Mayor's bill would aid Acton's Landing

Residents' group decries move that could block challenge

March 10, 2002|By Amanda J. Crawford | Amanda J. Crawford,SUN STAFF

In a move aimed at keeping the proposed redevelopment of the former Anne Arundel Medical Center site from being stalled by lengthy court action, Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer will introduce legislation tomorrow that would give any city interests in a disputed half-acre waterfront parcel to the developer for $1.

The parcel, known as the "nurses' lot," has been a primary focus of a group of residents opposed to the planned 114-unit Acton's Landing residential development. The group, known as Acton's Landing Area Residents Monitor (ALARM), has charged in hearings before the Board of Appeals that because of covenants in a 1935 deed, the city, not the hospital or the developer, owns the parcel that has been included in development plans.

The legislation would turn over city interests in that property to the limited partnership headed by Virginia-based Madison Homes under the condition that the developer convert the property into a park. The developer's plans include building a park on the property, and then turning it over to the city for public use.

Moyer called the nurses' lot a "sticking point" and said the legislation could help to thwart a lengthy court challenge that could delay the redevelopment of the 4-acre hospital site in the heart of downtown - a plan that she said is supported by most residents.

"It is in the city's interest, working with the majority of residents that have been invested in this project, to see that we don't have an empty building sitting there for a decade," she said. The developer has said it will demolish most of the abandoned and boarded up hospital buildings after getting city permits.

The project is under review by the city's Board of Appeals, which will continue its hearings March 20. The Historic Preservation Commission also must review it.

Joseph Devlin, an attorney representing ALARM members, said the legislation shows that the city erred by not taking possession of the property, and by allowing it to be included in the development plan. If the parcel is not included, the developer would not be allowed to build as many units on the rest of the property and would have to allot more green space elsewhere.

"They have a real problem with the issues that we have raised," Devlin said. "Up until today, they have said it is a non-issue. Obviously, by virtue of that legislation, they recognize it is an issue."

ALARM member David Smick said the legislation "has the appearance of a sleazy backroom deal" and he believes it will cause more residents to question the project.

"This action is of deep concern, not only to the residents who live closest to the property but it should offend every taxpayer in the city," said ALARM member William Kardash.

Jon Arason, director of the city's planning and zoning department, said the legislation "is just positively affirming what is already a matter of fact."

"We have no interest in it now," Arason said of the parcel. "All this says is we have no interest in it."

Alan Hyatt, an attorney representing the developer, called the nurses' lot dispute "a red herring." He said he believes the covenants on the lot have not been violated and are illegal. He said he believes the city does not have any ownership interest in the lot.

"We want to eliminate any remote possibility of some misinterpretation of those covenants," Hyatt said, referring to possible court action by ALARM. "What this would do is eliminate any question about who owns that property."

If Acton's Landing is not approved or if it is challenged in court, Hyatt said, the developer will instead build a nonresidential project on the site, which would not require as extensive of an approval process.

ALARM attorney Devlin questions why the city would assist a developer whose past development record, as The Sun revealed last year, is less than stellar.

"I find it remarkable that the city continues to bend over backwards for these developers, who have never before the board stood up and told us who they are or answered any of the questions that have been raised about prior projects," Devlin said. "On the one hand, they promise to provide a quality project while, on the other hand, each and every time they are faced with legitimate issues raised by the citizenry, they renew their threat that if they don't get what they want, compatibility with the neighborhood, being a good neighbor and quality will go out the window."

The Sun revealed in January 2001 that the principals of Madison Homes, in 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.

The City Council will meet at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow in council chambers at City Hall on Duke of Gloucester Street.

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