A developer plans to argue tonight that rezoning the grounds of the abandoned Wiley H. Bates High School for town houses is the best solution to preserve the Annapolis landmark.
Baltimore-based builder Leonard Frenkil hopes to convince the mayor and City Council that the rezoning is needed to pay for converting the asbestos-riddled school into a community and senior center. His joint plan, with the non-profit Bates Foundation, to subsidize renovations with the profits from 86 town houses has provoked widespread controversy in the city.
Several council members said yesterday that they intend to question Frenkil about previous projects, his company's financial health and the extent of renovations needed to reopen Bates, the county's onlyblack high school until desegregation.
The developer's motives were called into question during an emotional 7 1/2-hour hearing on therezoning request three weeks ago. A dissenting member of the Bates Foundation warned then that Frenkil was "no knight in shining armor," but a developer looking to turn a profit. The hearing was continued until tonight.
"I think we have a right to learn more about his background, his business," said Alderwoman Ruth Gray, R-Ward 4, whose district includes the Bates neighborhood.
Frenkil is the son of Victor Frenkil and a partner in his father's company. Active in many development projects in Maryland, Victor Frenkil once owned the BelvedereHotel in Baltimore, but lost it in bankruptcy proceedings in 1990. The Belvedere eventually was auctioned off for $3.8 million to a New York City group that converted it to condominiums.
In an interview yesterday, Leonard Frenkil said the Belvedere partnership was completely separate. He also said he welcomed the opportunity to discuss histown house proposal, which he believes "would really be a blessing to the neighborhood."
Rezoning the property to R-3 for town houses would "allow us to do a better job," he said. "We would be able to set aside more than 30 percent of the site for open space and recreation. Environmentally, that would make a lot of sense."
But environmental activists fear the development could jeopardize protected natural areas within 1,000 feet of the headwaters of Spa Creek. The land isa buffer designed by the state as a critical area around the Chesapeake Bay.
Frenkil also argued that the town houses, which would sell for about $125,000 each, would be more appealing than single homes on tiny lots. He estimated that he could build 79 single-family houses under current zoning.
With his attorney and engineers, Frenkil plans to pitch the rezoning by claiming the neighborhood has changed substantially since the original zoning. The group says the closing ofthe school alone altered the area and that the city erred in 1970 when it zoned the property for single homes.
Alderman John Hammond, R-Ward 1, said that should be the only issue raised at the hearing. "What deals Mr. Frenkil has been involved in the past are not germane," he said.
Two other council members said they hope the hearing won't be limited to the technicalities. Alderman Carl O. Snowden, D-Ward 5, said he wants to know more about the financial arrangements. Alderwoman Theresa DeGraff, R-Ward 7, expressed concern about a clause that calls for the developer to assume control if the Bates Foundationcan't raise enough money to pay one-third of the construction, upkeep and related costs.
DeGraff suggested the city consider alternatives to the town house proposal, such as floating a bond to pay for the asbestos removal and turning over the project to the Bates Foundation.