'Hysterical Annapolis' no more

October 16, 1992

The Annapolis Historic District Commission has been called some pretty nasty things over the years: "hysterical Annapolis," "nattering nabobs of negativism," "nervous Nellies." But this week, the commission members proved they are not the paranoid reactionaries their critics suggest.

In an unprecedented decision, the panel has proposed easing design restrictions for the Anne Arundel County Circuit Courthouse expansion, dropping height limits to allow a much taller structure than would normally be allowed in downtown Annapolis.

What does this mean? It means the courthouse has a better chance of staying on Church Circle, where it belongs. And it means that instead of a squat, unsightly building that spreads out over an entire city block, we can have a courthouse annex that won't detract from, and may enhance, the city's admired profile.

The commission simply could have rejected the county's plan, which featured a sprawling government complex just slightly higher than existing height restrictions.

The courthouse would have moved somewhere else, the existing historic court building would have passed out of use, and Annapolis' business district -- which feeds off courthouse traffic -- would suffer for the loss.

But the commission used common sense in deciding that if it was going to have to ease the restrictions a little, it might as well take a bolder step and allow an impressive building instead. It was willing to consider the future, as well as the past, by bending its own rules in what is clearly a very special case.

This important project is not out of the woods. The commission, which wants to control the project's design, and the county, which is more interested in when the courthouse is built, must agree on a final plan. Also, the county government has yet to commit to Church Circle.

The give and take can't stop here.

Preservationists can't expect to have total say over a building the county is paying for. The county can't expect preservationists to sacrifice the architectural integrity of Annapolis just so groundbreaking can occur in 20 months.

Yes, the courthouse needs more space soon, but not at the expense of the city's character. If the county is as willing to compromise as the commission seems to be, to this point at least, possibly Annapolis can have it both ways.

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