West St. zoning changes proposed

A spate of building has Annapolis leaders considering extra guidelines for development.

September 16, 2005|By Bradley Olson | Bradley Olson,SUN STAFF

With new office buildings and condominiums going up at what was once a blighted area, Annapolis planners are seeking to protect existing buildings and limit the height and size of new ones along lower West Street.

New guidelines, recommended by city officials with input from a task force of residents, businesses and property owners, have renewed a debate over how to manage development in the fast-growing corridor.

The rules would cover West Street from Church Circle to West Gate Circle, at Spa Road.

Mike Miron, economic development coordinator for the city, said the current zoning for the mixed-use district, drawn up in the mid-1980s to spur development in the area, was working.

But he added, "Residents felt they wanted to put the brakes on somewhat because of commercial development along the corridor, so the mayor convened a committee of residents and business owners that has made these recommendations."

The changes, to be discussed in a public meeting Sept. 26, would restrict the height and size of new buildings; limit the distribution of liquor licenses that are effective until 2 a.m.; and regulate building demolition.

Consideration of the changes comes as two major projects begin to take shape at West Street and Spa Road: a headquarters for Severn Savings Bank and the $200 million Park Place development, which will include a Westin Hotel, offices, condominiums and shops.

The new rules vary by location in the district. The changes would not apply to existing structures or developments proposed as of the ordinance's passage.

Among the recommendations:

Maximum building heights would be reduced, ranging from 24 feet to 65 feet. To reach maximum height, developers would need special permission and upper floors would have to be farther back from the street.

Much-coveted 2 a.m. liquor licenses would be available only to restaurants in the area closest to West Gate Circle, although bars that already have the licenses would be allowed to keep them.

The Annapolis Department of Planning and Zoning would have the authority to approve or deny the demolition of any structure within the district. Anyone seeking demolition must post a sign on the property notifying the public of a proposed demolition and when a decision is to be made about the proposal.

All projects that would front West Street and that are proposed after the new rules are adopted must have a retail outlet on the first floor.

Planned residential communities must provide 1 1/2 spaces of parking per unit of housing in zoned parking.

In a May newsletter, Denise Worthen, president of the Murray Hill Residents Association, said the new restrictions would balance development and residential needs.

"West Street is the gateway to our community," Worthen wrote. "If large buildings with large parking and transportation demands continue to be built on the narrow West Street corridor, we all will suffer. ... Not only will we find it increasingly difficult to get into and out of the community, but the traffic and parking pressure on West Street will seek the only outlet at hand - our neighborhood streets."

Phil Dunn, who owns properties in the district and sat on the committee that drafted the changes, said he didn't believe the changes were necessary.

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it," Dunn said. "The sites that remain [undeveloped] are very small and not very deep," Dunn said. "The [mixed-use] district in most places is only half a block deep, so there is very little development opportunity left."

Miron agreed, saying market forces have already limited development because property owners are choosing to turn proposed commercial sites into residential and retail locales.

The city spent $13 million to upgrade lower West Street by adding red brick sidewalks and replacing utility lines.

That investment, combined with what some have deemed "liberal" zoning restrictions, have spawned developments.

Recently, the city approved a building permit for Park Place that will include a seven-story, 208-unit condominium building, a 225-room hotel and several other offices and shops. The city recently opened its Knighton city parking garage, adjacent to West Village.

Farther down West Street, construction is under way on projects such as the Westbridge Village condominiums at Chinquapin Round Road.

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