Groups lobby to save garage

Bar association, downtown businesses point to parking woes

November 17, 1999|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

The Anne Arundel Bar Association and several Annapolis businesses and attorneys are joining forces to lobby city officials to block demolition of a five-story downtown garage that they believe could solve a critical parking shortage in the area.

Attorney Willam M. Simmons has distributed hundreds of letters in downtown Annapolis in the past week, urging residents and businesses to fight for the preservation of Anne Arundel Medical Center's 330-space parking garage after the hospital moves to Parole in 2001. The hospital's 5-acre site in the middle of downtown Annapolis has been contracted to McLean, Va.-based Madison Homes, which plans to build 139 condominiums, townhouses and single-family homes in the state capital's historical district.

Deborah L. Potter, president of the Anne Arundel Bar Association, and several business leaders in Annapolis have spoken out in support of preserving the garage.

"The whole summer, we've had `Full' signs go up outside all the parking garages downtown at 9: 30 in the morning," Simmons said. "If you don't have parking over a third of the year, it seems silly to take an asset like that and throw it away. You've got a parking garage that's built, and the thought of tearing it down when it costs so much to build one, especially when it's so difficult to build anything in Annapolis, it just seems silly."

Simmons' letter and a Dec. 2 meeting he has called to discuss the issue likely will revive a debate over the medical center site that has dominated Annapolis since the hospital announced its move two years ago. At the heart of the issue is the tension between the needs of residents and businesses in a historic state capital.

Downtown residents have successfully lobbied for the hospital site to revert to residential use in 2001. But others in Annapolis also have seen potential for business development in the site -- the largest parcel available in the historical district in decades.

Hospital officials resolved the issue in September when they decided on Madison Homes as the developer of their site. The Virginia company plans to tear down the eight-story hospital building and adjacent parking garage while preserving a historic home -- which houses offices -- for community use.

Potter said she sent hospital officials a letter in September pushing for the garage to be saved because the county's new courthouse on Church Circle has limited parking space. She said she received no reply.

"We desperately need parking," Potter said. "Here we have a building that's going to be vacated by the hospital, located within one block of the courthouse. We'd very much like to see if some use of it can be maintained for the citizens of Anne Arundel County."

Hospital spokeswoman Mary Lou Baker said Annapolitans would have to lobby Madison Homes for any change in plans. Russell Rosenberger, Madison Homes president, could not be reached to comment.

Alderman Louise Hammond, a Democrat who represents the downtown area, questioned why the concerns were not raised before hospital officials picked Madison Homes and why county courthouse planners did not allow for more parking.

"Why has this group of people waited several years to come to this conclusion when they've known for several years that the courthouse was expanding and the hospital is moving?" asked Hammond, who questioned what changes city officials could insist on for privately owned land. "According to the [hospital site] zoning, the garage is to be used only by the hospital. The parking facility on hospital property does not serve other properties downtown. [Saving the garage] conflicts with every transportation plan that we've ever developed. You want to get rid of the cars before you come downtown, get people to park in outer parking lots. You should not encourage more cars to come downtown."

But Simmons and some business owners argue that the parking shortage downtown has been hurting their businesses. Simmons, who specializes in real estate settlements, said he's also lost customers who grew tired of circling the area for parking and didn't want to park at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on Rowe Boulevard and take a shuttle bus into the city.

Steve Samaras, owner of Zachary's Exquisite Jewelry on Main Street, said he once had a customer who had planned to come into Annapolis to purchase a $2,000 ring and have dinner at Middleton Tavern with his wife for their anniversary who turned around and left the city after not finding parking.

"Obviously, parking is at a premium in downtown Annapolis," said Samaras, who also is a board member of the Annapolis Business Association -- which is meeting tomorrow morning to discuss saving the hospital parking garage. "If you remove several hundred spaces from downtown, it's going to do nothing but hurt."

Mayor Dean L. Johnson said he is aware of the parking problem and is encouraging city planners -- who will meet with Madison Homes representatives tomorrow night for a planning commission meeting -- to come up with a solution.

"In an urban area like this which was never designed for automobiles," Johnson said, "we're always going to have a shortage of parking."

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