lawsuit

EASTON — The contentious legal battle over the Talbot Boys Confederate monument deepened after plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit filed opposing arguments to Talbot County’s June motion to dismiss the lawsuit in its entirety.

Attorneys representing the civil rights groups and individuals in the suit filed the opposing motion on August 13 in response to the county’s claims of no actual evidence of injuries from the statue and a lack of legal standing.

The plaintiffs asserted that Talbot County’s response in June “presents the viewpoint of a majority white legislative body as though it were fact, while avoiding any serious effort to confront the cruelty and illegality of its conduct toward Black people.”

To help illustrate their argument that the Confederate monument is a lasting offensive symbol of slavery and its legacy in America, counsel for the plaintiffs compared the impacts that the statue has on Black Americans to that of other historical markers of cruelty.

“Do reasonable people today doubt that displays of Nazi iconography are not merely offensive to decent people generally, but downright cruel to Jewish people in particular, especially those of families whose loved ones suffered directly in the concentration camps and Jewish ghettos of Europe?” the opposition motion reads. “Legalities aside, would anyone seriously question the cruelty to German Jews in particular were the German parliament to erect statues of Hitler or soldiers of the SS?”

Counsel for the plaintiffs asserted that the county’s claim of no specific and particular injury is “simply false.” The county also questions the standing of the plaintiffs to challenge the Confederate memorial’s location. The Talbot Boys was erected on the courthouse lawn in Easton in 1916.

To further support their arguments, counsel also brought up the modern understanding of how mental health is just as important as physical health. Although no physical injury is documented, the actual psychological and emotional injuries it inflicts on Black residents is similar to that of the trauma and sense of inferiority caused by the separate but equal doctrine, according to the motion.

Individual plaintiffs Kisha Petticolas, the sole Black public defender for Talbot County, and Richard Potter, president of the Talbot County branch of the NAACP, both filed personal declarations to accompany the opposition.

Petticolas, who’s practiced law in Talbot County for 15 years, stated that passing by the Confederate monument on the courthouse lawn frequently in her role as a public defender is a “trauma” she’s endured over and over again — a presence that “feels like a knife lodged in my soul,” she said.

“The statue causes a pain that cuts deeply; one that I have learned to swallow every time I walk into the courthouse,” she wrote. “The statue has created a wound that never truly gets the chance to heal.”

Petticolas also discussed the impacts that the statue’s presence has not only on her African-American clients, but on any non-white attorney going into the courthouse. The resulting attitude around race relations from the monument makes it more difficult to create a welcoming environment for all, and may even prevent the Talbot County Office of the Public Defender from hiring and keeping more diverse attorneys.

For Potter, seeing the Confederate monument on the courthouse lawn evokes feelings of frustration, disappointment and exhaustion every time he passes it.

“I feel that the presence of the statue is a harsh physical reminder that my voice and opinion—and all Black resident’s voices and opinions—are meaningless to the county,” Potter wrote. “Its presence gives license to and encourages racial divisions in Talbot County.”

Several democratic elected officials also want the monument removed from the courthouse lawn.

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh issued a statement supporting removal of the statue on Aug. 11, mentioning that the Talbot Boys and similar Confederate statues were erected during the Jim Crow segregation era. The statue serves as a “painful reminder” of slavery and degradation of black citizens, he said.

“Worse, it suggests that these ideals are still endorsed within our most critical institutions,” Frosh wrote. “It is not simply a vestige of slavery and white supremacy from long ago, but a sign of enduring resistance to racial equality.”

In an exclusive interview with The Star Democrat last week, current comptroller of Maryland and gubernatorial candidate Peter Franchot expressed strong support for removing the Talbot Boys statue from the courthouse lawn.

“I, as governor, promise that we will melt that down,” Franchot said during an interview on his campaign for the state’s highest elected office. “We’ll make door knobs out of it.”

Some residents from Talbot County continue to voice their desire to remove the statue viewing as sign of slavery and white supremacy while others want it to stay arguing it has historical significance. Many supporters from the Move the Monument Coalition have donned yellow shirts and attended county council meetings to publicly comment on the statue.

On Friday, members of the Move the Monument Coalition, community faith leaders and small business advocate from across the state filed amicus briefs — legal briefs submitted to federal court by supportive non-parties in the case — to provide additional support in the argument to remove the monument.

Responses from Talbot County on the opposition and amicus briefs are expected in the next few weeks. Public comments from those in support of removing the monument and from those wanting to keep the monument are likely to be heard at the August 24 Talbot County Council Meeting.

Natalie Jones is a reporter at The Star Democrat in Easton covering crime, health, education and Talbot County Council. You can reach her with questions, comments or tips at njones@chespub.com.

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