The County Council approved a bill late Monday night that black leaders say will further delay a proposed community center and senior housing project at the old Wiley H. Bates High School in Annapolis.
"It seems that every time we blacks try to do something to help ourselves, there's always a stumbling block," said former Annapolis Mayor John Chambers. "I think the state, the county and the city owe it to the blacks of this county to move this project ahead."
The council approved legislation giving Annapolis officials authority to ease development restrictions on land around the school, but under an amendment proposed by Councilwoman Maureen Lamb, D-Annapolis, the city must first get permission from County Executive Robert R. Neall.
Bates Development Corp. members said the amendment adds a substantial roadblock to the project, but Lamb disagreed.
Environmentalists and black leaders have been arguing behind closed doors for two years over the use of environmentally sensitive land for the project. When the debate turned public Monday, it was acrimonious, with charges of racism and race-baiting.
Jean Creek, the head of Bates, at one point said Annapolis Alderman Ruth C. Gray, R-Ward 4, wanted to turn Bates "into a slave ship . . . so we can raise money on our slave ship."
The comment infuriated Gray, who threatened to sue for slander.
Gray said she had suggested turning the building into a museum commemorating black culture as a way to raise money for the project. Part of the museum might include the exhibition of a slave ship, she said.
Bates was the only high school for blacks in Anne Arundel County from 1933 until 1966, when county schools were desegregated. The school closed in 1981, and black leaders have tried since to reopen the school as senior housing and a community center.
"You must keep this landmark, because this landmark is very close to the hearts of citizens," said Lewis Bracy, chairman of the Black Political Forum.
Everyone who spoke at Monday's meeting supported the corporation's plans for the vacant building.
But environmentalists opposea plan by developer Victor Frenkil to build 90 town homes on land around the school. The land is within 1,000 feet of the headwaters of Spa Creek, a buffer known as a critical area.
Frenkil would use thehomes to pay for the $1 million cost of removing asbestos from the school.
Mary Rosso, an aide to Sen. Gerald Winegrad, D-Annapolis, said the senator opposes the town homes but supports the rest of the project. She said he is working to find financing for the asbestos removal.
Alderman Ellen O. Moyer, D-Ward 8, said Bates officials havebeen unwilling to compromise on the plan. She said city officials offered to let them build the town homes if they moved them farther back from the shoreline, but the development group refused.
Moyer criticized the agreement Former County Executive O. James Lighthizer struck with the Bates corporation that deeded the property to the group.The agreement was signed Nov. 27, days before Lighthizer left office.
The agreement states that the Bates corporation may sell the property if all approvals -- including approval for 90 town homes -- arenot received within two years of the deal.
Moyer said the deal makes it "extremely difficult" for the city to oppose the town homes.
* In other action Monday night, the council approved a moratorium on new businesses showing peep shows. The decision gives the county until Dec. 1 to develop new guidelines regulating peep shows.
Two companies had applied for a Class Y license to show peep shows in Glen Burnie and Odenton. But because of community opposition, the companies last week dropped their plans. The companies already have approval to sell adult books and videos.
About 100 residents of the two communities turned out in support of the moratorium.