2 sides prepare final pleas

Neighbors, developer differ on plans for former hospital site

114 new homes possible

March 31, 2002|By Amanda J. Crawford | Amanda J. Crawford,SUN STAFF

The Annapolis Board of Appeals will hold its final hearing Tuesday night on plans for the first major redevelopment project in the historic district in decades - the construction of 114 homes at the former site of Anne Arundel Medical Center.

But whether the board approves, rejects or modifies plans for Acton's Landing, the project is likely to end up in court, leaving boarded-up buildings for several months longer than anticipated when the 4.5-acre site was vacated in December.

The meeting - the board's sixth - will feature closing arguments by attorneys for the developer, a limited partnership led by Virginia-based Madison Homes, and neighbors who oppose the project and have formed a group known as ALARM (Acton's Landing Area Residents Monitor).

ALARM has pushed for a reduction in the number of homes on the southern end of the property, while the developer has protested any move to reduce the number of homes. Both sides have said they will take their case to court if they do not get their way.

At Tuesday's meeting, the developer's attorney, Alan J. Hyatt, will try to win approval of the plan for townhouses, condominiums and single-family homes.

Originally submitted with 139 units, the project was scaled back to 114 units by the city's planning staff.

"Any further reduction could cause the project not to go forward," Hyatt said.

If the number of homes is reduced or if the proposal is rejected, Hyatt said the developer might appeal to Anne Arundel County Circuit Court.

Last year, Hyatt filed suit when the board reduced the number of single-family homes in another client's project, the King's Port development, formerly called Crab Cove, from 172 to 163. About six months later, a circuit judge sided with the developer and approved plans for the larger number of homes.

If the Acton's Landing proposal is not approved in its current form, Hyatt said the developer would consider converting the abandoned hospital buildings for a commercial use instead of demolishing them. That would not require as extensive a review process but has been strongly opposed by nearby residents.

"I think that if the board evaluates what they have heard on these many nights ... then it will approve the plan as we have proposed," Hyatt said.

ALARM contends that the project does not fit into the neighborhood and does not leave enough open space. The group has asked for single-family homes in place of some of the townhouses.

"We're hopeful that the board upon its consideration will require the project to meet certain standards that would be amenable to everybody," said the group's attorney, Joseph F. Devlin.

He said that if the board approves the current plan, "the next step would be appeal to the Circuit Court."

The board gave Devlin extensive time in previous hearings to present ALARM's opposition to the Acton's Landing plan, a move that has been criticized by some neighbors who support the project.

Sandy Cohen, president of the Murray Hill Residents Association, said she realizes that the board is creating a record for a potential appeal. But she said "that should not allow an open hearing process to be hijacked by a single attorney turning it into a private hearing for his clients."

Cohen said among the issues of concern for her group is the waterfront park that is part of the proposal and has been opposed by some ALARM members.

"Some people would consider it an unacceptable loss" if that park was not built as proposed, she said. A representative from the Murray Hill Association is also expected to make remarks at the meeting.

The board will decide Tuesday night when to reconvene and deliberate on Acton's Landing. It has 40 days from that meeting to release its findings.

The city's Historic Preservation Commission also must approve aspects of the project before the developer can seek building permits.

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