Legislation would pave way for expansion of Garrett hospital

Groundbreaking on $23.5M project expected in spring

Matthew Bieniek Cumberland Times-News

OAKLAND — If bills introduced by Garrett County legislators become law, financing for expansion of Garrett County Memorial Hospital will be available at a lower interest rate than that obtainable by the hospital going it alone.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. George Edwards and Delegate Wendell Beitzel, will allow county commissioners to borrow up to $15 million on behalf of the hospital by issuing bonds.

The county won’t be paying on the bonds though, said County Administrator Monty Pagenhardt.

The bank will pay bondholders directly.

“The hospital will pay back the entire amount,” Pagenhardt said.

The county will act as a conduit for the funding, allowing the loan to be “bank qualified” and backed by the full faith and credit of Garrett County, resulting in a lower interest rate.

“The county would be arranging for the financing of those bonds and, through the county, they could get the bonds at a much cheaper rate,” said Beitzel.

The hospital project includes a new four-story addition to the existing hospital with a focus on improvements to in-patient units and an additional 42,000 square feet of major renovations.

The total cost of the project is $23.5 million and includes a $15 million request from the county and $8.5 million in cash contributions and fundraising, hospital officials have said.

Groundbreaking is expected in the spring.

Garrett County requires the approval of the General Assembly to borrow large sums.

The money being borrowed for the hospital does not affect a separate bond authorization available to the county, said Pagenhardt.

Hearings on the bills are scheduled before the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee on Feb. 13 at 1 p.m. and before the House Appropriations committee on Feb. 12 at 1 p.m.

The hospital also continues to pay off two other bonds, one from 2004 in the amount of $1.4 million and one from 2007 in the amount of $3 million, Pagenhardt said. Those bonds also funded hospital improvements.

Contact Matthew Bieniek at mbieniek@times-news.com. Staff Writer Elaine Blaisdell also contributed to this story.

Garrett commissioners adopt watershed ordinance

Elaine Blaisdell Cumberland Times-News

OAKLAND —  Garrett County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a  Department of Planning and Land Development recommendation to rectify a conflict in the Deep Creek Watershed Zoning ordinance.

“Apparently, there have been over the years a course of hundreds of text amendments that have been made to the Deep Creek zoning ordinance,” said Commissioner Jim Raley during a public meeting held Tuesday. “I don’t want to see us be inconsistent with state law. I don’t want to see us doing things that are procedurally incorrect.”

The purpose of the amendments is to change two sections to make the ordinance consistent with Land Use Article 66B.

“I also want to make it perfectly clear that I want a full review, to the extent possible, of any text amendment that comes before us,” said Raley. “Obviously, I know there still has to be a public hearing.”

Raley asked the planning commission to review his comments and see if procedurally something could be put into place place to add a small hurdle to a text amendment.

“I don’t want to see the text amendment becoming a substitute for something more comprehensive,” said Raley. “… it can be easier to go with a text amendment change than it would be with a full zoning amendment. I do see some future text amendments on the horizon that I think can be very substantive.”

Both Chairman Robert Gatto and Commissioner Gregan Crawford echoed Raley’s sentiments.

“This doesn’t mean we are going to rubber-stamp every text change that comes through,” said Crawford.

The commission also voted, with Crawford abstaining, to adopt the Deep Creek Lake Shoreline Stabilization Projects Incentive Program. Crawford said the decision should have been tabled until the results of Phase II of the Deep Creek Lake sediment study are known.

“Without knowing the results … we’re looking at what we could do up front,” said Raley.

The program is similar to the sprinkler incentive that was adopted by the commission several months ago. The program will provide a $1,600 incentive payment for construction of a structure for shoreline stabilization, according to John Nelson, director of Planning and Land Development. The incentive will be paid with carryover funds from last year.

“I think the intent of the Board of Commissioners wasn’t necessarily to try to come up with incentive to cover the cost of the permit fee but actually the cost of that construction,” said Nelson.

“The incentive requires full construction and requires that the structure pass inspections by the Maryland Department of the Environment and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources,” said Raley.

The program is for the current fiscal year and, thus far, eight to 10 applications have been made for shoreline stabilization projects, according to Nelson. The program will encourage people to stabilize the shoreline to protect it from further erosion and sedimentation that is caused by the surface of the lake, said Nelson.

The commission also voted to give $500 to the Northern High School agriculture department to grow grass for the shoreline project and to allow Southern High School to be included, if interested.

Commissioners expected to decide on Deep Creek watershed zoning amendments

Plans for proposed wind project to be reviewed

Elaine Blaisdell Cumberland Times-News

OAKLAND — The Garrett County commissioners will decide today whether or not to move forward with a planning commission’s recommendation to amend the Deep Creek Watershed Zoning Ordinance. During the recent circuit court hearing on Bill Meagher’s mini-marina, it was noted that there was a conflict in the ordinance and that some changes needed to be made.

“This conflict between the ordinance and the state statute was discovered during the current litigation involving the zoning text amendment for the boat rental service business approved earlier this year,” wrote John Nelson, director of Planning and Land Development, in a December letter to the commissioners. “The Planning Commission has concluded that the discrepancy should be rectified.”

The commissioners voted at the Jan. 8 meeting to hold the public comment period open and delay the decision until today.

St. Moritz Properties LLC, Bill’s Marine Service Inc. and Silver Tree Marine LLC are suing the Garrett County Board of Zoning Appeals, county commissioners, Lakeside Commercial Properties LLC and William Meagher, owner of the Lakeside Creamery, in regard to previous amendments in the ordinance.

“Had the findings of fact been performed correctly and in a timely fashion, then the county would not be facing a lawsuit today,” wrote Carol Jacobs, president of Aquatic Center Inc. in a letter to the commissioners. “The findings of fact are required in every county in Maryland. If findings of fact had been performed prior to making a decision, in the mini-marina case, then the outcome might have been different.”

One of the proposed changes to the amendments would require the commissioners to make findings of fact that include present and future transportation patterns on the highway in the area where the purpose and effect of the proposed amendment is to change the zoning classification.

“The transportation pattern and the carrying capacity of the lake should have been studied,” wrote Jacobs.  “The transportation pattern and accidents on Garrett Highway should have been evaluated. Public safety is now at risk.”

Aquatic Center Inc., Bills Marine Service Inc., Deep Creek Lake Enterprises Inc., Silver Tree Marine LLC and St. Moritz Properties LLC filed a petition for a judicial review of the county’s decision to amend text in the Deep Creek Watershed Zoning Ordinance for boat rentals. The mini-marina doesn’t offer any of the services associated with a marina. During a hearing in December in circuit court, Judge Jim Sherbin dismissed the judicial review. Also during the hearing a declaratory judgment and an administrative agency appeal were consolidated and a hearing was set for March 29.

Also on the agenda for today’s meeting, the Department of Planning and Land Development will hold a county review of concept and site development plan of the proposed Fourmile Ridge wind project in eastern Garrett County near Frostburg. Synergics has submitted both a concept plan and site development plan.

Both plans are part of the county’s stormwater management ordinance process, which requires three phases of submission.

On Jan. 14, Synergics Wind Energy LLC and Fourmile Wind Energy LLC filed a request for a waiver of a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity requirements for a tap line to serve the project, according to a Maryland Public Service Commission filing. Synergics is requesting the waiver be granted by April 1 to allow construction to begin immediately on the line.

Also on the agenda the Department of Public Utilities will provide a review of the western conveyance water and wastewater; approval of the Garrett County Hazard Mitigation Plan; and adoption of the Deep Creek Lake Shoreline Stabilization Projects Incentive Program policy.

The meeting will take place at 11 a.m. in Room 207 in the Courthouse.

Contact Elaine Blaisdell at eblaisdell@times-news.com.

Garrett County plans new facility at business park

Commissioners sign off on block grant application

Elaine Blaisdell Cumberland Times-News

OAKLAND — The Garrett County commissioners ap-proved the signing of documents regarding an application for a Keysers Ridge Business Park creation project during a public hearing earlier this week.

The application through the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development Block Grant program will provide $625,000 for new construction for job creation at the park, according to Frank Shap, acting director of the Department of Economic Development.

“The CDBG funds are available for the restricted use of job creation,” said Shap. “The $3 million project requires matching funds that will assist in the construction of a new 10,000-square-foot facility for a business to locate at Keysers Ridge park.”

The park has 224 available acres, according to the Economic Development website.

The CDBG program is a federally sponsored program designed to assist units of general local government with activities directed toward neighborhood and housing revitalization, economic development and improved community facilities and services.

Maryland’s program is administered by the Department of Housing and Community Development, in close cooperation with the Department of Business and Economic Development.

Also during the commission meeting, the board announced the appointment of Michael Koch, co-owner and board president of FireFly Farms, as the director of the Department of Economic Development. Koch replaces Jim Hinebaugh, who retired in September.

“We made a decision to move forward and form a committee in search of a replacement,” said commission chairman Robert Gatto. “It was a good process; we had an excellent committee. We had a good turnout of applicants. Many applicants were qualified and they (the committee) had a tough time making a decision.”

Koch thanked the commissioners; Monty Pagenhardt, county administrator; the economic development team and Hinebaugh for their work.

“I’m very pleased and honored to be joining the economic development team,” said Koch. “I want to commit to you all that I will use all my talents, energies, creativity as well as my business and personal network to these ends: Grow the size, diversity and health of the Garrett County economy.”

Koch said that he and the economic development team will have a threefold focus, which will include working to grow county business; working with the Chamber of Commerce to grow existing businesses and to attract new businesses; and working to develop new and enhanced county infrastructure and to increase county tourism.

“We’ll work to ensure that Garrett County secures its place as a regionally and nationally renowned destination,” said Koch. “We’ll be as transparent as the lawyers allow us to be with our community and do everything we can to encourage engagement and collaboration.”

Koch also plans on targeting specific business sectors that are aligned with the county’s assets and interests and leveraging the work of the ongoing county branding study.

Contact Elaine Blaisdell at eblaisdell@times-news.com.

Wisp Resort Completes Sale

At the end of December, EPR Properties finalized their purchase of the Wisp Ski Resort. EPR Properties is a real estate investment trust (REIT) that owns several other ski areas. EPR has partnered with Everbright Pacific, an affiliate of Pacific Group, to run and manage the entire resort.

Wisp General Manager Tim Prather and his team will remain in their current positions which will provide successful and experienced management to the resort going forward. Pacific Group will bring its operations and development experience from ski and golf resorts in New England, Canada, and throughout the West to help Wisp as it expands its on-mountain services and associated amenities.

Several improvements are planned to the resort over the next several years with most of the concentration being focused at the mountain’s base.

An unrelated real estate company purchased most of the other undeveloped land atop Marsh Mountain including the Lodestone Golf Course and some of the existing subdivisions.

This news is good for all real estate owners in the Deep Creek Lake and Wisp area as questions of the resort’s future are now answered in a most positive way. As the area’s leading real estate company we can assist with all your real estate needs.

More here.