Courthouse Delays Could Be Deadly

December 27, 1993

First the building was too high and there wasn't enough landscaping. Now the cornice is too long and the window arrangements too horizontal.

Enough, already.

Six months have gone by since the Annapolis Historic District Commission approved preliminary plans for the expansion of the courthouse on Church Circle. Since then, county officials have done their best to amend the design to suit the commission, and they still haven't succeeded.

After a 4 1/2 -hour meeting last week, the commission -- which controls construction in the historic area -- refused to approve the project so Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall can include it in the fiscal 1995 budget. They want to "fine-tune" the bricks, windows and a list of other concerns, to be presented to the county at yet another meeting Jan. 5.

Ordinarily, the commission's nitpicking would be fine. Its job, after all, is preserving the architectural and historic integrity of downtown Annapolis, and that demands nitpicking. While a project this big should be done right, the commission seems bent on making sure the plans are absolutely perfect. Delaying the expansion for another year could kill the whole project for good. The historic commission simply cannot take that chance.

Time is of the essence in this dispute for two reasons:

The first is because existing courthouse conditions are dangerous. The second is because the expansion might never be done if the commission doesn't act in time to get the plan in next year's Anne Arundel budget, which is being drafted now.

Mr. Neall is committed to this project, but he will be gone this time next year. Whoever takes his place isn't bound to follow through on these courthouse plans. The new executive could very well reason (and he would be right) that it would be less hassle to move the courthouse to Rowe Boulevard or Riva Road, where no one is going to argue about the cornices.

But keeping the Anne Arundel County Courthouse on Church Circle is critical to the economic future of downtown Annapolis -- so critical that the historic commission must sign off on the plans now rather than risk losing the courthouse altogether. And if the windows aren't quite right, is there really any reason why the commission can't fix them once the money for the expansion is safely tucked into next year's budget?

Of course not.

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