County, residents push to reverse annexation Court to hear appeal in challenge to action on Annapolis Neck

October 05, 1998|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

County officials and two civic groups are going to the state's highest court today to again press their case that Annapolis illegally annexed a 103-acre parcel on the city's southwestern edge for a 200- home subdivision.

Opponents contend the 1996 annexation was illegal because it would allow too many houses on the property and would isolate a section of the county south of the annexed area.

The city and developer say that the annexation was not illegal and that the number of houses allowed on the property falls within the range of what the county would have allowed.

But development is a hot-button issue on Annapolis Neck, where traffic tie-ups on Forest Drive, the main peninsula road, are severe.

At issue is land being bought by Chrisland Corp. off Bywater Road and Forest Drive. The company hopes to build an upscale housing development there.

"The way these remaining large parcels are developed is key to our quality of life and our watershed," said Barbara D. Samorajczyk, one of the county residents who sued the would-be developer and the city, and who is running against Republican William C. Mulford II for his seat on the County Council in the election next month.

"If we don't manage our land use, we are going to have gridlock," Samorajczyk said.

The development would increase the city's tax base, though not the city would not gain much much after the cost of providing services is figured in. It would be a financial wash for the county, which would receive property taxes from the homeowners.

James Peck, director of research for the Maryland Municipal

League, said annexation issues are usually resolved without court action, though a shared tax base and "concerns about densities, about traffic" are ready sources of dispute.

County Executive John G. Gary said he would not support Chrisland -- or other -- development along Forest Drive until traffic problems are eased. The county and state have pumped more than $6 million into improvements to Forest Drive in the past year. A feasibility study for a partial bypass is in the works.

Chrisland, which could develop with fewer governmental fees and get water and sewer lines to the property much more readily in the city than the county, sought the annexation. It won zoning from the city that would allow it to develop up to 3.5 houses per acre -- up from the county's 2 houses per acre limit, but within the county's Master Plan range. This angered two county civic groups already concerned about traffic.

Although the city annexed the land, city officials have not approved development plans for the site, saying they want the traffic issue addressed.

Planning issue

What Annapolis Neck needs, county officials and civic activists said, is better, more rational land-use planning instead of the piecemeal effect of annexations, a point the county will argue tomorrow.

Jonathan A. Hodgson, attorney for Chrisland, said the county is in no position to preach about land-use planning.

"The people who are telling you about planning the Annapolis Neck are the same people who planned Jennifer Road, Generals Highway, Parole, Riva Road," he said, pointing to other sites of frequent traffic jams. "We believe the city is quite capable of planning."

The county contends that state law bars the annexation because it creates a "tax enclave" -- an island of county land not connected to the county. But the law refers to a tax island as being bordered on all sides by land. One side of the property remining after the annexation is bordered by water.

The remaining section of the peninsula is still cut off from the rest of the county, said Sarah M. Iliff, assistant county attorney, describing it as "a functional enclave."

Water vs. land as boundary

"In the state of Maryland, you have an awful lot of cities that are located along the bay," Iliff said. "In this state it makes no sense to have a law that is applicable only to landlocked cities."

"That law was not intended to preclude the type of annexation that you see in this case," said Paul G. Goetzke, city attorney. Besides, he said, annexations are between the property owner asking for annexation and the city, not the county.

Neighboring homeowners, the Annapolis Neck Peninsula Federation, and Bywater Church and Crab Creek Association Inc. sued the city and Chrisland. The county sued the city.

Last year, Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Eugene M. Lerner ruled that the state law that would bar such annexations applies only to cases in which the county land is surrounded by "real property." Water is not property.

He also dismissed the homeowners' suit. State law, he said, compares the city zoning with the county master land-use plan, not with county zoning. As long as the city stayed within the county plan for its zoning, it did not have to change its land-use plan, Lerner ruled.

The county and the civic groups appealed. The state's highest court is hearing the two cases together, but might not rule on them together.

Pub Date: 10/05/98

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