Calvert County commissioners talked business with Chesapeake Beach Mayor Gerald Donovan at Tuesday's meeting in an attempt to settle the mayor's months-old proposal to swap land with the county for a town recreational complex.
Board members and Donovan traded barbs in an exchange that some of those involved suggested included vague threats and short tempers. Miffed at the lack of board support for his plan, the mayor retracted his proposal altogether but then called for an eight-minute recess to discuss alternatives with members of his Town Council.
The end result after two hours of maneuvering: no decision.
Commissioners instead agreed to consider a compromise suggested by Donovan, in which the town would give the county three acres it owns in the center of Chesapeake Beach's recreational complex and would finance about $400,000 in improvements to the Northeast Community Center. In return, the county would provide $595,000 in improvements, including lighting, to Kellam Field, a ballpark used by many Calvert youth sports clubs.
Donovan asked that the town be reimbursed for its part of those expenditures throughelection District 3 recording fees, generated each time a property is recorded. Board President Linda L. Kelley (R-Owings) said she was wary of allocating recording revenue to the project, but Donovan insisted the county share in the costs.
"This isn't a Sears catalog where you go through and wish you had this or that," Donovan chided. After the meeting, Donovan said he was "tickled to death" about the possible compromise and said he hopes the county can find funding to make the deal a reality.
But commissioners were not exactly enthusiastic about the idea, even though David F. Hale (R-Owings) was the only one openly opposed to considering the compromise during the board's 4 to 1 vote. Hale wanted to debate the proposal in its original form, but Donovan took back his plan once it became clear that the majority of commissioners did not support the swap.
"I really believe emotion kind of carried the day," Hale said after the meeting. "I was certainly disappointed we weren't able to come to a compromise. I find it sad there was no real discussion."
The first draft of Donovan's proposal called for the county to give the town ownership of Kellam Field, the ballfield that sits next to Chesapeake Beach's $2.3 million water park. In exchange, the town offered the county a property of comparable size just west of the field. As a bonus, Donovan said, the town would spend $500,000 on improvements to the land it would relinquish to the county, including a new ballfield with lights, a scoreboard, bathrooms and pavilions. The plan would have left the town in control of a vacant 60,000-square-foot lot next to the water park, and the future use of this lot was a frequent source of argument in the debate.
Commissioner Patrick M. Buehler (D-St. Leonard) said ugly politics effectively killed a deal that would have benefited the county, especially the children who play football at Kellam Field.
"We went from a $500,000 improvement plan that didn't cost the county a red nickel to a plan that will cost the county $595,000," he said. "It's one of those deals that turned ugly. Nobody won, the kids lost and we're back to square one."
Commissioners expect to revisit the issue at next week's meeting.