Bates Vote Prompts Anger, Anguish

January 31, 1992|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff writer

In the streets and shops of Annapolis, black residents clustered yesterday and talked with disappointment and hope of their dream for Wiley H. Bates High School.

For nearly a decade, community leaders have fought to preserve the old brick building that was once the county's only high school for blacks. Early yesterday, their latest and most controversial attempt to convert the school into a community centerfailed.

The City Council, while emphasizing its commitment to renovating Bates, rejected a plan to help pay for the project by developing 86 town houses on the grounds.

In an emotional decision following two hearings and 13 hours of testimony, Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins and six council members voted against rezoning the 15-acre site. The city's two black aldermen, Carl O. Snowden, D-Ward 5, and Samuel Gilmer, D-Ward 3, supported the zoning change.

The vote, which followed an outburst among council members struggling to compromise, predicting political retaliation and remembering the city's segregated past, provokeddebate yesterday.

Some residents said bitterly that their worst fears were realized. Others predicted it would damage race relations in the city.

Still, most Bates supporters clung to the hope that the mayor and council would keep their promise to find government funding for the project.

"It seems to me that the council went on record that they want to have something done with Bates High School," saidthe Rev. Leroy Bowman, minister of First Baptist Church. "They just did not like that particular proposal."

Bertina Nick, a consultantand Annapolis resident, reacted differently. She said she was "almost in tears" to learn the decision "came down to purely a racial line."

"I just think it's a crying shame that a project that had this type of enthusiasm in our community . . . would be defeated by a few people," she said. "Shame on them."

Leonard Frenkil, the Baltimore developer who promised to give $1.2 million from the town house salesto rehab the school, said yesterday the project isn't dead.

He's considering options, such as building a smaller-scale development of single homes, and believes the city will make "a sincere effort to come up with funding."

Bates was the county's only black high schooluntil desegregation. In 1981, 15 years after it was desegregated andbecame a middle school, Bates was abandoned.

Graduates and community leaders tried for years to raise money before forming a partnership with Frenkil and the non-profit Community Action Agency.

Without the rezoning, Frenkil can build up to 61 single homes. But his project planner, K. Gray Gentil, expressed doubt whether 47 apartments for the elderly and a community center would be allowed under the current zoning.

Jean Creek, head of the Bates Foundation and the countyNAACP, left City Hall yesterday morning charging the vote was "racist" and vowing to move ahead with the project.

Before the vote, Snowden warned the mayor and council that the black community would not forget the fate of the Bates proposal come election time.

The mayor countered that while he didn't agree with the rezoning, he fully supported preserving the school.

When Alderman Ruth Gray, R-Ward 4, first made a motion to deny the request, Alderman Gilmer leaped out of his seat and denounced the proceedings.

Near tears, the aldermanrecalled watching how Germantown Elementary School was built while the city's black children went to school in a shack.

"It's not easyto sit here and see this going on," he said, turning to Gray. "I am deeply hurt."

Gray, whose ward includes Bates, said the vote was not against the project.

"All we're saying tonight is we do not believe there was a change or mistake in the zoning," she said.

Several of the project's critics, who feared the environment would be damaged, were pleased. The property is within 1,000 feet of the headwaters of Spa Creek, a buffer designated by the state as a critical area around the bay.

But many in the city were worried yesterday.

"I've never seen such hostility, such a feeling of breach, since the 1960s," said former mayor Roger "Pip" Moyer.

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