PoP Take-Aways: May 17 Planning Commission Meeting

The following is an important timeline of events related to the recent Willshire site-visit by MD Department of Planning (MDP) officials. In light of the reporting of this issue in The Monocacy Monocle we feel the need to clarify.

·       At former meetings, the Planning Commission (PC) was encouraged by citizens to get input from other State and County Planning and Historic Preservation experts on how best to preserve our small-town character and historic resources while developing the Willshire site.

·       On April 6, Nell Zhiehl (Preservation Planning and Museum Programs) and Steven Allen (Regional Planner) of the MDP visited the town for a tour given by PC Chair Cal Sneed, Town Commission Chair Jim Brown, and Town Manager Wade Yost.

·       The agenda for the May 17 PC meeting listed “a report dealing with a meeting between Town Officials and MDP regarding the proposed Willshire development.” The report was from notes taken by Yost, not from the experts at MDP.

·       Sneed’s report of the meeting was as follows: he, Brown, and Yost met with Ziehl and Allan from MDP. Town Commissioner Jerry Klobukowski joined mid-meeting by chance, as he happened to be at Town Hall when the group returned from their tour around town. Sneed reported that they drove around the site and that Ziehl stated that the Willshire property has no historical significance* but it is important to have a buffer zone near the John Poole House. [*It’s our understanding that, in the language of preservation and planning professionals, the phrase ‘historical significance’ means physical historical or archaeological traces present on (or in) the ground that require special treatment. When MDP states that there is “no historical significance” at a site, they are stating that there is no need for a site survey or archaeological recovery work; they are not commenting on the broader historical importance of the property. The site is, after all, within the Town’s historic district. This is a good example of why a full, expert report of the meeting and related findings would be helpful.]

·       Sneed also reported that Allan looked at the Master Plan and stated that the Overlay Zone fits with state growth initiatives, the issue of unlimited density aside. Both Ziehl and Allan said decreasing the density and going back and forth is going in the right direction and both Ziehl and Allan are open to having future meetings with Town Officials.

·       During the comment period Town Commissioners, Martin Radigan and Klobukowski, and other citizens provided comments and expressed concern about the closed nature of the meeting (PC members and Commissioners were not invited) and the decision to not request the follow-up report from experts at MDP, offered free-of-charge to the Town.

·       Chairman Sneed’s response to limiting the tour participants was that he did not want to overwhelm the State officials.

·       Planning Commissioner Kevin Schramm stated that he was surprised to see there was a meeting and wished that he would have been invited. Sneed said it is his decision to make, who is invited and when.

·       Sneed noted that in a conversation with Zhiel she complained of a citizen who contacted her via phone and addressed her/the issue in a vitriolic manner. Sneed named a desire to protect Ms. Ziehl from further abuse as one reason he unilaterally decided not to request a formal report from MD. 

·       Commissioner Klobukowski stated that he felt that an email invitation should have gone out to the PC board and the Town Commissioners about the meeting. 

·       Radigan agreed with Klobukowski and stated that he emailed Ziehl and asked for a copy of the report and was told that she would not write a report of the meeting unless the PC requested it. Sneed said there was no reason to request the report because they were doing nothing more than information gathering. Sneed initially stated “we” (presumably the PC) discussed and decided not to request the report. When pressed by Radigan, he clarified that it was his unilateral decision to not ask for the report.

·       Sneed stated that they were waiting for the final proposal before considering asking for a report. When asked by Radigan if he would schedule another meeting with the MDP, Sneed said he wasn’t sure yet.

·       Schramm asked again why they wouldn’t have Ziehl submit a written summary of the meeting.  Sneed told him to make a motion for a vote if he wants to. Schramm made a motion to request a written summary. Tims seconded Schramm’s motion for a vote. Tims, Schramm, and Chuck Stump voted for the motion; Sneed and Bupp voted against the motion.

·       Several citizens thanked Kevin Schramm for making the motion to ask for an official report.

Wade Yost reported that he attended a meeting with Willshire developer Miller & Smith and the Historic Medley District (HMD) about the arboretum at the John Poole House and that the HMD did not want to make any commitments at this time. Yost said that the PC should expect a new plan from Miller & Smith by June 17 and that the new plan was looking as if it would not contain town homes.