Chesapeake Beach residents--some carrying homemade signs--packed the Northeast Community Center on Tuesday evening to sound off on Mayor Gerald Donovan's proposal to swap land with the county to build a recreational complex.
The audience at the Calvert County commissioners forum seemed to be nearly evenly split in their opinions about the deal. And both sides were equally emotional, with speakers packing references to religion and Martin Luther King Jr. and jabs at county government into their strictly enforced two-minute lectern time.
Donovan wants the county to give the town ownership of Kellam Field, a piece of land in the heart of the town's recreational complex off Route 261. In exchange for the ballfield, which sits next to the town's $2.3 million water park, the town is offering the county a property of comparable size just west of the field. As a bonus, Donovan says the town will spend $500,000 on improvements to the land it gives to the county, including a new ballfield with lights, a scoreboard, bathrooms and pavilions.
The plan would leave the town in control of the 60,000 square feet of undeveloped space next to the water park. The future use of this lot--which would be decided later--was a frequent source of argument at Tuesday night's hearing. The land swap proposal has pitted some homeowners and those raising environmental concerns against parents of children who play sports on Kellam Field. Residents both for and against the proposal complained that Chesapeake Beach children were being held hostage in the debate. But that was about the extent of their common ground.
Del. George W. Owings III (D-Calvert) rattled off the numerous amenities at other county ballparks--such as those at Dunkirk and Cove Point--that Kellam Field is missing: better lighting, multiple playing fields and plenty of parking.
"I personally believe the deal is a good deal, but if you don't believe that, reject the deal and the town will move on," Owings told the commissioners. "But if you think it's a good deal, make the deal, light the field and let the kids play ball."
Owings's remarks brought shouts of support from audience members wearing orange and white, the colors of the Beach Buccaneers football team, which plays on Kellam Field. They also wore buttons printed with the slogan, "Free is as good as it gets," signaling their support of the swap.
Opponents agreed that Kellam Field needs improvement, but they said it isn't necessary to trade land in order to light the field and make other upgrades. They called the mayor's deal a "less than forthright proposal and an incomplete document," citing its lack of specifics on what would be done with the 60,000-square-foot parcel. Many in the community have said they believe it would be used to expand the water park. Others raised environmental concerns, saying the land exchange would eliminate a dredging area.
"Seasons change, so does the landscape of a town," said resident Chuck Quinlan. "[But] what is the long-range master plan? The mayor knows. We don't. The county gets dredged siltland, and the town gets land worth millions."
About halfway through the spirited hearing, 17-year-old Kelly Tiffany took the lectern. She announced her support of the swap, but not because of the ballpark or development possibilities. Instead, Tiffany beseeched the county to approve the deal in order to expand parking--a major problem she has witnessed for the past two years while working as a parking attendant at the water park. She said irate drivers who can't find spaces have spat on her and shouted obscenities.
As the hearing came to a close, Mayor Donovan strolled through the auditorium. "If you believe the water park expansion is imminent, it's a lie," he said. "It's not going to happen. It's never going to happen."
Commissioners are expected to vote on the proposal this month.