Expansion Issues Discussed at Beach Forum
Chesapeake Beach, MD - 10/24/2012
By Marty Madden
A dozen candidates vying for the six seats on the Chesapeake Beach Town Council answered audience questions Tuesday, Oct. 23 during a two-hour candidates’ forum. The event was held at Northeast Community Center and sponsored by the Calvert County Chapter of the League of Women Voters. League officials reported approximately 130 people in attendance.
Five incumbent councilmembers—Patrick J. “Irish” Mahoney, Stewart Cumbo, Dr. Valerie Beaudin, Julie Spano and Robert Carpenter—are seeking re-election. The seven non-incumbents in the running are Gail Harris, David Hendry, Jeffrey LaBar, Wes Donovan, Jeff Krahling, Frank Purdy and Eric Reinhardt.
Issues discussed included economic development, residential growth, infrastructure and—an issue driven by political will—annexation. The annexation issue is one that is potentially looming in the next four years depending on the makeup of the six member panel.
“I oppose it,” said Mahoney, who is seeking his fifth term on the council. Mahoney referenced a proposed development that would have been comprised of 400 town houses in an area just outside the town limits. The large number of units would only be allowable with a connection to public sewer. The development was proposed in 2009 and caused alarm among the Calvert County Board of County Commissioners, who were concerned such a plan would overcrowd public schools and cause additional gridlock on Route 261. The Developer, Brooke Kaine, withdrew his proposal when it became clear the town council majority did not favor annexation. The proposed development, said Mahoney, “would create 1,000 new cars passing by Beach Elementary School.”
“Overcrowding in schools, that’s a conversation we need to have,” said Beaudin, who in her opening comments expressed a desire to “maintain the small town charm” of Chesapeake Beach.
“I can’t see another 400 homes going up,” said Spano, who stated in her opening remarks the election was about whether residents “want to live in the town of Chesapeake Beach or the city of Chesapeake Beach.”
LeBar, who has chaired the town’s planning commission for five years, pointed out Kaine’s proposed development, although it would be downsized if it remained outside the town limits, would yield pollutants that would go into the bay. He added the additional development would add to the town’s revenues. “Annexation—if someone is going to pay your bills for the next 15 years and you turn your back on it?”
“If your septic systems are working you don’t have to worry about the bay,” said Harris, who indicated it would be a mistake to facilitate a large subdivision through annexation without addressing road and school issues first. “You need the infrastructure first,” said Harris.
“I’m against annexation,” Reinhardt. “I just don’t see how annexation benefits the town of Chesapeake Beach.”
“Who gets the money? Who gets the property tax?” Carpenter asked. “Do we want the money or do we want the county to get the money?”
“You have to be open-minded,” said Donovan, who noted the town has only sold 72 sewer taps in the past two years. Donovan also pointed out that the comparable subdivision of Richfield Station has yielded tax revenues that have provided several amenities for the town.
“Annexation is not a bad word,” said Purdy. “The council controls what’s built.”
Residential growth, said Cumbo, “has made Chesapeake Beach. It has allowed us to provide amenities and services.”
Krahling pointed out that Richfield Station could potentially add an additional 200 dwelling units and there were approximately 400 other properties within the town limits where additional residential growth could occur. “We don’t need to go any further,” said Krahling.
“The current plan is for 60 homes and it’s not going into the town,” said Hendry, who moved to Chesapeake Beach four years ago. “I’m not for annexation.”
As to what could make Chesapeake Beach a better town, candidates offered several opinions in responding to the audience questions.
“We need a friendly government,” said Mahoney, in response to a question about small business development. “We’ve been a one-company town.”
Beaudin called the “empty store fronts” in town “unacceptable.” She suggested a “tax holiday for two years” for town businesses.
That suggestion brought a rebuff from Donovan, whose family owns and operates the Rod ‘N’ Reel Restaurant and Chesapeake Resort and Spa. “The town doesn’t have taxing authority,” said Donovan, who added Chesapeake Beach has “a very business friendly tax rate and business friendly utility rate.”
“We have things that bring businesses to town,” said Krahling, who added Chesapeake Beach needed a stronger alliance with North Beach regarding the promotion of local businesses.
Reinhardt indicated better communication was needed between local government and residents. He noted many residents were unaware of the ongoing issue of water and sewer rates. “We obviously have a transparency issue,” said Reinhardt. He also urged the town council to “adopt a hands-off approach” when dealing with local business.
“I won’t kick the can down the road,” Purdy pledged, referencing several issues, including the restructuring of utility rates that have been delayed by town officials.
“I’m not anti-anything, I’m pro-Chesapeake Beach,” said LeBar, who added the planning commission created a ‘business corridor’ when it revised the town’s comprehensive plan. LeBar noted a majority of the council voted the proposal down.
“We have to stop overbuilding the homes,” said Spano, who declared, “I support small businesses around here.”
“I think we have an incredibly friendly government,” said Carpenter, who lamented that a majority of his “colleagues” decided to discontinue funding for the Beach Trolley.
Harris, who said she has over 30 years of experience in local government in Northern Virginia, indicated the town next needs to revisit the zoning issues that have been placed on the backburner.
Cumbo, who has served three terms on the council, said Chesapeake Beach needs to do additional marketing to promote itself as a tourist town.
Mayor Bruce Wahl is running unopposed for a second term. According to LWV policy, unopposed candidates are excluded from the forum.
The town election, like the national General Election, will be held Tuesday, Nov. 6. Registered town residents will cast their ballots at the Northeast Community Center from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Contact Marty Madden at email@example.com
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