Conference center vote delayed

January 10, 1995|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,Sun Staff Writer

The Annapolis City Council was spared a vote on a controversial issue last night when action on a proposed study of a possible conference center site was delayed until February.

But when Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins put off the vote on a $140,000 grant request for a new study of the site along the struggling West Street Corridor, he created a mini-controversy of his own. Conference center supporters left the room in disgust, and some aldermen were outwardly exasperated with the mayor's decision to delay.

Conference center supporters say they need the money to conduct environmental, transportation and economic impact studies on the site at the intersection of West Street and Taylor Avenue.

Members of the Annapolis and Anne Arundel Conference and Visitors Bureau had been buoyed by a public hearing last week during which nearly two dozen residents and business people testified in favor of the proposed study.

The group's members were hopeful that last night's vote would seal the deal.

But no sooner had the legislation been unveiled than several aldermen began to raise objections. Those members said they supported the conference center idea but did not approve of the bill's language.

So Mr. Hopkins put the decision on hold until Feb. 13.

Conference center supporters say the abandoned 11 acres, known as the West Street Corridor, are underused inner-city blocks that could only gain from redevelopment.

But some residents are fiercely opposed to the study and the conference center itself. They argue that private industries that support the center can pay for the study independently, and they call a city grant a government subsidy to the affluent hospitality industry for a project of questionable value.

One of the fiercest critics of the conference center bill was a member who generally supports the project, Ward 5 Alderman Carl O. Snowden.

Mr. Snowden urged the council to require the private sector to contribute to the cost of the study.

He also objected because the measure would pay for the study with a portion of the city's surplus funds -- money he said should be off-limits until the council decides how best to spend it.

Mr. Snowden suggested that the measure would sacrifice too much of the city's power by giving the visitors bureau greater say in deciding how best to spend the money. All of that language was drafted without his supervision as chairman of the Finance Committee, he said.

He was joined in his criticism by Ward 2 Alderman Dean L. Johnson and Ward 4 Alderman Shep Tullier. The council has nine members, including the mayor.

The criticisms drew ire from some members and conference center supporters.

"It's pretty daggone comprehensive," said Ward 8 Alderman Ellen O. Moyer. "In fact, this excludes things the private sector would have to spend money on. What, in fact, it says is that we have a specific interest in a failing intersection and it's in the public interest to know what [redevelopment] would entail."

The decision to delay exasperated other council members.

"This is ridiculous," said Ward 7 Alderman M. Theresa DeGraff, who earlier in the evening had complained of dozens of bills getting lost in a quagmire of committees and never making it to the floor for votes.

Conference center supporters, who waited for two hours while the council conducted its regularly scheduled legislative business, were clearly fed up.

"Unbelievable," said an exasperated Tom Negri, a visitors bureau board member, as the vote was delayed. "It must be a legislative snafu," he said later.

In other action last night, two bills were introduced that revived controversies from 1994. One would curb the power of the Historic District Commission by increasing its size, changing membership requirements and rewriting some of its guidelines.

The other proposal would establish permit procedures for sidewalk cafes on Main Street and elsewhere.

Both measures stem from the city's battle with the Historic District Commission over plans to rebuild Main Street. Several aldermen had tried to curb the commission's power and encourage sidewalk cafes in the course of that debate.

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