City urged to postpone demolition

Century-old buildings scheduled to be razed today for parking lot

Petitions argue for delay

Preservationists join residents in asking for a public hearing

November 23, 1999|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

Preservationists, downtown residents and aldermen urged Annapolis Mayor Dean L. Johnson last night to postpone today's scheduled demolition of four 100-year-old buildings along West Street until a public hearing can be held on the plan.

Annapolis officials plan to tear down four buildings in the 100 block of West St. this morning to construct a temporary 89-space parking lot while a design is commissioned for a parking garage with retail and office space.

City officials have publicly discussed building a parking garage on the 37,000-square-foot site since they purchased it in June, but Alderman Louise Hammond said residents and preservationists were not informed of the date the demolition would take place. She presented Johnson with a petition signed by 140 residents over the weekend, asking officials to delay demolition.

"I would like to request that the destruction of the city's buildings on West Street be delayed until the public has had a chance to speak," said Hammond, a Democrat whose ward encompasses West Street. "I only received word last week from an anonymous source that demolition would be done this week."

In addition to Hammond, Aldermen Sheila Tolliver, Ellen O. Moyer and Samuel Gilmer argued that demolition should be delayed until a public hearing is held. Representatives from Historic Annapolis Foundation, the city-appointed Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) and the Ward One Residents Association also argued against today's razing, asking the city to first study the historical significance of the four buildings.

The buildings that preservationists are battling to keep are a brick, two-floor commercial structure and three narrow 2 1/2-story houses that have been vacant since June.

The HPC, which has the power to approve or veto demolitions and renovations of structures within the city's historic district, cannot stop the West Street razing because the area is just outside the district.

Joseph Sachs, a Republican who represents Ward 4, questioned why those who opposed the buildings' demolition did not speak up before last night, pointing out that city officials announced their purchase of the West Street parcel in June and that the public had known about their plans to buy the property months before that.

"Here we are, six to eight months later, and there's a public hue and cry," Sachs said.

Tolliver argued that although they had talked about land purchase during the city's budget discussions, there was no public debate over demolition of the buildings on the site or construction. Many in the audience echoed that view when they took the podium.

"I don't think anyone in Ward One doesn't want to see more parking," said W. Minor Carter, president of the residents' association. "This is a process issue. This is not an issue of parking, but of communicating. I think we would like to have more communication with the city of Annapolis."

HPC member Terrence T. Averill said before the meeting that it took him about two days to gather the 140 signatures on the petition.

"Everybody's assumption was that there would be a public hearing," said Averill, who said he first heard of the demolition Friday and began circulating petitions Saturday. "If there's no public input, how can the public interest be served? If you can collect [140] signatures pretty much overnight, there's a lot of public opposition, or at least concern, about what's going on at that site."

Annapolis businesses have hailed the city's plans for the temporary and permanent garage as a much-needed solution to a critical parking shortage.

"Annapolis needs the parking," Idell Wertz, president of the Annapolis Business Association, said before the meeting. Wertz' group recently tried unsuccessfully to persuade a Virginia company developing the Anne Arundel Medical Center site downtown to keep a 330-space parking garage instead of razing it to build homes.

"Please don't take one away and then stand in the way of us getting something else," Wertz said. "You can't tear down [330] spots and then throw a monkey wrench into something that's going to alleviate the crunch."

Sharon Kennedy, acting president of the Historic Annapolis Foundation, said preservation groups want to work with the city to find a way to build a garage but incorporate the buildings into the design.

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