Council debates annexing property

Aldermen suggest cashing in escrow, which may end talks

May 11, 1999|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

Annapolis aldermen heatedly debated a resolution to annex 50 acres of waterfront property on the city's southeastern edge last night, with some pushing to cash in $1.2 million in an escrow account established when annexation talks first began in 1984.

Residents of the Villages of Chesapeake Harbour, a gated community of 450 homes, a marina and a restaurant off Edgewood Road, have engaged in sporadic annexation talks with the city since the community was built 15 years ago.

Under the agreement established then, the city provided Chesapeake Harbour with water service so the developers would not have to build a separate treatment plant. In exchange, Harbour residents would pay twice the normal city rate for water and $100 a year into an escrow account that would be returned to the residents if they decided they wanted to be annexed within 10 years. If not, the money would go to the city.

Since then, the 10-year deadline has been extended twice by previous city councils. At the end of last year, the account had grown to $1.2 million.

"That's our money," said Alderman Samuel Gilmer, a Ward 3 Democrat. "Before we do anything, we should get our money."

City Attorney Paul G. Goetzke said he could help draft a resolution to claim the money, but warned that it would halt annexation talks.

"The stark choice is either the money or the annexation," Goetzke said. "If the city pursues [the money], the applicant will almost certainly withdraw its application. If you collect the money, annexation dies."

Annexation would benefit Annapolis.

About 40 percent of city land is occupied by tax-exempt churches, schools and state, county and federal government buildings.

Under the annexation proposal, the city would suspend residents' property taxes for 10 years and cut their water bills in half. But the city would immediately receive a share of residents' state income taxes and other taxes.

City financial planners have estimated that Chesapeake Harbour would bring about $800,000 in tax revenue to Annapolis annually.

Last night, the new resolution was introduced to replace a 1996 measure that covered annexing 35 acres of the property.

Gilmer and Alderman Louise Hammond, a Ward 1 Democrat, pushed to claim the escrow money.

"They're telling me if we take the money, then they don't want to come?" Gilmer asked. "They're holding us for ransom. The money belongs to us."

Hammond added: "The deal that was made in 1984 has expired. They can come in after we've received our money from them."

Mayor Dean L. Johnson asked Goetzke to provide the council with a chronology of the city's 15-year annexation discussion with Chesapeake Harbour. The annexation resolution was sent to the departments of Public Works and Planning and Zoning for review at the suggestion of Alderman Joseph Sachs, a Ward 4 Republican.

Pub Date: 5/11/99

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