Hearing set in black history museum expansion

Suit contends project requires Annapolis' OK

February 13, 2003|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

An Anne Arundel County judge has set a Feb. 27 hearing for a preliminary injunction on whether officials must follow Annapolis rules to build an addition to a state-operated African-American history museum in the city's tony historic district.

No excavation can take place in the meantime, under a restraining order worked out behind closed doors yesterday by the state, the county, the city and property owners who filed the lawsuit this week.

"This is a win," said lawyer Thomas C. McCarthy Sr., whose son and daughter-in-law own a house turned into a law office that faces the Banneker-Douglass Museum.

State and local officials said the McCarthys won barely anything, as the agreement does not stop the Department of General Services from doing work planned for this month, mostly preliminaries such as erecting a construction fence.

Jessica and Thomas C. McCarthy Jr., who filed the lawsuit Tuesday, contend that the addition to the Banneker-Douglass Museum should not be exempt from city regulations and permits, arguing that it is an architectural misfit that would have benefited from oversight by the city's Historic Preservation Commission.

The museum, and the site of the addition, rest on land the county owns but leases under a 99-year contract to the state for the museum. State officials contend that because the addition is a state project on land that effectively is the state's, they need not pursue city approvals. County officials say it is not their project, and city officials agreed.

The McCarthys say that city law requires the owner of property -- not the one who leases it -- to seek permits.

Officials broke ground Feb. 3 on a $5.5 million structure that will add nearly 12,000 square feet to the 9,000-square-foot former Mount Moriah African Methodist Episcopal Church, which was turned into a museum in 1984.

The lawsuit has raised a long-simmering issue between the state and its capital city, site of several state projects.

"It has long been the city's position that we feel the state should cooperate with the city more closely with its projects. This project is an example of where we thought there was insufficient cooperation with the city," said Paul G. Goetzke, Annapolis city attorney.

A spokesman for the state Department of Housing and Community Services said officials worked closely with the city on the design.

The county is seeking assurances from the state that construction noise will not disrupt operations of the courthouse, which occupies most of that city block.

"If they go out there and use pile drivers during the day, we will shut them down," said Robert G. Wallace, administrator of the Circuit Court.

The restraining order put into writing that the state cannot block the sidewalk or Franklin Street without city permission, an understanding that Goetzke said was reached earlier.

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