By Abby Wargo
The Chestertown Board of Appeals has denied a request to temporarily rezone a Washington College property for office purposes.
In a 3-0 decision, the Board denied the College’s request, which they said was only a temporary fix to an ongoing problem. Board member Anne Vansant said they were “not confident in the College’s intentions” with the building.
WC had requested the rezoning of 305 Washington Ave., which is currently registered as an R-2 single family residential, in order to house the Office of Information Technology department. The proposed rezoning, which was denied by Board members Steven Atkinson, Vansant, and Lanetta Parks, would only be in effect for three years while a permanent office could be located for OIT. After an office building fire in August 2015, 24 employees were displaced.
“Since that time, we keep having to hopscotch these groups of people,” said Construction Project Manager Reid Raudenbush.
If OIT had been cleared to move, different departments would have been shifted around to allow for studio art space for the art department, he said.
“In our need for space, the idea came to us that we could move a department of people into 305 Washington Ave. to free up space,” he said.
One previous rezoning application, filed Dec. 27, which intended to relocate Human Resources, was denied. The Thursday, Feb. 8 application was different because the rezoning did not have “an open-ended use,” Raudenbush said, but a finite period.
“We hope to be able to build our way out of our space problem during that time,” he said. “When we have space, we’re able move groups around and free up other space.”
The College has plans for several projects, including the Hodson boathouse—which is already under construction—and the Semans-Griswold environmental science building, which is expected to begin this fall. There is currently a bill for a $4 million grant in the Maryland state legislature to build another phase of Cromwell Hall, which is planned for 2019, according to Raudenbush.
The three-year rezoning request allows for construction to progress and “put[s] an end date” on the College’s use of the house.
Another difference in the rezoning appeals that Raudenbush cited to the Board included the different functions that OIT serves as opposed to HR. Unlike HR, they do not receive visitors, and the building would not need to be altered for their use. Additionally, Raudenbush proposed adding more faculty parking spots in the Brown Street lot to eliminate street overflow parking.
Alexander and Sue Dick, Chestertown residents, sent a letter to the Board which said that parking was an issue with College-owned residential buildings and that the College will not use the building “as it was intended.”
“Those of us in close proximity to 305 would like it to be used as zoned…[it] would add greatly to the neighborhood and slow down that squeezed feeling that we are getting,” Dick wrote in the letter, read by Vansant.
John Massey, who owns property behind all four of the WC-owned houses, said that parking in the Brown Street lot was, and would continue to be, an issue. Students and faculty unable to park in that lot often park in front of his garage, according to his wife, Jan.
“When I stand at my kitchen window, I want to see residential houses, not an office,” John Massey said.
Jan Massey also spoke against the rezoning. She said that College students and employees “tie up” the Brown Street alley with parking issues.
Ruth Wilson, another neighbor of 305, said that she wanted to see more families move into the neighborhood, and that she was concerned that the College would slowly rezone the entire area.
“I hate to see these beautiful homes turned into offices,” she said.
The two houses adjacent to 305, 307 and 309 Washington Ave., are already zoned for institutional use. Currently, they are being used for Advancement and are not scheduled to be rezoned as residential. 301 Washington Ave. is also owned by the College, and is used as a rental home for staff.
“We will certainly look at these four houses and the rest of the College for our long range plan…this need for OIT space, for art studio space, and all these other needs that we currently have, would be considered by the master plan in giving us a road map on what to build and where to build in the future,” Raudenbush said.
Joe Holt, who works in 307 as a part of the Advancement department, said that although some of the four buildings have been rezoned, all four properties remain on WC’s tax roll.
The College’s closing remarks were delivered by Dean of Students Patrice DiQuinzio, who cited the temporary rezoning as a necessity to provide studio space for art professors who need to produce work to stay current in their field.
The Board deliberated following the testimonies. Vansant said she was “leery” of the College moving down the avenue and buying out all of the houses surrounding campus. The Board unanimously agreed to deny the rezoning request.