Courthouse Compromise

June 28, 1993

The Annapolis Historic District Commission has come down on the right side of a decision that is crucial to the future of the capital city's downtown.

The panel recently approved preliminary plans for a $43 million addition to Annapolis' historic courthouse, despite wariness about the size -- 250,000 square feet, plus a 30,000 square foot underground parking garage. Its decision virtually ensures that this public building -- so critical to the downtown economy and to Annapolis' identity as a county seat -- stays on Church Circle.

No doubt the three members who decided in favor of the project gritted their teeth while voting. The addition, which will take up most of a city block, is far larger than they would have liked. Whether the county's design includes unnecessary "extras" remains unclear. But any add-on built to solve long-term court needs was bound to be large.

The commission's dilemma was whether to approve a courthouse downtown sufficient to fill the county's needs, or to make demands that would convince the government to move the courts to Rowe Boulevard or Riva Road, where too many other municipal buildings have ended up.

While the historic commission is often ridiculed for being too rigid, that criticism is unfair. The panel essentially is charged with trying to keep things as they are, yet it is derided when it bucks change. If the panel bent the rules every time, there would be no historic district left worth preserving. The courthouse, though, is such a vital entity that the issue demanded reasonableness and a willingness to compromise. This commission displayed both.

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ANOTHER HAPPY ENDING: The Anne Arundel County Council, another body that weathers its share of ridicule, wisely displayed the spirit of compromise recently by accepting County Executive Robert R. Neall's plan to restore funding for a new Solley elementary school.

The county had a donated site, plus $1.6 million in state money for Solley. Yet the council jeopardized both last month by axing the project and instead approving $14 million in county money to renovate a building for Andover Middle School.

Under the compromise, everybody wins. The county will borrow $5.4 million from Andover to build Solley this year, while promising to replace the money for Andover next year.

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