Politicos leave no room for growth Voters, candidates join campaign refrain against development

October 29, 1997|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

No growth. No development. No annexations.

Those are the popular lyrics being sung this election year by many candidates running for the Annapolis city council. In almost all of the nine races for alderman and mayor, candidates have pledged to fight overdevelopment, solve traffic problems and stop annexing county land until both jurisdictions can agree on boundary lines.

They also have suggested being more selective about the kinds of businesses the city should attract to the downtown Historic District.

Not surprisingly, it's music to the ears of city residents tired of congestion and frequent turf battles with Anne Arundel County.

But don't expect developers and others in the business community to join the chorus. They are hoping it's only election-year bombast.

"One can only hope that once these people are elected, common sense will prevail," said Lou Hyatt, a longtime developer in Annapolis. "I think it's asinine for any mayor or elected official to say they're against annexation or development. They must understand a city must go forward or go backward."

With so little space for new development within city limits, and almost half the land tax-exempt because it is owned by government or churches, Annapolis' elected leaders must find different ways to expand the tax base, developers and business owners said.

Often, the city has annexed county land for new housing developments. If annexations stop, the city at least must attract new businesses to occupy empty buildings, said T. Phillip Dunn, owner of a real estate firm who is planning a $4.5 million office building across West Street from Loews Annapolis Hotel.

But attracting new businesses is difficult with high-growth areas available just outside the city in communities such as Parole. The city must actively recruit businesses, developers warn.

"You go out and drag businesses in," Dunn said. "People are happy to get up to go to work every day outside of the city, and want it to be quaint and charming when they come home.

"They don't care about attracting 500 new jobs to West Street."

The candidates, however, see it differently.

"We must resolve traffic problems before we try to create more traffic problems," Republican Steven C. Kerstetter, who is challenging incumbent Democrat Samuel Gilmer in Ward 3, said at a recent forum. "I don't see a lot more development on Chinquapin Round Road than what's there now."

The current city council wants to annex the Chesapeake Harbour condominium complex on the southeastern edge of the city into Ward 7, but both candidates from that ward are opposed.

"I can't see bringing in more development," said Democrat David O. Colburn.

"No more annexations," declared Republican Michael E. Fox.

And while Ward 1 residents support businesses in the historic district, incumbent Democratic Alderman Louise Hammond said the city needs to "find a better mix" of the types of businesses it courts for that area.

Both mayoral candidates -- former Mayor Dennis M. Callahan, a Democrat, and Ward 2 Alderman Dean L. Johnson, a Republican -- have sounded similar themes. Develop responsibly and just say "no" to conference centers, unless they are built with private money.

Their opponents in the primaries -- Democratic Alderman Carl O. Snowden and Republican Alderwoman M. Theresa DeGraff -- are known for being pro-development, pro-growth and pro-business.

Those are ideas the voters don't want to hear, DeGraff said.

"No growth, no growth, no growth," she complained. "No DTC annexation. No Chesapeake Harbour. It's just no, no, no. That's the mantra of the day. And it sells. I haven't heard much in the way of creativity about how these folks will expand our tax base."

The next city council won't be completely dismal for developers and business owners, however, if candidates such as Republican Herb McMillan, who is running in Ward 5, are elected. McMillan believes the city can benefit from annexation because it allows the city more say in controlling growth. He's not alone.

Current Alderman Ellen O. Moyer of Ward 8 also has built a pro-growth and development record, often voting with Snowden and DeGraff.

Some in the business community say they believe the no-growth sentiment will disappear after the election.

"I think it's safe to say that growth will not come to a screeching halt because of the elections," said Jonathan A. Hodgson, an Annapolis lawyer who represents developers. "Growth will continue, but it may change."

Others say they hope "no growth" actually means responsible growth.

"I think there's sensible growth and growth that's just out of hand," said Jerry Parks of Parks R.R. Construction Co. "I don't think we have that problem here. You have to have re-growth in a city.

"A city dies if it becomes stagnant."

Pub Date: 10/29/97

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