Taylor plans to replace Annapolis housing with expanded House offices

Speaker presents deal: new homes for residents, more space for delegates

March 14, 2001|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Legislative leaders unveiled last night a plan to demolish 51 units of public housing in Annapolis to make way for a $30 million expansion of the House Office Building.

The proposal presented to residents of the housing complex last night marks an effort to break a stalemate between House and Senate leaders over a plan to build an annex to the 25-year-old Lowe House Office Building.

"We have a deal," said House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., an Allegany County Democrat. "We have something that will keep the residents happy and will keep us from creating a sort of canyon effect down Rowe Boulevard, with big buildings along both sides of the street."

Negotiations between House and Senate leaders have been stalled for months over the desire by the House to spend $30 million or more on the expansion.

The disagreement has sharpened since the start of the General Assembly session, when senators moved into the new Thomas V. Mike Miller Office Building. The four-story Miller building - attached to the 61-year-old James Senate Office Building - has drawn raves from senators and envy from many delegates.

More than two years ago, the House and Senate agreed to spend $24 million on the Miller building and $14 million to expand and renovate the Lowe building. The Senate also plans to spend another $10 million to renovate the James building.

But the state Department of General Services found an addition will be far more expensive than initially expected.

The addition would replace 21 housing units that are adjacent to the House office building and part of the Bloomsbury Square complex. Officials say it is the oldest public housing complex in the country. It is also the safest in Annapolis, officials and residents agree, because it's so close to the State House and other government buildings.

Residents of the 21 units would move to new townhouses to be built near the water, on the opposite end of state parking lots from the House building. The state would later build 30 more townhouses to replace the remaining units of Bloomsbury Square.

All of the new townhouses would be 1,200 square feet - larger than the current units - and have central air conditioning. The first 21 units would be completed in 18 months to two years and cost about $3.5 million in state and federal funding, said Raymond A. Skinner, secretary of the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development. Construction could then begin on the House addition.

Needing to settle the expansion plans by the end of the Assembly session next month, legislators and officials worked hard last night to secure support from the skeptical residents - pledging that they'd pay the same rent, with the state covering moving expenses.

"You'll get the signatures of the major officials of the government, from the governor on down," said Del. Howard P. Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

If the residents reject the proposal, the House would move forward with its backup option of building an addition along Rowe Boulevard, said Del. Michael E. Busch, an Anne Arundel County Democrat and chairman of the Economic Matters Committee.

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