Whig Wakes Up (Sort of…)

September 30, 2008

    It is long overdue, but the Cecil Whig is finally waking up to the fact that it has online competition from local news bloggers that have frequently written about issues that the Whig either did not cover at all or did not publish in print or put online until a day or more later.

   In the past few days, the Whig is starting to post, by mid-afternoon, an online summary of the stories its reporters are working on for the next day’s print edition.  The Whig is also being more pro-active about posting online Associated Press items throughout the day. That’s not original reporting on the Whig’s part, but at least the updates give an impression of timeliness, even though one could easily obtain the same news from a constantly updated website like www.cnn.com

  And, it is a measure of the Whig’s sudden, and belated, recognition of the increasing online competition in the current news/online marketplace, that they are starting to post news articles online before the next day’s print publication.

   An important example– although, in fact, a rather slow posting in the “news now” world of the Internet– is the Whig article, written by editor Terry Peddicord, on a candidate’s forum in Rising Sun. It happened on Monday, and he didn’t write it online until mid-day Tuesday. But it would appear that the print/ink on paper version won’t make it into the newspaper until Wednesday.

   Better late than never. And anything that this, and other news blogs in the county, are doing to wake up the Whig is a good thing.

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Gloom, But Not Doom, in Cecil Housing Market

September 30, 2008

   It was nice to see the Whig write about housing foreclosures in Cecil County in Tuesday’s editions, focusing on a counselor who is working with families and their mortgage lenders to find solutions. We’ve been hearing about the foreclosure “crisis” nationally for quite some time so it was overdue for the Whig to write about the local scene. But there is more to the housing picture in Cecil County.

    A local Realtor, Megan McGonigal, has been posting monthly information and analysis of Cecil County home sale trends and a look at the data shows all is not doom for the housing market here. In fact, the length of time for the buying market to “absorb” all the homes available for sale has improved since February.  And in July, the average days on the market before a house sold was 166 days, up just 19 days from the 147 days it took to sell homes in July, 2007.  You can read her report here:

http://cecilcountyconnection.com/blog.cecilcountyconnection/2008/09/29/what-is-the-cecil-county-real-estate-market-doing-august-2008/

    There is a wealth of data about Cecil County houses that are in pre-foreclosure status (papers filed but not yet taken over) and bank-owned houses on the Realty Trac website. Most recent stats for Cecil are 53 houses in pre-foreclosure and 31 bank-owned homes.

  Cecil County has the highest numbers for the Eastern Shore but is well below the figures for counties on the Western Shore. In August, new foreclosure filings were 36 in Cecil County, in comparison with 930 for Prince George’s County– the highest in the state– and 15 in Caroline County, the lowest.  Statewide, there were 30,661 new foreclosure filings since the beginning of the year.

   You can see a list with street names, but not actual house numbers, of Cecil County properties in pre-foreclosure or bank ownership. Click on the tabs at the top of the heading to look at pre-foreclosure, bank-owned, etc. The link is here:

http://www.realtytrac.com/MapSearch/MD/Cecil-county-government-owned-homes.html#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


Angels and “Demons” in Cecil County

September 29, 2008

  It’s not every weekend that you get to meet some real-life angels in Cecil County. Unfortunately, it is all too common that we see or hear of some folks “demonizing” others with whom they have a disagreement.

   The “angels” we met were the hundred or so people who came out for the Cecil County SPCA’s annual dinner auction Friday night to raise money to help the dogs and cats at the shelter in Chesapeake City. The shelter is getting a lot of dogs and cats turned over by families that can’t afford to feed or care for them, in addition to all the strays that end up finding a safe haven at the shelter.

   There were lots of interesting silent auction items, like antiques and gift certificats from local businesses, and one unusual live auction item that didn’t find a home: a live miniature horse. A Delaware horse farm that raises mini-horses decided it would be an “angelic” thing to do to donate the horse to the SPCA so they could auction the right to adopt the horse. The horse would go through the regular shelter adoption process to make sure it would have a good home with a family that could care for him properly. Then whatever the adopters bid would be donated to the SPCA to help care for all the homeless dogs and cats.

   Unfortunately, no one was looking to add a mini-horse to their family that night so the SPCA will continue to look for the right family to adopt the horse and benefit the other animals. If you know of any horse farm families looking to add a little guy to their stable, refer them to the SPCA’s website for pictures of the little palomino colt www.cecilcountyspca.org or contact the SPCA.

   The dinnner auction was held at the Chesapeake Inn in Chesapeake City. Their seafood buffet was out of this world delicious. The staff worked hard to put on a great dinner and put in a lot of extra effort because they wanted to support the animals. They were “angels,” too.

    Which leads us to those demons who circle around the county even when it is not Halloween. We’ve been reading accounts in the Whig and on two Chesapeake City blogs of the dispute over the town noise ordinance and some residents who complain about noise and music from the Chesapeake Inn.  We haven’t done independent reporting on the town council’s actions and hearings, but we were dismayed to read some un-sourced reports on the blogs about possible extra-curricular activities by a council member  against the Inn.    See the blogs here:

http://chescitymirror.blogspot.com/2008/09/i-hope-i-am-wrong.html

http://chesapeakecity.blogspot.com/2008/09/canalside-rumor-control-central-special.html

  Previous reports of town meetings on the issue showed the Inn’s owners were willing to work with the town and try to resolve the issue amicably, including installation of sound barriers and other devices.  But then, it seems some folks just prefer to ‘demonize’ the other side in a dispute.

 The town should remember all the tax and other revenues the Inn brings into the town and the jobs it creates. If town leaders ‘demonize’ a local business owner, then good luck trying to get the empty Schaefer’s facility up and running again and generating jobs and revenues to the local economy. Who would want to locate their business in a place where the demons are out to get you even when it is not Halloween?


Cecil Whig Cribs Cecil Times: A Day Late and Details Short

September 25, 2008

  The Cecil Whig posted on its website Wednesday afternoon a four-paragraph item on the Phyllis Kilby Board of Appeals story we’ve been covering since last week. We were very amused to see the Whig posted a headine, “BREAKING NEWS: Board Rules in Kilby’s favor,” at 1.28 p.m. on Wednesday 9/24/08. 

 The Cecil Times actually covered the meeting on Tuesday evening and posted a detailed report online on this blog around midnight. So some 13 plus hours later, the Whig weighs in with “breaking news” about a meeting they didn’t bother to cover in the first place.

  We’re sure someone at the Whig actually called the Board of Appeals and got the vote after they read our report online. So they did a little bit of reporting after-the-fact. We doubt they would have written anything if they hadn’t been beaten on the story in the first place. 

   It seems the Whig may be waking up to its increased competition from local bloggers and other news sources on the Internet. They also posted online a list of stories they were working on for their Thursday print editions. Anything we can do to prod the Whiggies to do a better job is fine with us.

  Here is link to Whig’s mini-story on the Board of Appeals action:

http://www.cecilwhig.com/articles/2008/09/24/news/doc48da86a1cbbf6530397337.txt


COMMENTARY: Mama Mia Maria (or Kilby’s Apologist)

September 24, 2008

    

   It was worth missing family time and TV comedies to witness Maria Mastrippolito, a member of the Cecil County Board of Appeals, as she fumbled, stumbled and mumbled her advocacy for her neighbor, mentor and gal-pal, former Cecil County Commissioner Phyllis Kilby, at  Tuesday night’s (9/23/08) meeting of Cecil County Board of Appeals.

    Ms. Maria would have astounded Gourmet or Bon Appetit magazines with her belabored culinary commentary on the differences between a restaurant and a deli, as part of her love-letter to Phyllis Kilby, who Ms. Maria indicated she believes is above county zoning laws.

    Ms. Maria lives at 836 Firetower Rd., Colora, while Mrs. Kilby lives at 795 Firetower Rd. Ms. Maria bills herself as an educator, currently working in Delaware.  She was appointed as Phyllis Kilby’s protégé to the Board of Appeals but it did not sit well with a minority of other commissioners. On 8/19/03, Ms. Maria was appointed by Mrs. Kilby to the Board of Appeals on a 3-2 vote; she was re-appointed on 7/18/06 on Mrs. Kilby’s nomination.

    The issue at the Board of Appeals Tuesday was whether Mrs. Kilby was improperly operating a restaurant in the NAR zone and should obtain a required zoning special exception. Ms. Maria insisted that our Princess of Agriculture shouldn’t be questioned and a facility serving ice cream, soup, salads and sandwiches wasn’t really a restaurant.

    Like angels on the head of a pin, Ms. Maria tried to define a restaurant on the Kilby property as something else:  “I think it’s like a deli. A deli isn’t a restaurant, is it?” Ms Maria inquired. Mrs. Kilby testified that she imported food and ingredients for salads, soups and sandwiches and wraps from outside her farm. The zoning permit for Kilby’s farm, operating under the name “Kilby Cream,” requires that 51 percent of products sold to the public must be produced from farm products produced on that property.  (Products sold include tuna and shrimp salads and sandwiches, which Mrs. Kilby admitted are not produced on her farm, or any other Cecil County farm.)

   County zoning administrator Cliff Houston advised Ms. Maria that the Kilby property was a sit-down eating facility with tables, and did not conform with easier rules for carry-outs. He indicated the “deli” versus ‘restaurant’ argument had no basis in county law.

     The case before the Board of Appeals stemmed from Houston’s investigation that concluded a restaurant was being operated on the Kilby premises, in violation of zoning laws.

   But Ms. Maria dismissed the law and went on at some length about what is a deli, her personal experience in delis, her favorite deli foods, and how she believed the importation of food from outside the Kilby farm was fine with her because the Kilbys were such wonderful people.

   Ms. Maria’s verbal guffaws drew some quiet laughter in the hearing room and she did not even merit a ‘second’ on her initial motion to relieve Phyllis Kilby of the need to state a real case at the county Planning Commission. But thanks to the intervention of Board Chairman David Willis, Ms. Maria’s rambling love note to Mrs. Kilby was re-instated and, by a 3-2 vote, condoned by the Board of Appeals.

   Mrs. Kilby should be embarrassed by the verbal contortions of Ms. Maria as the best justification she can come up with.

  But, as The Cecil Times will report subsequently, it is really all about the money—and taxpayer-provided money at that—for Mrs. Kilby. 

  

    


BULLETIN: Kilby Wins Zoning Appeal on Tie-Breaker Vote

September 24, 2008

 

     Former Cecil County Commissioner Phyllis Kilby won a zoning appeal before the Cecil County Board of Appeals Tuesday night (Sept. 23) on a 3-2 vote, ruling that her Rising Sun area ice cream, soup and sandwiches emporium isn’t really a restaurant and does not need a zoning special exception.

     Leading the charge on Mrs. Kilby’s behalf was her long-time ally, Maria Mastrippolito, who noted she has been a member of the Board of Appeals for eight years. (She didn’t mention she was appointed to the Board as a Commissioner Kilby protégé.)  Initially, Mastrippolito’s motion to declare that the Kilby establishment was not a restaurant died for lack of a second.

   Then, Board chairman David Willis—after openly declaring his support for Kilby—re-opened the debate and ultimately managed to cajole one of the most cogent critics of the operation into seconding Mastrippolito’s motion and eventually voting for it. The Board was initially deadlocked, 2-2, on the motion but Willis voted as chairman to break the tie and grant Kilby her request. (The chairman does not vote on an initial motion but can vote to break a tie.)

     The case involved “Kilby Cream,” which Mrs. Kilby bills as an ice cream parlor at 129 Strohmaier Lane on land owned by Kilbys, Inc., of which she is the long-term President.  The case relates to an enterprise established, and subject to county government review and decisions, while Mrs. Kilby was still a County Commissioner.

    Recently, county zoning administrator Cliff Houston ruled that the Kilbys were now actually operating a restaurant, instead of just an ice cream parlor selling farm-churned ice cream made from milk produced on the farm. A restaurant would require a special exception under zoning rules for the NAR (Northern Agricultural) farm protection area. . (All zoning issues relate to the actual property owner– in this case, Kilbys, Inc.  Kilby Cream is a separate company that operates on the land. Phyllis Kilby is also an officer of Kilby Cream, according to state and federal records.)

   During testimony Tuesday night, Mrs. Kilby freely admitted that she was serving a wide variety of soups, sandwiches, salads and wraps that are not produced on her farm.

   Under terms of a zoning certificate issued by the county on 8/18/04, Kilby Cream was restricted to retail sales of food derived “51 percent” from agricultural products produced on the Kilby farm. (Phyllis Kilby signed the zoning certificate on 10/26/04.)

   But Mrs. Kilby, and her attorney, Dwight Thomey (who was the County Attorney while Mrs. Kilby was a Commissioner) argued Tuesday that the Kilbys should not have to abide by that restriction because they were importing foods and ingredients from other farms in Cecil County and a Kent County-based farmers’ cooperative.

   Mrs. Kilby and her daughter, Megan Coleman, acknowledged that they assembled sandwiches and wraps at their facility from ingredients trucked in from other locations. Among the menu items are tuna and shrimp salads and sandwiches, which they admitted are not produced from local ingredients.

   The “assembly” issue troubled Board member Mike Kline, who said, “these are not pre-wrapped, like what you would find at WAWA… I worry about when you start assembly.” Kline also said he thought the whole issue should be turned over to the Planning Commission to review: “I think it’s more of a Planning Commission thing.”

    But, when Chairman Willis forced the issue by re-instating Mastrippolito’s motion to grant the Kilbys’ request, Kline hung his head briefly and said, “We don’t have to be unanimous, do we?” Then Kline seconded the motion and, when the roll call was taken, surprised onlookers by voting with Mastrippolito for it.

    Board members Mark Saunders and Michael Lincous voted against Kilby, setting up a 2-2 tie. Then Chairman Willis—who had declared during the discussion, “I wish everyplace was run like the Kilbys”—cast the tie-breaking vote.

 

[NOTE: The Cecil Times will publish a more complete, detailed report on Wednesday. We are posting this bulletin late Tuesday night so our readers will have a heads-up on this important issue. Of course, The Cecil Whig was NOT covering this meeting.]


EXCLUSIVE: Phyllis Kilby Venture on County Board Hot Seat

September 19, 2008

     Former Cecil County Commissioner Phyllis Kilby and her family business enterprises are on the hot seat before the county Board of Appeals this week.  

     The case involves “Kilby Cream,” which Mrs. Kilby bills as an ice cream parlor located on land owned by Kilbys, Inc., of which she is the long-term President.  The case relates to an enterprise established, and subject to county government review and decisions, while Mrs. Kilby was still a County Commissioner.

   The case (File #3423) involves an attempt by the Kilbys and their Kilby Cream facility in Rising Sun (at 129 Strohmaier Lane) to overturn a recent decision by county zoning administrators that, instead of just an ice cream parlor selling farm-churned ice cream made from milk produced on that farm, the Kilbys are in fact operating a full service restaurant and thus need a special exception under zoning rules for the NAR (Northern Agricultural) farm protection area. . (All zoning issues relate to the actual property owner– in this case, Kilbys, Inc.  Kilby Cream is a separate company that uses/leases –or whatever– the land. Phyllis Kilby is also an officer of Kilby Cream, according to state and federal records.)

(The case is slated to be heard Tuesday, Sept. 23 at a lengthy session beginning at 7 p.m. in the Senior Services Dining Room, 1st floor, County Administration Bldg, 200 Chesapeake Blvd., Elkton. The Kilby item is last on the agenda, which notes some items may be delayed until Thursday.  Cecil Times will update you on the schedule.)

   Ads placed in the Cecil Whig indicate Kilby Cream is offering sandwiches, wraps, salads and other foods apart from ice cream. (One might wonder if Mrs. Kilby is growing wheat, grinding flour, and baking the bread and wraps on the farm.)

   The review of the Kilby operation is better late than never. In fact, county agencies warned the Kilbys when they first planned their facility that they needed to address zoning issues. Documents obtained under the Maryland Public Records Act show the Kilbys were advised by the Cecil County Planning Department on 1/30/04 that the proposed facility would require “an application for rezoning.”  No such application was filed nor were public hearings held.

     Instead, a few months later– while Phyllis Kilby was still a Commissioner– a zoning certificate was suddenly marked as approved by Zoning Administrator Cliff Houston on 8/18/04, citing code provisions and assurances that the facility would be selling retail items derived “51 percent” from agricultural products produced on that farm. (Phyllis Kilby signed the zoning certificate on 10/26/04.)

      However, there was then no proof of a functional milking parlor to provide a direct linkage between milk and ice cream produced at that site. [Visitors to the Rising Sun site tell us that there are a few old cows wandering around and some baby calves for a petting zoo but no signs of actual milk production there.]

   Does it take a rocket scientist—or zoning guru—to wonder if the milk is being trucked in from another location? Why not use milk from New Jersey? That is not what the zoning code, and the commendable push for local ‘value added” agriculture, envisions. A full service restaurant might or might not be a good thing at this spot in the NAR zone. But the point is all about applying zoning rules fairly, even to then-current and now former Commissioners.

 

 MORE KILBY BOARD OF APPEALS ACTION:

 

  This is not the first time the Kilbys have turned to the Board of Appeals to try to get their way around zoning laws that apply to others. Several years ago, while Mrs. Kilby was still a County Commissioner, the Kilbys tried to get permission to erect a large sign to advertise their venture. That application (File #3134) by Kilby’s, Inc. was for a variance to place a 42-square foot sign on Hopewell Road. That significantly exceeded signage rules in the NAR zone under the county code—which limited business signs to 12 square feet in such areas. (See Sec. 270-151, county code)

    The Kilby sign would have even exceeded the 40-square foot maximum allowed in the Business Local zone. And, in a stunning display of gall (or call it chutzpah), the Kilby sign would have exceeded the 32-square foot limits placed on signs for churches in all zones, under legislation approved by the Cecil County Board of Commissioners on 8/20/02.  While wearing her County Commissioner hat, Mrs. Kilby voted to limit church signs. (See minutes of commissioner’s meeting, 8/20/02)

   A brave soul, with whom we are well acquainted, testified at a Board of Appeals hearing and brought out these facts. Board members suddenly became nervous about treating the Kilbys as though they were more important than churches or even God. A few members suggested giving the Kilbys the same size sign as churches. But the board attorney noted they had to vote up or down on the application that was before them. So the Board rejected the Kilby sign, with the  implication from some members that if they just came back with an equal-to-God sign all would be well. (The Whig did NOT cover this Board of Appeals meeting.)

   Our friend the brave soul then wrote to The Whig and, after much hemming and hawing, editors published it and did a follow up article. The big sign was then dead.