Wrecker due in historic district

Old hospital's demolition set to make way for area's biggest project in decades

106 residences to be built

Razing to end years of haggling over plans with activist neighbors

January 06, 2004|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

A wrecking ball will soon tear into the boarded-up facade of the old Anne Arundel Medical Center, clearing the way for the largest development that Annapolis' historic district has seen in decades.

Demolition of the former hospital, which has been vacant for about two years, is scheduled to begin any week, said Alan J. Hyatt, attorney for Madison Homes Inc. of Northern Virginia. Construction is expected to continue into 2006 on the planned 106-unit residential development, called Acton's Landing.

Madison gained control of the 4.5-acre site in November, bringing an official close to years of haggling with neighborhood activists about the particulars of the project. Activists said the project would clutter their intimate historic neighborhood, but developers eased some concerns by paring more than 30 units from the plan.

After years of negotiation, Hyatt said, the imminent demolition is "a great relief to everyone involved." He said the planned community will be "a major asset to the downtown area."

Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer said, "Really, what it does is bring a lot of people into the downtown, within walking distance of our shops and restaurants."

Even former critics of the project say they're more happy than not to see construction about to begin.

"I think the way we feel is that the project is better now than when it was submitted for preliminary approval," said William Kardash, a member of the Acton's Landing Area Residents Monitor, a neighborhood group that battled the proposed development. "We still have some concerns about the density, but we took our best shot, and we came to a compromise."

Kardash said neighbors are eager to be rid of the hulking, vacant hospital building, which looms over streets lined with tidy houses and small professional businesses.

Before moving to Jennifer Road, the hospital was at the site from 1902 until 2001. Last year, the site bustled again when it was used for the filming of a John Travolta movie. But now, black boards cover the windows and grime coats the stone-and-brick facade of the building, which occupies a city block.

"I don't think anyone wants to have such an eyesore -- a big, boarded-up building -- in the middle of our neighborhood," Kardash said.

Hyatt said, "I think it will be a welcome change."

Madison Homes was selected by the hospital in September 1999 to redevelop the site. Its initial plan for 139 homes was criticized by nearby residents who said the development would be too dense for the neighborhood.

In January 2001, The Sun revealed that Madison Homes' principals had faced financial and legal problems and that their former business, Milton Co., had been sued by communities in Maryland and Northern Virginia for poor construction. Among the verdicts was a record $6.7 million award in 1994 to owners at the Bentley Place condominium development in Rockville.

In response, Madison Homes promised careful oversight, brought in a financial partner and said it would hire another company to build the Acton's Landing project.

The development was further delayed by a lawsuit from a group of nearby residents that challenged the Board of Appeals' approval of the project, saying it did not fit into the community.

The groups settled out of court in November 2002, with Madison agreeing to eliminate two single-family homes and one townhouse from the plan. Early last year, the project received approval from Annapolis planners and the city's Historic Preservation Committee.

Plans call for a 79-unit condominium building, 14 townhouses and 13 single-family homes. Hyatt said developers aren't certain how much the project will cost. He said Madison still must obtain some grading and building permits for the project but that he expects no problems on that front.

Kardash said that although residents are satisfied with the design, they will keep a close eye on construction, which many expect to be a major nuisance over the next two years. He said neighbors are worried about noise, the flow of construction vehicles and possible construction runoff into nearby Spa Creek.

"Time will tell if it ends up being a problem," he said. "I don't think anyone will know until they take a wrecking ball to the place what the impact will be."

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