Chestertown Makes Formal Bid For Armory

On May 21, Mayor Margo Bailey wrote to inform Bob Rosenbush of the Maryland Department of Planning that Chestertown agreed to purchase the Sgt. John H. Newnam Armory with no conditions. Bailey’s letter said that the council developed a process for ultimate use of the building and has received several viable proposals, all of which required additional information and commitment. Bailey said in January that it was unrealistic in that budget climate for the town to acquire a building for which it had no identifiable use. Acquisition requires a payment of some $500,000 to retire the National Guard’s debt for repairs on the building. By law, an excess armory is to be sold at auction unless the town or county where it is located takes it over. To some residents, that raised the specter of developers buying the building, which they said would reduce public access to the river.

 

Those concerns led to the formation of the STAY group, which advocates the preservation of the building for public use and renovation of the property on a green platform. Beginning in January, STAY gathered petitions seeking a delay in the state’s decision and pressured the town to take an active role. At the March 6 council meeting, Town Manager Bill Ingersoll signaled the town’s change of thinking. He put together the process that led to the May 19 council vote to buy the building.

Ingersoll said at a budget workshop on May 14 that the town had lines of credit sufficient to cover the purchase. The town expects to recoup the money from the eventual owner. State law offers two different procedures for disposing of excess property. Under the Superfluous Armories Act, towns and counties have the right of first refusal. Under another procedure, the MDP decides among the applicants with no order of preference. A coalition of the county Department of Social Services and the Samaritan Group said on May 19 that it is pursuing its application under both procedures.

Bailey’s letter to the MDP says the council considers the Superfluous Armories Act to apply in this case and is hereby invoking their right to proceed as the buyer of the Chestertown Armory. The letter was copied to Governor Martin O’Malley and officials at the Department of Planning, the state clearinghouse, and the Maryland Military Department. A copy also went to the county commissioners.

Meanwhile, STAY has written to Baird Tipson, Washington College president, asking whether the college intends to rent part of the building. STAY’s plans have been predicated in part on having the college as primary renter. At the May 4 council meeting, Ed Nordberg, chairman of the College Board of Visitors and Governors, told the council that discussions of possible rental from STAY were ongoing and that a decision was unlikely before the June 1 deadline for the town to indicate its interest to the state.

STAY’s letter, signed by Frank Rhodes, outlines the college’s previous expressions of interest in the armory and concludes that the STAY construct offers exceptional opportunities for Washington College. STAY expended efforts to accommodate the stated College interests, which were extensive and expensive. The purpose of the letter was to request a response and explanation with respect to such interests no later than June 1. Tipson said he had not seen the STAY letter. He indicated the college was still interested in the armory, possibly as a home for the Center for Environment and Society.

 

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