grows on Kent Island
Developer proposes hotel, restaurants near Bay Bridge Airport
By PAMELA WOOD, Staff Writer
The owner of the Chesapeake Bay Beach Club plans to expand his weddings-and-special events empire on Kent Island to include a hotel, restaurants, a spa, an event center, shops and even a working vineyard.
Courtesy of Michael Winstanley Architects Planners An artist's rendering shows what a hotel and vineyard would look like at the Vineyards of Queen Anne's, a development proposed for county-owned property on Kent Island near the intersection of Route 50 and Route 8. About 10 years ago, there was a proposal — ultimately defeated — to put a Wal-Mart on the site.
With an initial blessing from the Queen Anne's County Board of Commissioners, John Wilson, primary owner of the beach club, presented his plans for the Vineyards of Queen Anne's project at a public meeting last night.
The project, which would be off Pier One Road near the intersection of Route 50 and Route 8, earned a generally favorable reception from a crowd of more than 50 people gathered at the Kent Island Library.
In an interview, Wilson said the project will serve both his existing beach club clients and the local Kent Island community. A big selling point is the acres of grapes growing around the property.
"I've never seen anything like this," he said.
Wilson's company would build and operate the 120-room hotel, 600-person event space and a tavern.
Restaurateur Rick Sarmiento, owner of R's Americantina, would run two restaurants. Local retailers would operate shops, and the vineyard and winery would be operated by Mark Cascia, who owns Mark Cascia Vineyards a few miles away off Thompson Creek Road.
"It's going to be a destination place," said Cascia, who hopes the new site will augment his existing vineyard.
The site of the Vineyards of Queen Anne's has a long, and at times tortured, history.
About 10 years ago, a Wal-Mart was proposed for the property. Wilson, who owned part of the land, proposed building a hotel to serve the guests attending functions at the beach club.
The Wal-Mart faced stiff opposition from Kent Island residents. The county commissioners at the time first approved, then denied, sewer service to the site, effectively killing both the Wal-Mart and the hotel.
A court battle ensued. Ultimately, the county bought the property, mainly with money from the Federal Aviation Administration because the Bay Bridge Airport is nearby.
About 11 of the 24 acres were deemed necessary for future improvements at the county-owned airport. That left the county with the remaining 13 acres as "surplus." The county's development plan has the area zoned for commercial use.
The county decided to maintain ownership of the property, but lease it to a developer for a project that would serve as a "gateway" to the Eastern Shore. The money from the lease will help fund airport operations, said Gregg Todd, the county's chief operating officer.
The commissioners solicited project ideas from developers, and earlier this summer ranked Wilson's Vineyards of Queen Anne's as the best.
Even though he got a thumbs up from the commissioners, Wilson's dream is far from reality. He's negotiating a lease with the county.
Once a lease is signed, Wilson expects to spend 2010 in the permitting and review process, followed by construction in 2011. He aims to open the entire development in spring 2012.
"We hope it demonstrates a very creative and appropriate use of this piece of property," Wilson said in an interview.
Wilson said he's not a wine-lover, but knows a bit about wine because he sells thousands of cases of wine and champagne at the beach club each year.
Wilson said he was intrigued by the idea of building a housing development centered around vineyards, similar to the homes that are built near golf courses. He never found an opportunity that worked for vineyard housing, so instead he thought it might work as a "neat theme" for the former Wal-Mart site.
Wilson also is putting a green spin on his project, and thinks he can earn a gold rating from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program, the leading green building rating system.
There will be a series of tall wind turbines along the Route 50 side of the property. He plans to use porous pavement in the parking lots, recycle rainwater to water the grape vines, install solar panels and use geothermal heating and cooling.
Some wanted bike paths or a hiker-biker bridge over Route 50. Others wanted Wilson to promote local businesses and artisans, or run a shuttle to the Stevensville historic district.
Some wanted to make sure the architecture would blend with Eastern Shore styles and not stand out. One person suggested naming roads or buildings after landmarks or historical figures.
Kent Island resident Doug Shreve said he liked the idea of having a place where he and his wife can go to dinner and then take a walk or do some shopping.
He said that, though Kent Island and Kent Narrows have nice restaurants, he has to go to Annapolis or Easton for dinner and a stroll.
"Something like this would be a marvelous asset," he said.
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