The Cape Charles Town Council met for a work session on July 30th to once again see if they and Patrick Hand could find a way to move forward with the 300 Mason Street Project. Although Hand’s project has already been approved by the Harbor District Review Board, members of Council (mainly Steve Bennett of Bay Creek,) have been so morbidly obsessed with nitnoids, that approval for the project has thus far been unobtainable. Also on the agenda was the Cape Charles by the Bay website debacle; the handling of the 300 Mason project and the website contract are key performance indicators of just how dysfunctional the Proto Council has become.
Before granular discussion of the Hand project began, Councilman Chris Bannon voiced his frustration that Town Council had let this slide so far down the road, ”The man has submitted plans, he was been to the HDRB, he has gotten the approvals—I mean, we need to move faster.”
“I agree, we do need to move faster, but there are various questions that need to be answered based on the previous review, the answers not answered fully. None of us have had a chance to review it (the architectural drawings),” said Mayor Proto
Steve Bennett added,” I don’t think I need to review it during the meeting, that’s inappropriate. We schedule a meeting because he wants to move fast and then he doesn’t submit the material until the last minute. I’m not going to review it during the meeting.”
Mr. Bennett was referring to the fact that, even as the hard copies of the architectural drawings had arrived at Plum Street two weeks ago, the digital copies only reached some members of Council that day. Hand voiced concerns that he was not aware of the issues raised by the Town until recently, and had to scramble to make the changes that he did. He also said he had been working with Town Planner Larry DiRe, and contends there has been a communication breakdown between he and the Town, which is a big reason why they have been unable to resolve what he feels are minor issues. A case in point, Mr. Hand thought he was to supply paper drawings, not digital copies. Even so, Hand noted that he paid $1000 to get the drawings updated in time for this meeting, and he felt that the issues and changes could easily be reviewed at the work session.
“This project fits the criteria of the Harbor standards better than any project you will ever see. Time wise, I’m in trouble. I have financing that is going to run out unless I get going,” Hand said.
There was a motion to table the item by Bennet, but it was not seconded by other members, so Council proceeded with the review of the changes to the architectural drawings.
Almost immediately, Council had an issue with the site plans. Mr.Hand had submitted landscaping that indicated using pin oaks along the pedestrian right of way, but then told Council that, based on discussions with landscape architects, he was going to change that to larger shade trees, maybe water oaks (since water oaks are protected by the Bay Act on that side of the street, Mr. Hand felt lining the right of way with that tree created an elegant canopy and a more historical feel to the landscaping, as well as adding to the overall structural sustainability of the project) .
“This is my problem with you Patrick, you say you’re going to use eight plants, but you don’t say what they are; you need to present what it is you are going to do. To submit plans saying you are going to use pin oaks, and then not use pin oaks,” Bennett said.
“Well maybe I’m not meeting your expectations of perfection Mr. Bennett, but…,” said Hand.
“Now wait, hold on,” said Proto. “I think Mr. Bennet’s concern is reasonable. If you put some things in the plans, and then you change it, than what? What is in the drawings is different from what is going to be done?”
“I want to work with the Town on this,” Hand said.
“And we want to work with you, which is why we scheduled this meeting,” responded Proto. “The only thing we can control is what’s on the drawings that we approve.”
“I disagree,” Hand said. “You can make a conditional approval; that is in the ordinance. If there are a couple of things you don’t like, you can request to change them.”
“No, we approve the drawing, and you build to the drawing, so it has to be an accurate representation of what is going to be done,” Proto said.
Part of Council’s dilemma was that no one in the room actually knows what the Harbor District Guidelines actually are, so there was little if any confidence that what they were approving would truly pass muster. That said, it would seem that it was the Harbor District Reviews Board’s purview to be sure that the project was within the bounds of the guidelines. Since the Board did approve Hand’s application, and sent a recommendation that council approve the project, Council’s reluctance to accept that decision and instead go rouge with their own investigation, points to a severe lack of confidence in the HDRB.
Realizing what he was up against, Mr. Hand offered, “Okay, look. I will plant pin oaks. If it will get this project going, I—I can’t afford to lose another two weeks on this.”
With that, Hand moved on to the changes in the structural drawings. He noted that buildings on Mason should be “up close and personal”, to be “part of the Town”. The right of way is designed to be lined up with Strawberry Street (site plan) and the citizens right away, with 20% of open space.
One of the big issues was the use of a “wavy parapet”, on the top of the structure. Councilman Bennett, at the last Council meeting, voiced disdain for the design element. Mr. Hand said they wanted to use it to break up some of the lines, and that it produced a ‘sea waves’ feel.
“But, if it’s an issue. It can go away. I like it,” Hand said.
Mr. Hand attempted to provide some context by discussing the theme of the project, “It is not a cheesy fake Victorian thing, we’re using 16 inch masonry blocks, it will look like a 100 year old warehouse like any you see on the East coast. It will be a strong building; sustainable, sustainable architecture, so 100 years from now, it will still look like a strong, big solid structure”.
Councilwoman Natali brought up her concerns that the project did not meet the portion of the guidelines that state that if a building is more than 80 linear feet, at every 40 feet the roof line should change in elevation. Hand’s structure is over 120 feet, and the roof line is designed to be straight across the top. Hand attempted to argue that due to the placement of the lower eave, from the street view, there was a significant change in perspective and that change was more than enough to meet the guidelines. Mr. Bennett disagreed, and insisted that Mr. Hand incorporate something to break up the line, such as “popping up a parapet.”
“If that is the case, the Project will die right here,” said Hand. “This roof line is visually broken.”
“The facade is not the roof line,” Bennett said.
“The pitch of the roof line creates the break needed– from your perspective you see a break,” Hand said.
“Why would it die?” asked Proto.
“Because we can’t make that change,” Hand said.
“Just break up the line, a foot and half is all,” said Bennett.
“It’s not going to look good,” Hand said. “It looked better the way it was.”
It seemed to others in the audience, that this would have been a good time to issue a conditional approval, giving them a chance to go back and review the guidelines. It is readily apparent that the ’80 foot rule’ is inappropriate, serves little purpose, and needs to be revisited. Rather than fixing the guidelines, Council instead insisted that Mr. Hand adhere to a bad rule that will result in taking a beautiful design, and turning it into something laughable and pathetic. Last month, Mayor Proto said “This building is going to be here a long time. We need to get it right.” The question is why don’t they? The guidelines are what need fixing, not Mr. Hand’s design. Fortunately for Mr. Hand, the Hotel Cape Charles has established precedent that may work to his advantage in this instance.
The 300 Mason project incorporates an interesting use for the side wall. Mr. Hand intentionally left it blank, and will be painting a permanent mural on it. “Since it’s right by the pedestrian walkway, a public space, I thought it would be neat to incorporate public art. The town could also use it to hang banners when there is a big event like the Clam Slam”.
Town Council voted to accept the project, with the modifications. The vote was 3 to 1, Bennett against.
Cape Charles by the Bay Website
The decision about the web site was tabled until the Town could gather the original stake holders (B&B association, Cape Charles Business Association, Arts Enter, Citizens for Central Park, etc,) and discuss a way forward. Council chose Joan Natali to represent them at the future meeting.
Before debate began, Councilman Bannon recused himself from discussions and voting, due to a conflict of interest. Mr. Bannon’s business advertised on the website. However, Mr. Bannon did recuse himself from discussions against upholding the current contract with The Wave, LLC in last Council Meeting.
“Is there anyone else that has advertised?” asked Bennett.
Mayor Proto admitted that his company, Annie’s Chocolates is on the website as well; he paid an initial amount towards the matching VEA grant, but his expanded listing has expired.
“If it is the sense that Council thinks I should, I will recuse myself,” Proto said. Given that Proto’s business is mainly wholesale, and does not benefit from the website, consensus was that he could participate.
Even as it is currently not the will of the Town Council to take over the web site, Steve Bennett voiced concerns that there may be no alternative, “I don’t see anyone stepping up to take it on,” Bennett said.
“You don’t see anyone taking it on?” asked Proto.
“The Business Association did not convert to a 501-c6, which only takes about six months, and that was fourteen months ago; they want the town to pay for the web site, with TOT tax, they feel they already contribute,” Bennett said.
It should be noted that when the Town raised the Transient Occupancy Tax (3.7 cents), the money was supposed to go to tourism related activities, such as funding the fireworks on July 4th, not towards ‘Tourism Marketing”, so, according to Bennett, funneling that money into the website may not be an appropriate use.
The social media aspect continues to be a concern. One scenario floated by Council was to split the contract into two pieces: one for web site maintenance, the other for social media. That will presumably be discussed when the Town meets with the stakeholders.
One problematic aspect is that the Town does not own the Cape Charles by the Bay domain name. A whois search revealed that the owner of the name is actually the Fig Street Inn (Flash of G Marketing). This is semantics, but it seems if you own the name, you own the site. That is, the owner could create a new web site, and just move the domain there. When people type in www.capecharlesbythebay.com, it will take them to the new site.
The Town has not scheduled a meeting with the stakeholders at the time of this publishing.