The latest effort in the decade-long struggle to save Wiley H. BatesHigh School, a plan widely supported by Annapolis' black community, could be scuttled by a group of neighbors.
At least 18 residents in streets surrounding the old brick school have signed petitions opposing a rezoning request needed to convert it into a community center and senior housing. If they represent 20 percent of the property owners within 200 feet of the site, approval of the rezoning will requirethree-quarters of the City Council instead of a simple majority.
"Any time the approval numbers increase, that always places a project at risk," said Dallas Evans, head of the non-profit Community Action Agency, which has formed a partnership with the Bates Foundationand a private developer to renovate the school.
Leonard Frenkil, head of the Victor Development Group, has promised to give $1.2 million toward removing asbestos from the boarded-up building in exchange for the right to build 85 town houses on the grounds. But he needs a zoning change because the current designation only allows single-family homes.
A clause in the city code requires that three-fourths ofthe council approve a rezoning request if sufficient numbers of the immediate neighbors object, said City Attorney John Hodgson. The stipulation is designed to protect residents from unwanted nearby development.
He and Fred Sussman, a lawyer for the Bates Development Corp., are sifting through petitions from neighbors living next door to Bates. The petitions were handed over with little comment during a rezoning hearing Monday night.
If the protests were correctly filed and conform to city requirements, six votes would be needed to approvethe Bates rezoning, Hodgson said.
Several council members have publicly said in the past months that they oppose the development of somany town houses on the grounds of Bates. But aldermen interviewed yesterday declined to say how they would vote.
"It's not a questionof whether or not it's going to be a problem to get the vote," said Alderman Samuel Gilmer, D-Ward 3, who attended Bates High School and has supported the renovation plan. "It's a question of whether or notthose people who signed (the petitions) are legit. That's the problem for the developers to check and see if they're legit."