In a letter preempting the March 15 Council Meeting, Tidewater Trader Publisher Carla Johnson claimed that the approval process for redevelopment of the Ajax Basketball court has been rushed forward by the Chestertown Recreation Commission without recognizing the concerns of nearby residents and businesses.

“The Recreation Commission has hastily approved an ill-conceived ‘plan’ and for some unknown reason is rushing to the Mayor and Council with a recommendation while myself and others struggled over the past 3-4 months to participate in Commission meetings remotely, and without the benefit of draft plans to review, and in the face of bullying by members with minds made up,” Johnson wrote in her March 12 letter to the Mayor and Council.

She said she and nearby residents and businesses have supported redevelopment of the park — but without a full size basketball court.

“When I say “we” or “our” I am referring to the thirty plus individuals (adjacent and nearby property owners, residents, business owners and employees, and neighbors) who signed a petition in September 2020 in support of maintaining and improving the pocket park and playground and opposed to an intensification of use (i.e., a full-sized basketball court with lights and a covered pavilion) in such a confined area,” Johnson wrote.

She said the group of residents and businesses are content with the current layout of park but are concerned about noise and whether redevelopment of AJAX is in keeping with the historic district.

“Property owners, businesses, and residents adjacent to and nearby the pocket park are happy with the current configuration as a dawn to dusk playground geared towards families, supervised children, and users of the Gilchrest Rail Trail, inclusive of the existing basketball rim and half court, in terms of scale and compatibility with the neighborhood,” she wrote to the Recreation Commission in December. “The existing park layout and amenities need not be enlarged as much as there is room for improvements in terms of playground equipment quality and safety and overall aesthetics. Our preference is for nicer and safer, not bigger and louder.”

While Johnson lamented about noise and safety she also said Ajax could be under utilized due to declining school enrollment and a large inventory of basketball courts in the Chestertown.

“Given the declining school enrollment trend in Kent County and corresponding demographic information who is expected to utilize a new regulation-sized basketball court at this location,” she asked. “With several and some relatively new full basketful courts already in Chestertown (Carpenter Park at Washington Park circa Sept. 2020; Gateway Park circa May 2016; Chestertown Middle School; Washington College) to the average observer there appears an abundance of full basketball courts, and a new YMCA that will include basketball courts is under construction in Town.”

She also condemned comments from Commission member Jim Bogden, who prior to a meeting of the commission in January claimed anyone objecting to the redevelopment plan for Ajax “is a racist.”

“Commission member Jim Bogden, who has apparently been working in tandem with Mr. Rhodes for some time drawing up plans as the ‘tanning committee,’ pronounced to the diverse group in attendance that anyone opposed to a basketball court is a racist,” she wrote. “Such a superficial and insulting remark by a Commission member representing the Town has a chilling effect on public participation and mocks the spirit of ”Chestertown Unites Against Racism.”

See Johnson’s full letter with exhibits to the Mayor and Council here.

Related Story:

Updated: Off-Mic Conversation Reveals Mayor and Zoning Administrator’s View of Ajax Basketball Court Development

Feature Image: Dimitri Goderdzishvili