City plans to vote tonight on annexing Bay Ridge site County Council opposed to development of area

June 10, 1996|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

First, they waged war over taxes; now the issue is land.

Against the wishes of county officials, the Annapolis city council is poised tonight to annex county land that will most likely be used for more development along an already traffic-choked Forest Drive corridor.

The city council will vote on a proposal to take about 11.3 wooded acres southwest of Bay Ridge and Edgewood roads on the Annapolis Neck Peninsula. A developer, Bayhouse Partners, wants to build 50 single-family homes and some commercial establishments, such as a Mexican restaurant and a sail and canvas manufacturing operation.

The County Council recently passed a resolution urging the city to refrain from adding to the development burden in the corridor.

But city officials labeled the county resolution absurd, saying Anne Arundel failed to prohibit development on its side of the border. They said the Bay Ridge site is too lucrative to pass up from the standpoint of potential tax revenue.

Opponents of annexation -- mostly residents who live on the Annapolis Neck Peninsula who will be most affected by the anticipated development boom -- say the city is moving too fast to grab land. The Annapolis Neck Peninsula Federation, representing 41 community groups, wants the process halted, saying the city did not study how "a flood of new homes into the area" would affect roads that are already beyond capacity.

"We all know Forest Drive is a failed road," said Barbara Samorajcyzyk, a federation member. "We are opposed to development, whether it's city or county, until they can develop a joint comprehensive master plan to solve traffic issues. Then, and only then, can we talk about development."

City officials, whose studies show that Forest Drive is overburdened, complain that critics are not painting an accurate picture of the annexation issue.

"We're just being portrayed as some land-gobbling entity that has no regard for people who live in the Annapolis Neck and the problems that concern them," said Jon L. Arason, deputy director of the city's Planning and Zoning Department. "We're not skipping in and annexing things left and right. We've spent a great deal of time studying this."

The annexation disagreement follows recent County Council approval of an 8-cent property tax increase for city residents. The city council has filed suit to stop the tax increase from taking effect, and Anne Arundel Circuit Court is expected to rule on the case Wednesday.

Both county and city officials, however, expect to resolve the annexation issue more easily.

Arason said that the city has been slow to incorporate county land, and since 1990, the only development on annexed land is 27 single-family homes near Hunt Meadows.

"All we're trying to do is get the city into a compact configuration," said Arason, noting that the city boundaries along Forest Drive in the Annapolis Neck Peninsula are "really jagged."

With that desire to smooth city boundaries comes a need to increase the city's tax base, city officials said.

Alderman Carl O. Snowden, a 5th Ward Democrat, explained that because Annapolis is home to many federal, state and local government agencies, much of city property is tax-exempt.

"That means those people pay zero in property taxes," said Snowden, who represents much of the city bordering the proposed annexation area.

"We lose a good bit of money that way. Also, it makes no sense that portions of the city have properties that are lying right next to each other, but sit in different jurisdictions. We need to straighten that out," he said.

To annex the land, the city had to gain the support of at least 25 percent of the eligible voters and 25 percent of the property owners in the targeted area.

A property must touch the city border to be considered for annexation.

Most of the property that the city has recently annexed or taken an interest in has been large, vacant parcels given high-density status. Instead of the usual two dwelling units allowed per acre, much of the land can have up to 10 dwelling units per acre.

City officials are quick to point out that annexation of the Bay Ridge site would not increase the amount of construction that would be permitted under the county's general development plan.

But critics counter that any additional building is too much for an area that depends on Forest Drive as the main access road for commuters and local motorists.

"When annexations occur, there's an increase in development and density," said County Councilman William C. Mulford II, an Annapolis Republican who introduced the resolution urging the city not to take more property. "Forest Drive is not capable of handling that. We're not saying the city cannot annex, we're just asking for a timeout until we can get the problem fixed."

The only way to reduce people's fears about annexation, city officials acknowledge, is to ease congestion. Several plans are being discussed by city, county and state officials to do that.

City officials say they will not approve development plans until the Forest Drive issue is addressed.

"We're proceeding with great caution," Arason said, adding that any development of annexed areas will be a lengthy, time-consuming process that "will not happen overnight."

Pub Date: 6/10/96

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