Clash stalls garage plans

Land designation, eventual use of space remain unsettled

May 22, 2000|By Amy Oakes | Amy Oakes,SUN STAFF

First, the question was whether five 100-year-old houses should be razed to make way for the city project. Then it was a matter of who would make that decision. Now the issue is what will occupy the additional commercial space.

Building a parking garage shouldn't be so difficult.

But for Annapolis, the proposed Cecil and Martha Knighton Facility, a much-needed 500-space parking garage to be built at West Street and Colonial Avenue, has become an albatross.

The city's Finance Committee and Planning Commission have suggested to the city council two conflicting uses for the facility as part of their overall recommendations for the 2001 operating budget and capital improvements plan.

The council is scheduled to adopt the $47.5 million budget, which does not propose an increase in the property tax rate, at 7 tonight.

"These people are wasting time," said Cecil C. Knighton, who sold and donated the land for the parking garage almost one year ago. "The city needs parking spaces. They are losing business all the time because of a lack of parking."

Mayor Dean L. Johnson has proposed spending $8.6 million for the design and construction of the Knighton Facility.

The city had planned to raze seven buildings on the 37,000-square-foot site and build the garage last fall, but preservationists stepped in to protect five of the structures until their historic value could be determined. Plans for the houses have yet to be made.

The other two buildings were razed, and the mayor established two committees to research the design and use of the facility as well as the fate of the other five buildings. The committees have been charged with presenting their findings no later than June 15.

The three-member Finance Committee has recommended that the facility be both a parking garage and a city office building for the Planning and Zoning Department. Committee Chairman Joseph Sachs, a Ward 4 Republican, said the department has outgrown its quarters in the old firehouse across from City Hall.

"The building is woefully inadequate," Sachs said.

The lack of space was evident Thursday night as about 30 people were forced to cram into the department's conference room for the Planning Commission's regular meeting because the conference rooms in City Hall were in use.

At the meeting, which moved into the more spacious city council chambers, the Planning Commission passed a recommendation to approve the mayor's proposed budget with conditions, including leaving undetermined the number of spaces in the garage as well as the use of additional building space.

Some members of the commission said the use of the building space should not be decided until the committees report their findings.

Erich J. Rose, chairman of the Ward One Residents Association's Inner West Street development committee, said the organization wants a mixed-use facility, with office and retail space as well as the garage.

"This is just another last-minute effort by the administration to screw up the process," Rose said.

Johnson said if the project is funded with tax-free municipal bonds, only 5 percent of the facility could be used for nonpublic purposes; the rest would have to be used by city government.

Along with the proposal for the parking garage, the Finance Committee has made several other recommendations to the council, including giving a one-time grant of $15,000 to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Eastport and decreasing the amount proposed for the Annapolis Heritage area committee.

At one of the five public hearings held by the committee, an SPCA representative asked for money to expand its outdated facility.

During the same hearing, officials with the heritage authority told the committee that the proposed $49,900 from the city would be "seed money" for a proposal to designate Annapolis and parts of South County a state-certified heritage area. The county also is being asked to budget $49,900 for the program.

The designation would make preservation and tourism efforts in the area bounded by U.S. 50, Solomons Island Road, the waterfront and the county line eligible for financial and technical assistance from the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority and other state agencies.

The Finance Committee recommended decreasing the amount to $35,000 based on Alderman Herbert H. McMillan's argument that the county should pay more, Sachs said.

"We accepted Alderman McMillan's comments that the city put in less than the county because more of [the heritage area] is in the county," he said.

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