Sen. Gerald W. Winegrad has proposed using $1.2 million in state money to help convert Annapolis' old Wiley H. Bates High School into a community center and affordable housing.
The Annapolis Democrat said the state money would reduce, or even eliminate, the role of a private developer who wants to build up to 77 moderately priced homes on the old ball fields behind what was once the only high school for blacks in Anne Arundel County.
Baltimore-based Victor Development Inc. has proposed building homes on the 15-acre site in exchange for spending $500,000 to remove asbestos and make other renovations to the school.
City officials said they support the project, but some fear the intense development on Spa Creek would violate environmental and zoning laws. They also worry that $500,000 isn't enough to clean up the asbestos.
"This money would mean we could renovate Bates without having to resort to so extensive a development," Winegrad said, adding Victor's proposal "flies in the face of the city's critical areas law, its comprehensive plan and its parks and paths for people program."
Winegrad introduced a bill Friday requesting the $1.2 million city officials estimate they will need to remove the asbestos.
The Wiley H. Bates Foundation has sought for nearly nine years to restore the long-abandoned high school for use as a senior and community center. The city has pledged $500,000 to convert a portion into a senior center; the county Community Action Agency has proposed constructing 50 residences for oldercitizens in another portion of the building.
"I think he (Winegrad) would like to see no town houses built, but that's not realistic, since $1.2 million will not cover all of the improvements," said Fred Sussman, a lawyer representing the Bates Development Corp., an umbrella organization set up the groups involved to guide the project through the bureaucracy.
"I don't see the $1.2 million eliminating thedeveloper's role," said Annapolis Alderman Ellen Moyer, D-Ward 8. "It's still a partnership between public and private money.
"What wehad before simply did not guarantee that Bates would be saved," Moyer said. "This is a positive step to see the project fly."
The county, which owns the school, would receive the money. But an aide to County Executive Robert R. Neall's office said he only learned of the proposed grant Wednesday.
Myron Wotring, Neall's legislative liaison, said the county is under contract to sell the property to the city. Because negotiations are on-going, Wotring said, "I'm not sure the bond bill is appropriate. If we don't own it, we certainly shouldn't have a bond bill."
State lawmakers unsuccessfully asked for state money to remove the asbestos in the mid-1980s, officials said.
Because of the state's fiscal woes, lawmakers may not have any more success this year, said Delegate Michael Busch, D-Annapolis, chairman of the 13-member House delegation. "The reality of this session is we don't know if (the state's) going to have any money to start with," he said.
The House delegation heard requests for state money Friday morning from three groups renovating historic properties.
The Hammond-Harwood House Association asked for $100,000 to repair the roof onthe Maryland Avenue home, designated a National Historic Landmark in1960; the Shady Side Rural Heritage Society wanted $200,000 to renovate the interior of the Capt. Salem Avery House, and the Charles Carroll House of Annapolis Inc. requested $250,000 to complete the restoration of that site.