Annapolis to get taller courthouse Preservationists agree on plans

October 14, 1992|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff Writer Staff writer John Rivera contributed to this article.

In a radical departure from tradition, historic preservationists in Annapolis agreed yesterday that a taller Circuit Courthouse would fit in better with the city's Colonial downtown.

Worried that a planned expansion would overwhelm the narrow historic streets, the preservationists proposed dropping the height limits on the courthouse and building a much taller structure.

County officials, assuming the height limits were inflexible, had spread out the expansion over almost an entire city block. But representatives of the city's historic groups said yesterday that they'd prefer a less dense government complex.

"With this footprint, we're losing the streetscape," said Joan Abel, a member of the Historic District Commission, after studying a cardboard model of the proposed courthouse. "I think we should make an exemption, because the city is ready to throw out the height and bulk ordinance for this site anyway."

The county was seeking support from the historic groups for the overall space needed to replace the cramped courthouse on Church Circle with a modern complex. Preliminary plans called for developing two 100,000-square-foot buildings spanning South and Cathedral streets to house 16 courtrooms, judge's chambers, the state's attorney's office and the sheriff's office.

Representatives of the Historic District Commission, a volunteer panel that oversees construction in downtown Annapolis, endorsed the program but asked for a completely different configuration. They also said they want to be involved in designing the expansion.

Jerome W. Klasmeier, the county's director of central services, said he was "encouraged" by the meeting, which was his second with the historic groups. But he again expressed concern over delays, saying the county can't afford to get caught up in numerous arguments over the building's appearance.

County Executive Robert R. Neall has said he plans to choose a site to expand the court by the end of the month. Yesterday, he told a meeting of the Anne Arundel County Association of Realtors that he wants to develop a site with enough space for the burgeoning justice system.

Mr. Klasmeier said the current location is the front-runner, but he's still looking at four other possible sites in Annapolis. City officials and business leaders believe moving the court would be a big economic blow for downtown and have petitioned Mr. Neall to keep the court on Church Circle.

The historic preservationists signaled their willingness to work with the county by promising to draft an ordinance immediately to lift the height restriction for the courthouse.

Ann Fligsten, president of the Historic Annapolis Foundation, said the ordinance could be worded to make it a one-time-only exception to the city code. That way, she said, a taller courthouse could be built without approving future 10-story sites.

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