- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Public comment open for next 30 days
By AMANDA HARRISONStaff writer
The conveyance of Farren Avenue in Solomons Island to the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science has been deferred for at least 30 more days.
The conveyance is already 11 years and seven months in the making.
During Tuesday’s Calvert County Board of County Commissioners meeting, the board voted unanimously to keep public comment open for the next 30 days, beginning Tuesday, regarding the closure of a portion of Farren Avenue.
The portion in question is the extreme northern limits of the road, said Wilson Freeland, director of General Services for the county.
The conveyance cannot be completed until the BOCC votes to close the public record and then votes to close the portion of Farren Avenue to the public.
This portion has been identified as “no longer needed for a public purpose,” states a memo from General Services staff.
Back in 1998, the Maryland Department of Transportation conveyed Farren Avenue to the BOCC. Then, on Jan. 17, 2001, the BOCC entered into a 10-year lease agreement with UMCES Chesapeake Biological Laboratory for the creation of the Waterman’s Wharf, according to the memo.
As part of the lease, the county agreed to convey the portion in question, which measures 15,140 square feet, according to the memo, to the biological lab.
It was discovered during negotiations for a 10-year lease extension in 2011, Freeland said, that the 15,140-square-foot portion of the road was never conveyed by the 2001 BOCC.
“We’re tying to clean up the mess that we were left,” said Commissioners’ President Gerald W. “Jerry” Clark (R).
Now, if the land is not conveyed to the lab, the BOCC could face legal issues, he said; however, he and Freeland have been trying to come up with alternatives but have been unsuccessful.
Clark said he is going to use these extra 30 days to hopefully come up with an alternative.
But during Tuesday’s public hearing, the public wasn’t satisfied with “trying to find alternatives.”
Nine county residents, all frequenters of Farren Avenue, spoke during the hearing. All were in opposition of the road closure for fear of losing the view of the Chesapeake Bay the road provides and access to the Watermen’s Wharf and the parking lot.
Alice Hall, who grew up in Solomons and is a member of the Solomons Civic Association, said she loves knowing people can enjoy the view and the nice walk down Farren Avenue. But she made sure to add that closing this street would be “contrary to the Solomons Island Town Center Mater Plan.”
On behalf of the Solomons Civic Association, Gladys Bowers said the group “adamantly” opposes the closing because it is a public right of way to the wharf. Bowers questioned the process of closing the public right of way to the wharf, claiming that no signs were put up and a study wasn’t conducted.
However, Freeland said Thursday he believes she is referring to the steamboat landing at the point and that was bought by the university “some time ago,” and so that has nothing to do with the current situation of closing Farren Avenue.
“[This agreement] was done in secret by the county,” claims Bowers, “when the lease was created,” because there wasn’t a public hearing then about conveying the road.
But Clark tried to reassure her that it wasn’t done in secret and that the current board wasn’t a part of the deal.
“It saddens me, Gladys, that you feel that way,” he told her.
She continued, “Farren Avenue in itself is completely neglected by the county.”
Jack Fringer, treasurer of the Calvert County Watermen’s Association, said that closing access to the dock is “like putting another nail in the coffin” of watermen, who he described as a “dying breed.”
Fringer wasn’t the only waterman at the hearing; he was joined by Tommy Zinn, president of CCWA, Rachel Dean, the secretary of CCWA, and members of CCWA Mary Brown and Bobby Abner. And they all noted that by holding the public hearing during the day, they were losing money because they couldn’t be on the water doing their job.
Zinn said CCWA can speak with the lab and try to negotiate to keep the dock open and accessible to the watermen.
Dean, who spoke on behalf of her husband who was out on the bay, said the dock provides the watermen in the area “access we wouldn’t otherwise have” — an idea echoed by Abner, who said he uses the dock year round.
According to Commissioner Susan Shaw (R), the biological lab has been operating since the 2001 lease as though the 15,140 square feet were already conveyed to the lab.
“It’s an agreement we haven’t honored,” Shaw said about the 2001 lease agreement to convey the property to the lab.
Commissioner Evan Slaughenhoupt (R) said that to him, the issue seems more like an ownership of the property than changing the rules of access because, he said, he is unsure whether Farren Avenue will actually be closed to public access.
Clark said that’s the other problem: During negotiations of the land transfer agreement, the county wanted to add to the new contract that things wouldn’t change, such as access to the dock, the parking lot and public access. But, he said, the biological lab wasn’t ready or willing to agree to that 100 percent yet.
At the close of the public hearing, Commissioner Pat Nutter (R) made the motion to keep public comment open for the next 30 days instead of the original two weeks, and that the next public hearing will be scheduled in the evening and be in Solomons to accommodate the watermen. It was passed unanimously with “thank you” being shouted from the crowd. The next hearing may be scheduled for Aug. 21 or 28, said Corinne Cook, clerk to the BOCC.