Demolitions held up because of MHT stipulations
HURLOCK — Councilman and Hurlock resident Russell “Rusty” Murphy is a well respected, much loved member of this north Dorchester County community and admiration for him extends well beyond the Hurlock town limits. Mayor Joyce Spratt opened the March 13 council meeting by asking Mr. Murphy to leave the dais and go to her office for a little while. He did, although he probably felt like a schoolboy being sent to the principal’s office.
There was a reason. The mayor explained that Mr. Murphy is battling a rare form of cancer and is now on a promising medication that costs as much as $9,000 a month. He has been admitted to a program that lowers the costs considerably but expenses are very high in this fight. Ms. Spratt said “it is time for us to give back to a man that gives so much to all of us!” A fundraiser is slated for May 21, 3 pm at the East New Market fire company that will include dinner plus silent and live auctions.
As is typical in this small town volunteers began signing up to help as soon as the announcement was made public via Facebook. A long-time UPS driver, Mr. Murphy has customers and friends throughout the area who are eager to help. To volunteer, contact Ms. Spratt at the town office (410-943-4181).
When he returned to the dais, Councilman Murphy brought smiles when he suggested that the mayor might want to refill the candy dish on her desk.
Frank Fraley reported that he is enlarging the Veterans’ Memorial and hopes to have the design shortly. There are three lots on S. Main St. waiting for demolition and the memorial will be constructed on one of those lots. Mr. Fraley asked why the houses have not been demolished.
Town Administrator John Avery responded to the question. “You need to talk to the Maryland Historical Trust (MHT). They imposed their stipulations on these demolitions. We have to work through what they’re requesting. It’s very time consuming and it takes a lot of work. I found that in the early 2000s apparently for whatever reason the historic district was created in Hurlock that encompasses over 120 residences. Nobody seems to know anything about it.” Mr. Avery is attempting to discover how and why it was created. The MHT guidelines state that it takes an act of the town council to request and approve the designation and he has been unable to document the approval. “That is what is taking as long as it has to get these houses down. Had it been up to the mayor and I they would have been down months ago.”
The MHT differs greatly from the Maryland Historical Society and the Dorchester County Historical Society, both of which are private, not for profit volunteer based organizations. The MHT is a state agency and part of the Maryland Department of Planning created to “preserve and interpret the legacy of Maryland’s past.” For Hurlock’s demolition projects there are hoops to go through before the MHT will grant approval.
Former councilman and former chief of police Michael Henry asked about the demolition timetable. He wondered why two other houses in town were demolished quickly. Mr. Avery answered that because the demolition project is based on public grant rather than private funds the State gives the MHT the right to interject their regulations.
Councilman Cephas asked the mayor to set a date and time for the council to hold a charter update public work session. Mayor Spratt said she, the Rev. Cephas, and Mr. Avery are currently working on a new Employee Handbook and can begin work on charter revisions when that project is complete. He suggested monthly or bi-monthly council work sessions to move forward with a mission statement for the future. In addition, the councilman suggested that the mayoral position be changed from part-time to full-time.
The Rev. Cephas added, “We must stop believing the county is going to be our savior. It’s not going to happen. If we’re going to grow and attract business it’s going to happen right here. We’ve got to do it here and the town needs the full attention of a mayor.”
Councilman Cephas asked Mr. Avery if the town intends to build solar installations in two potential sites in addition to the current installation at the wastewater treatment plant. Mr. Avery said the project is off the table for now since tax credits for solar installations are no longer available.
During public comments, resident Pat Finley commented on the council’s rejection of funding for the ad hoc Downtown Committee.
“At the Feb. 13 council meeting the mayor scheduled a workshop for Feb. 21 for the Downtown Committee to meet with the council and talk about our plan and the budget.” She thanked council members Bonnie Franz and Earl Murphy and Mayor Spratt for attending. She said, “I don’t understand why the rest of you weren’t able to be here. We really needed your input. We had worked for 18 months in brainstorming and planning and coming up with a written plan.” Patterned after Maryland’s Main Street revitalization program the committee’s plan offers: Design, Organization, Promotion, Economic Restructuring, and Clean, Safe, and Green. “Those were the elements we tried to address in our plan,” said Ms. Finley.
Susan Bautz is a freelance writer for the Dorchester Banner.