Legal challenge delays work on history museum addition

February 28, 2003|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Work on a long-awaited addition to a black history museum in Annapolis's historic district will be tied up for at least two more weeks, after a judge yesterday postponed a hearing on a legal challenge to the plan.

At issue is whether the planned addition to the Banneker-Douglass Museum is subject to Annapolis rules requiring permits and approval for new buildings or additions in the historic district.

The state, which runs the museum and broke ground Feb. 3 on the $5.5 million addition, maintains that it is exempt from city requirements.

But the owners of a law office across the street from the museum say that the addition would be an architectural eyesore in the historic district and that no work should take place until the addition gets the city permits and approvals that private property owners must have in hand.

The law office owners sued the state, the city and Anne Arundel County on Feb. 11 to stop the project. The museum sits on county-owned land.

Yesterday's delay stemmed from a dispute between government lawyers and the law office owners, Thomas J. McCarthy Jr. and his wife, Jessica, over what kind of hearing was to take place and whether all appropriate legal procedures had been followed.

Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Ronald A. Silkworth, clearly exasperated, urged the parties to "listen carefully" as the deadlines for filing court papers and the nature of the March 14 hearing were read into the record.

A Feb. 12 agreement and consent order in which the state said no excavation would take place will stay in effect.

The issue is complicated and touches a raw nerve in the city, which prides itself on preserving its Colonial-era downtown buildings and regulating the look of new structures, as well as renovations and additions to existing ones.

But, as the capital city, Annapolis is home to many state buildings. And many city officials and residents express frustration at the city's inability to regulate the appearance of state buildings in the historic district.

State officials say that although they need not obtain Historic Preservation Commission approval, they have tried to be sensitive and appeared twice before the commission on the issue.

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