ST MICHAELS — It was the specter of having public bathrooms near their properties that was the last straw for several citizens who protested about the formation of a veteran’s park near the eastern entrance of town during the Sept. 10 legislative meeting of the Commissioners of St. Michaels.
A committee has organized in the last several months to try turn the 19,110-square-foot property at Talbot Street and Boundary Lane into a veterans park, with restrooms, town parking and, at the very end, a museum or visitors center of sorts out of a tiny historic St. Michaels train station that could be moved there.
The committee includes Commissioner Michael Bibb, Tad duPont, Jeff Knapp, Kurt Gant, Joan McNamara, Doug Rollo and more recently, Langley Shook.
The property is owned by the town and it has been proposed that the features at the area could be paid for by private funding and grant monies. In the same way that the St. Mary’s Square Museum is a private building on town property, a private five-member nonprofit organization would take care of the area.
It would involve the establishment of a Maryland non-profit corporation and the obtaining of IRS recognition of tax exempt status, Kurt Gant said.
A plan view, developed by Gant, showed the addition of 16 new public parking spaces for the town and a large, circular walkway that incorporates flagpoles displaying colors from each branch of the U.S. military, honoring veterans, along with first responders.
Other features include a large, central tree that could be lit for the holidays and a welcome sign.
The old St. Michaels railroad station, a small building proposed to be moved from its current location on North Street to the property and turned into sort of a museum and visitor center, is one of the more significant features of the plan.
“That railroad station is the only piece of railroad history that the town has left,” Tad duPont said. “And the railroad was a big part of the town. It moved all the stuff from the canneries, all the stuff from the mill, all the stuff, passengers from the Claiborne Ferry.”
Public restrooms on the plan, sequestered at the back of the eastern end of the property, caused alarm among many residents of Boundary Lane.
“I’m concerned about what’s going next door to me,” Louise Hunt said, of 101 Boundary Lane. “About the public restrooms. I don’t want a public bathroom next to my bedroom. What can I do?”
Hunt was also concerned about a planned lane that would run down beside her house.
“There is absolutely no reason why anyone should allow public restrooms in anybody’s residential neighborhood,” Joyce Boyer said, another Boundary Lane resident. “That is ridiculous. Much less outside her bedroom window.”
“Those public restrooms are not going to be used for anything pleasant,” she said, adding that she did not care about the memorial or museum.
Boyer said that she had seen armbands from drug use cast off as trash on the St. Michaels walking paths.
She said that public restrooms with running water would be a magnet for drug abusers.
Sue Waite said she has lived on Boundary Lane for more than 25 years and felt that the lane has frequently been forgotten as an actual part of St. Michaels. She was against public restrooms, and agreed that bathrooms would attract drug abuse activity. She suggested putting bathrooms at the beginning of the St. Michaels walking path or Muskrat Park.
Peter Byrne, who said he had been a resident of St. Michaels for only ten days, said he was against the park.
Maple Avenue and South Talbot Street resident Denise Stewart said she liked the ideas, but putting a private building on public land would create difficulties.
Denny Stewart, with the same address, said he thought the property should be sold as residential.
Resident Linnette Rivera, who had experience working for the state, said she did not think unattended bathrooms or an unattended museum or visitors center were good ideas.
Donna Hunt of 104 East Chew said there was nothing wrong with the project, but thought it does not belong there. She said she thought bathrooms and a memorial should be put where the current town office is on Mill Street after the new town office is built.
John Stewart, of 705 Talbot, offered a counterpoint. He helped get a playground established in another city and there was similar resistance among the residents and businesses.
He said the fears were real and concerns legitimate, but after the project was completed, the things the residents were worried about did not happen.
“I’m one of the people who’s putting this together,” Kurt Gant said. “And just from the comments I’ve heard about the bathrooms I would say it’s not a good idea to put them there.”
“This is a handful of people trying to do something good for the community,” he said. “We are not trying to force anything on anybody. We are just here to get suggestions and input from people so we can make something great for everybody. Something we are all proud of.”
“My take on this has been on this, from the beginning, I really love when we are restoring something historic,” Commissioner Jaime Windon said. “I really love this property and the railroad throughout your presentations.”
“The biggest issue is the overwhelming response to the site and the location,” she said. “I haven’t heard anybody arguing any other thing except for the location.”
She said she wanted to be supportive of the project but she did not think she wanted to support it in that particular place.
“I would say this is not a good place for a bathroom,” Kurt Gant said.
“Well if you are looking for suggestions, it seems like you got a bunch,” Commissioners President Bill Boos said to Gant.
Nearly all who spoke agreed the railroad station should be saved. Many offered alternate locations for a veterans memorial park and place for the station, including Bradley Park, St. Mary’s Square, and the location of the current town office on Mill Street.
It was also suggested that the restrooms at the Bay Hundred Community Pool could somehow be made available to the public to serve the demand in the Eastern part of town.
The Commissioners did not make any decision regarding the creation of the park on the Boundary Lane property. Several members of the committee, including Gant and duPont, said they were not going to give up on their ideas.
“I am always very thrilled when this room is incredibly full and to hear comments that I hear on the street from my neighbors,” Windon said. “This is only a proposal. It is very much in the speculative process, which is exactly when you should show up and loudly tell us exactly how you feel so it doesn’t go further.
“Just so everyone knows, nothing has happened,” Windon said.