Zoning hinders parking venture

Schools' for-profit lot plan needs municipal partner

70 spaces near City Dock affected

Officials estimate project could raise up to $300,000

April 22, 2005|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

As the county school system seeks bids to transform its parking lot near City Dock in Annapolis into a for-profit venture, city officials say zoning prohibits such a plan without a city-county partnership.

School officials have made a formal request for proposals for private management of its 70-space lot off Commerce Street. The deadline for bids is Tuesday.

"We're looking at this as a possible revenue source," said Robert C. Leib, the school system's director of business and government services.

Staff at Annapolis Elementary School would continue to use the 59 spaces in the lot during the day and for the school's evening activities, Leib said. An additional 11 spaces adjacent to the lot also would be reserved for daytime use by the school system's administrative offices on Green Street.

Students from the Division of Career and Technology Education volunteer to collect parking fees at the lot from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekends, generating about $50,000 per year for leadership programs, said Thomas E. Miller, director of career and technology education.

School officials estimate they could take in as much as $300,000 with professional management.

But city planning administrators say zoning is an obstacle. Only municipal parking lots are permitted in that zoning district, and require approval by the city's planning commission and Board of Appeals, said Tom Smith, the city's chief of current planning.

"The city of Annapolis could run a parking lot," he said. "The Board of Education doesn't qualify as municipal."

But the school district could overcome that hurdle by entering into a partnership with the city, he said.

Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer said the city will bid on the contract to manage the lot. Annapolis has inquired several times about such a venture with the school system as a way to help alleviate downtown parking woes, she said.

The city will implement valet parking at several lots next month to increase lot capacity and reduce traffic, Moyer said. Using valet parking at the school's lot would increase its capacity as well.

"What you have are people that are going round and round and round looking for a spot they can stick in," Moyer said.

The prospect of expanded parking at the school lot excited Chuck Weikel, a Green Street resident and chairman of a city committee examining parking issues downtown.

"This is fantastic news," he said. "We have been waiting 25 years to get those ... spaces brought online in the evening."

Attorneys for the city have also said the land would be subject to property taxes if the school system used it for a profit-making venture, said city spokeswoman Jan Hardesty.

The proposal also requires bidders to develop an internship program so county high school students can gain entrepreneurial skills operating the lot.

"We want them to learn something about small-business management," Miller said.

He said that technology education would still get a share of the proceeds of the lot for its programs. Annapolis Elementary and other schools also will still operate the lot as a fund-raiser during Annapolis boat shows, Leib added.

Weikel said his neighbors on Green Street want the school system to have a plan to ensure the safety of those parking in the lot. They also hope that the new management maximizes public use of the lot. School officials have assured them they are considering those concerns, he said.

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