Lawsuit delays museum addition

State-run site downtown should be subject to city rules, lawyer argues

Annapolis

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.

Many frustrated

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.

The McCarthys maintain that the county must follow city rules because Anne Arundel owns the land. City laws say the property owner must obtain permission.

But county officials maintain that this requirement doesn't apply to them because a 99-year lease to the state has the practical effect of making it the owner.

Looking for exits

Patricia Logan, senior assistant county attorney, said she may ask the judge to remove the county from the lawsuit.

Paul G. Goetzke, special counsel to Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer, said he also expects to ask the judge to remove the city from the case. The requests, if granted, would leave the McCarthys battling only the state.

"The city's position is that if the judge directs the state to submit applications to us, then we will process them. I think it's premature to include the city at this point," Goetzke said.

The addition would add nearly 12,000 square feet to the 9,000-square-foot museum, which is housed in the former Mount Moriah African Methodist Episcopal Church.

The recent groundbreaking drew many elected officials, including Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele.

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