Project cost-cutting plans have housing tenants upset

$1.6 million trim opposed at Annapolis community

August 15, 2002|By Amanda J. Crawford | Amanda J. Crawford,SUN STAFF

Public housing residents are balking at a developer's proposal to trim $1.6 million from the cost of a townhouse and apartment community being built along Annapolis' waterfront, threatening the future of a project that was hailed two months ago as a national model.

A&R Development Corp., the Baltimore company developing New Bloomsbury Square, is looking for ways to cut costs so the project doesn't exceed its $7.6 million budget.

Under the plan, the state would pay A&R to build the homes for residents displaced from units that would be torn down to make way for a $30 million expansion of the Lowe House Office Building.

The company blames revisions requested by the city of Annapolis and environmental agencies, a tight construction schedule, unanticipated problems with the site along College Creek and other factors for the estimated cost overrun, said Calvin Jackson Jr., the company's assistant development manager.

But the public housing residents, who signed off on the project in March after months of negotiations, have objected.

"We want what they promised us," said Alice Johnson, president of the tenants council, who said more than 30 residents have signed a petition to the developer opposing the changes.

The cost-cutting measures include replacing hardwood floors with carpeting and adding wood siding to the back of townhouses that were originally to be all brick.

Janet LaBella, the Legal Aid attorney representing residents in talks, said residents did not approve the changes -- as required for the project to proceed -- at a meeting Tuesday night.

"The residents' position was there was a plan that was approved by everyone," LaBella said. "Before everyone rushes to make changes, they should be looking at other solutions and other funding instead of just making cuts to the project."

The plan for New Bloomsbury Square was hard-won, with months of negotiations involving the state, county, city, St. John's College and Annapolis Housing Authority officials.

Plans call for moving residents from 60-year-old homes that abut the state office complex to a development to be built on a former parking lot along Bladen Street. Residents agreed because the plan offered them larger, nicer homes in the same neighborhood with water views.

Ground was broken in June after a jubilant ceremony the previous month in which the governor and other officials said Bloomsbury would be the best public housing in the nation.

The city was not involved in the beginning, but once included by the governor, requested major changes to make the project fit into the Annapolis Historic District and comply with environmental requirements. Jackson said the revisions requested by the city delayed the project by two months and added to the cost.

Problems with the site's soil and undocumented utility lines also boosted the cost, Jackson said. And subcontractors' bids came in higher than expected because of the quick turnaround demanded by the state and the high demand for construction projects. In recent weeks, company representatives have met with state and city officials to try to find ways to cut the cost of the project.

Developers have proposed scaling back the number of units from 52 to 51 and cutting the community center from two stories to one, Jackson said. Asphalt would be used instead of environmentally advanced pavement in the parking lot. Expensive street lighting requested by the city would be dropped, as would most of the proposed shutters. Landscaping costs would be cut by planting smaller trees or shrubs, or fewer of them. Cheaper, oversized bricks and less expensive windows also would be used.

The city has said it will not accept some suggestions, such as using concrete for curbs instead of granite, but has authorized several other changes. Now the big challenge will be winning over residents -- again.

"It still will be a very nice development that people can be proud of," Jackson said.

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