Hearings set on plan for old hospital site

Developer proposing mixed housing units in historic area

Presentation tonight

City's planners help on design

some neighbors opposed

January 09, 2002|By Amanda J. Crawford | Amanda J. Crawford,SUN STAFF

The long-awaited public hearings on the proposed redevelopment of the vacant hospital site in downtown Annapolis begin tonight.

Madison Homes will present its plan to build a 114-unit residential development called Acton's Landing before the city's Planning Commission.

The hearings are the first step in obtaining city approval of the project planned for 4.5 acres in the heart of the Murray Hill community. It would be the first major development in the historic district in decades, and it would also need the approval of the Board of Appeals and the Annapolis Historic Preservation Commission before the developer could obtain building permits.

"Over time [the plan] has improved at each stage and I think it will be a tremendous success," said Alan J. Hyatt, the attorney representing Madison Homes. "If this plan gets approved ... it won't take long to sell these units."

Residents have anxiously awaited the planning commission hearings, initially expected last spring. The Virginia-based developer was chosen more than two years ago by Anne Arundel Medical Center to redevelop the site that the hospital abandoned last month when it relocated outside of town.

But the project has been delayed as the city planning department has worked with Madison to produce a development that it thought fit well into the community.

The plans have also been the center of controversy since The Sun revealed a year ago the checkered pasts of the Madison Homes' two principals.

Their former company, the Milton Co., faced three multimillion-dollar lawsuits in the early 1990s filed by condominium owners complaining about shoddy construction. Condominium owners at two of the complexes settled out of court, while those at the third went to trial and were awarded $6.7 million in 1994. The Milton Co. stopped doing business in 1992.

Jon Arason, director of the city's department of planning and zoning, said he is pleased with the way the final plan for Acton's Landing has evolved. He stressed that the board makes its decision on the project, not the developer.

"I expect most people to be generally supportive of the project," he said.

The department wanted to ensure that the project offered a transition between the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court on one side, and the dense development of the historic district and the suburbanlike, single-family homes of Murray Hill.

Nearest to the courthouse, the developer plans to convert the historic hospital building into condominiums and construct an additional, large condominium building. Together, those buildings would include 26 senior citizen units and 58 condominium apartments. Fifteen townhouses, one duplex and 13 single-family homes are also planned for the site, as well as a half-acre waterfront park that would be turned over to the city.

The planning department and the developer were tweaking the project as recently as a few weeks ago, when they decided to cut a story off of the condominium building on the Cathedral Street side.

More changes could be made if the developer reaches a proposed compromise with a group of area residents who have expressed opposition to the project, especially the number and layout of the units.

That group, which calls itself Acton's Landing Area Residents Monitor (ALARM), has hired an attorney and has pursued changes in the design of the project, especially around the proposed park and South Street.

Joseph F. Devlin, who represents ALARM, said the group has agreed not to oppose the project if the developer reduces the single-family homes around the park from six to four and scraps five townhouses along South Street in favor of two single-family homes.

"They have larger concerns, but they are willing to put those concerns aside if we get this compromise," Devlin said. The compromise would "allow the process to go forward and the project to be developed in a reasonable amount of time."

Devlin would not say if ALARM would consider litigation if a compromise is not reached.

Hyatt said the developer may consider that deal, but will probably wait to hear from other residents and the planning commission before making that decision.

"If there is an opportunity to reach a reasonable compromise that the staff supports, the boards and the community support, we will consider it," he said.

The Murray Hill Residents Association gave the project its support at its meeting last month after a presentation by Madison Homes, association President Sandy Cohen said.

But Devlin stressed that the project should not be rushed through approval.

"The goal should be to ensure that what is developed on this premier, historic piece of property is compatible with the historic residential neighborhood in which it exists," he said. "That may take a little more time, a little more effort and review on everybody's part."

Planning Commission chair Wilford Scott said the commission will not extend its hearing tonight beyond 11 p.m. If needed, additional hearings are scheduled for tomorrow night and Tuesday.

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