SHORE THING: Town Tries New Angle in Park Toilet Appeal

Tops of wooden stakes show bathroom floor level required to avoid flooding. (Wave photo)

Tops of wooden stakes indicate bathroom floor level required to avoid flooding. (Wave photo)

Cape Charles Wave

January 10, 2013

Act 3 of the little morality play taking place in the historic district will be performed this evening (Thursday) during the Town Council meeting.

The scene for Act 1 was the Hotel Cape Charles, where the Historic District Review Board correctly noticed that the hotel renovations don’t look like the plans the Board had approved.

Owner David Gammino ‘fessed up that after submitting the original plans he got a new, better idea, which would look so much finer than much of the surrounding architecture on Mason Avenue that he didn’t ever imagine anyone would complain.

But as regular readers of the Wave know, Hotel Cape Charles was denied a permanent occupancy certificate, and remains in limbo.

But wait: didn’t anyone read the fine print? That would be Section 8.31 of the Town’s zoning ordinance:

Inspection by Administrator After Approval: When a Certificate of Appropriateness has been issued, the Administrator or Town Building Official shall from time to time inspect the alteration or construction approved by such certificate and shall give prompt notice to the applicant of any work not in accordance with such certificate or violating any ordinance of the Town. The Administrator or Town Building Official may revoke the certificate or the building permit if violations are not corrected by the applicant in a timely manner.

The “certificate of appropriateness” is what the Historic District Review Board issued based on the original drawings for the hotel.

According to the zoning ordinance, it is the responsibility of the Administrator to inspect construction “from time to time” and to give “prompt notice” of work not in accordance with the certificate of appropriateness.

And so the curtain fell on Act 1.

In Act 2 (a humorous diversion) the scene shifted to Central Park.


Citizens for Central Park, presided over by Bob Panek, who is also the assistant town manager, received $15,000 from the Town to complement a $20,000 grant to build a bathroom in the park.

Someone decided that the new bathroom should mirror the sewer pumping station in the park — same size, same appearance, located symmetrically to the southeast to match the northeast sewer pump.

The design went to the Historic District Review Board, who according to the tape laughingly approved it as “looking better than the porta-potty” presently serving the park.

And so construction began last month, at least so far as to mark the site with stakes. The stakes indicate both the perimeter of the building as well as the height of the base.

That’s right — the 3-foot-high stakes indicate how much earth must be moved to keep the bathroom above high-tide level, since the location otherwise is in, or just adjacent to, “Lake Cape Charles.”

(The “moat” motif is being reflected across the park at the new entrance to the children’s playground, also sited in one of the park’s finger lakes. But we digress.)

In Act 2 the play’s protagonist, Don Riley, stepped on the stage. Appalled that the Town would site a bathroom disguised  as a second sewer pump station so close to the park pergola, Riley mounted a petition campaign to stop construction of a building as ugly as sin.

This evening, when the curtain rises on Act 3, Riley’s appeal will be heard by Town Council. And so let us peek at the script:

RILEY: The Town’s own checklist says: “Choose a design that relates to the design character of the historic buildings in the area.” There are many examples of nearby historic buildings, but the sewer pump is not one of them.

RILEY (again): According to the Town zoning ordinance, “the decisions of the Historic District Review Board may be appealed to the Town Council, and the final decisions of the Town Council may be appealed to the Circuit Court of Northampton County.”

TOWN MANAGER HEATHER ARCOS: The zoning ordinance says an appeal may be taken by any party “aggrieved by said decision.” According to the Local Government Attorneys Handbook, in order for a petitioner to be “aggrieved,” he must have an immediate, pecuniary, and substantial interest in the litigation, and not a remote or indirect interest.”

ARCOS (continuing): The word “aggrieved” means a denial of some personal or property right upon the petitioner different from that suffered by the public generally.”

ARCOS (still): The Town questions whether Mr. Riley is an “aggrieved party.”

This just in: The Cape Charles Planning Commission voted unanimously last night (Wednesday) to recommend that Town Council approve the site for the Park bathroom.

SHORE THING is an occasional feature of the Cape Charles Wave.



5 Responses to “SHORE THING: Town Tries New Angle in Park Toilet Appeal”

  1. Bruce Lindeman on January 10th, 2013 7:16 am

    George (or others who know)… what is defined as “historic” with regards to how buildings in the historic district are so deemed — according to code? Not looking for what someone “thinks” it means, but what’s defined in the code.

    A building built in the 1980’s is historic in the sense that it is of the past. The definition of “historic” from the Merriam-Webster dictionary: “dating from or preserved from a past time or culture “. In other words, a 1980’s pump station is of a “past time”, thus historic. One could certainly argue the degree to which it is historic, as compared to other such structures in the district. But, it is of a past time, for certain, thus historic — if you take the Merriam-Webster definition at face value.

    Point being, at what point do we determine something is historic? Antique? Old? Pretty? Ugly? These are all subjective questions that elicit varying answers based on one’s perspective.

    Hopefully, our historic district guidelines have a tighter definition than Merriam-Webster :)

    Just playing devils advocate here. Really not taking one side or the other.

    Good question, Bruce. You’ll find answers in the Cape Charles Historic District Guidelines and the Historic District Overlay to the town’s zoning ordinance. The Overlay defines the historic district as roughly bounded by Bay Avenue to the west, Mason Avenue to the south, Fig Street to the east, and Washington Avenue to the north. Within that area are 529 “contributing structures” and 38 “noncontributing structures.” If the sewer pump station is a “contributing structure” I will eat my hat! — GEORGE

  2. Tracie Van Dorpe on January 10th, 2013 8:00 am

    Here’s an idea – how about we fix the drainage problems that plague the park and try to fix the horrific mosquito situation. That would be a good use of time & money. Portable bathrooms seem to work just fine for the five events that happen in the park every year. Good golly.

  3. Bruce Lindeman on January 10th, 2013 10:46 am

    The drainage problem in the park is linked to the drainage problem on our streets: there is no water runoff system in place and never was one. To me, a major flaw in Alexander Cassatt’s grand plan for Cape Charles when he designed it.

    There’s simply nowhere for the water to go. Witness a really good rain and what happens at such intersections as Monroe and Plum.

    French drains in the park might help. But, I’m no engineer and the scale at which such drains would have to be built would be fairly cost prohibitive, I suppose. But such solutions should definitely be explored!

    I love the park. It’s a great space to toss a frisbee or kick a soccer ball with the kids. But if the ‘skeeters are a-biting, it can be downright miserable!

  4. Daniel Burke on January 10th, 2013 12:52 pm

    In the interest of accuracy, I would like to point out that last evening’s vote by the Planning Commission was not whether or not to allow toilet facilities in The Park, or what said facilities should look like. Those issues have already been addressed by The Town Council.

    The vote by The Planning Commission was limited to, very simply: where within the park should said facilities be located. There seemed to be no “ideal” location, but based on access to water and sewage and other constraints the curent “staked” area was judged to be the best alternative. Based on this issue alone I voted for the current location.

    My personal opinion, and separate from The Planning Commission, is that toilet facilities in the park is a solution awaiting a problem. I think they will add very little value. And, oh by the way, to the nice people of Citizens for Central Park: in the interest of park sanitation please use your considerable influence to lobby for enforcement to penalize those disgusting people who refuse to clean up after their dogs in the beautiful park that you all worked so hard to create.

  5. Mike Kuzma, Jr on January 10th, 2013 2:58 pm

    Daniel, Sorry to beat a dead dog but I disagree. There is a PERFECT place in the park for the community toilet facilities — it’s called Old School Cape Charles — which woulda’ made a GREAT municipal complex and community center.