By Grace Apostol
Despite the withdrawal of their application last fall, Washington College has since
resubmitted a request application for demolition of the Chestertown John H. Newman
On Sept. 8, 2023, the College formally submitted their permit application to the
Historic District of Chestertown.
Signed by President of WC Dr. Mike Sosulski, the application read, “WC reluctantly
seeks a demolition permit for the Chestertown Armory. This request is based on the
environmental studies that show lead and asbestos contamination and more
significantly, a high level of mold contamination.”
According to Kees de Mooy, zoning administrator for Chestertown, the Historic District
Commission originally approved unanimously the initial request by the College in 2022,
but then rebuked it due to “procedural errors in the College’s application, including that
the request had not been filed 25 days before the meeting as required.”
Since this original decline of approval, the College has since been working to rectify
their application for demolition, and include missing elements.
“One of the main missing elements was clarification from the State of Maryland
regarding a restrictive covenant that was in the deed of sale when the Armory was
conveyed to the College, which stipulated that the property could ‘be used solely for
governmental and/or educational purposes,’” de Mooy said.
Because of the question arising whether the College’s usage of the Armory as a
potential hotel and conference center could be deemed educational, according de
Mooy, the Board of Public Works convened on July 5, 2023 to provide “clarifying
language” that is now in the Confirmatory Deed in WC’s application noted at “Exhibit I”.
The College’s Vice President of Marketing and Communications Brian Speer also
spoke on this question of whether the project and demolition would be deemed
“The facts of the project largely remain the same,” Speer said. “As part of the
resubmission of the applications we sought clarification from the State of Maryland
regarding whether the proposed use for the site would adhere to the deed’s stipulations
for educational use. The State has agreed that the proposed hotel and conference
center would meet those stipulations.”
Speer also said that the original application from the College was revoked “in the spirit
of providing additional information. The intent was always to reapply once the additional
work was completed.”
Environmental reports have been conducted on the building, stating that the “current
state of the facility made renovation prohibitive.”
According to Speer and the application submitted by the College, the mold penetrates
throughout the building.
“The issues around the extent of the mold present major barriers for potential
investors who see no upside to attempting to repurpose a building that will present
ongoing health risks,” Speer said. “As a result, removing the building and replacing it
with new construction that will commemorate both the historic building and the
contributions of the 115th regiment present the best-case scenario to make use of the
property and to provide much needed hotel space for the benefit of the College, town,
Now that the application is resubmitted, the counsel will convene to decide on the fate
of the armory.
“Demolition applications are typically a two-step process,” de Mooy said. “The first
meeting is to determine whether the Armory is a contributing building in the Town’s
Historic District, and if so, whether the building can be restored. Given that the Armory
is considered a contributing building and that the College’s contention is that the
building cannot be saved, the decision to permit – or not – the demolition would be
deferred to the following HDC meeting on Nov. 1.”
Speer believes that this demolition will be approved but understands the community
will “lament” this loss.
“Personally, I think the current plan is the best option,” he said. “The building sits on
prime real estate along the Chester River and having a hotel and a conference center
there would be of great interest and benefit to both the College and the community as a
Photo Caption: The John H. Newman Armory is located on the Chester River in Chestertown and
has been under WC contract for several years.
Elm Archive Photo