City Council approval clears way for $55.6 million courthouse project

August 09, 1994|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,Sun Staff Writer

The Annapolis City Council gave unanimous approval last night to a $55.6 million expansion for the Anne Arundel County Courthouse, leaving no doubt that the long-awaited project will finally be built.

But any celebratory mood was tempered by concerns about the impact the project might have on the Banneker-Douglas Museum next door.

Museum officials told the council that they still had not been able to reach agreement on an amended lease from the county and on rights of way around the museum.

Dr. Ronald Sharps, executive director of the museum, told the council that he didn't want to delay the courthouse project, but said he wants assurances from the county that the current 99-year lease will be amended to provide room for the museum to expand. He said he also wants guaranteed access for delivery trucks.

He said he first raised his concerns with the county more than two years ago, but the museum has yet to reach a written agreement on the matters.

The courthouse expansion, which would take up most of the block bordered by Church Circle, South, Cathedral and Franklin streets, is one of the county's most ambitious building projects.

Alderman Ellen O. Moyer, a Ward 8 Democrat, expressed dismay that after years of discussions and consideration by numerous government agencies there are still problems.

"There's been ample time for the issues of the Banneker-Douglas Museum to be addressed," she said.

She hinted that a vote on the courthouse ought to be delayed until an agreement could be reached, but conceded that she lacked the votes to delay the action.

Alderman Carl O. Snowden, a Ward 5 Democrat, said he also was concerned that the county had not been able to reach an understanding with the museum and urged county officials to conclude an agreement as soon as possible.

The courthouse project has been hampered by uncertainties and delays for years.

The first talks about a new courthouse surfaced more than 20 years ago. For many years, a downtown expansion was considered impossible because of historic district restrictions.

Preservationists argued that the courthouse was too large for the narrow streets and low-lying buildings in the district. But city officials didn't want the county to move the courthouse from downtown.

A breakthrough came in January when the historic district commission granted waivers to height and mass restrictions and approved the plan.

"This puts to bed a conflict that will result in a much better project," Alderman Dean Johnson, a Ward 2 Independent, said last night.

The 274,000-square-foot expansion will increase the number of courtrooms to 18 from the current eight and increase security.

The design also includes the renovation of the 1824 courthouse, which fronts the circle and will serve as the entrance to the complex. The two structures will be joined by a glass corridor.

The historic district commission will review updated design plans tonight.

Demolition of the courthouse annex building may begin in September or October. The actual construction of the new building probably will not begin until the end of the year.

The work will proceed in phases with completion set for 1998.

In other action last night, the council approved an application from W. M. Enterprises, owner of the Ram's Head Tavern, to build a microbrewery next to its bar on West Street.

The owners testified at earlier meetings that they expect to brew about 3,000 barrels of beer a year. The beer would be sold to Ram's Head patrons and to wholesale distributors. Some beer would also be sold in take-home bottles.

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