Annapolis council to tackle 3 tough issues tomorrow

Market House lease, proposed annexation, West Street zoning


The Annapolis city council might close the book on three of the more controversial proposals of its term tomorrow, the last time the sitting council will meet before five newly elected aldermen take their seats.

The Market House lease is likely to be approved after some last-minute wrangling over the length of the lease and what will be sold at the site, several council members said.

Legislation to control development on the outskirts of Annapolis - whether by annexation or development moratorium - will be considered after a public hearing beginning at 7 p.m.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in Sunday's Anne Arundel section incorrectly characterized the position of outgoing Alderwoman Louise Hammond on two issues. She had not proposed any amendments to the Market House lease, but she said that she wanted to ensure that the building's vendors included "fresh foods" such as fresh bread and produce among what is sold there. She also said that land eyed for annexation by the city can't currently be developed because of county rules that prohibit development on land without adequate public facilities. The Sun regrets the errors.

The council might also vote on new mixed-use - or MX - zoning guidelines for lower West Street, although the mayor said it could be postponed until the new council's first meeting Dec. 12.

The Market House lease would give control of the 147-year-old building to Site Realty Group of Silver Spring for 20 years at $100,000 a year, plus annual adjustments for inflation. Site Realty manages Eastern Market on Capitol Hill, and negotiations with the company this month have focused on reducing the term of the lease from 40 years to 20, a requirement that vendors sell fresh foods and a proposed cap for the property's rent.

The historic building, near City Dock, was once a bustling lunch spot, but the city evicted its former vendors, made $1 million in improvements and awarded a contract to specialty grocer Dean & DeLuca, a deal that eventually fell through.

If approved, the agreement would end a contentious issue for the city council and particularly Mayor Ellen O. Moyer, causing her to speculate during campaign season that it could cost her the election. It didn't, as she handily defeated Republican Alderman George O. Kelly Sr. and Gilbert Renaut, an independent.

Moyer said Friday that she was eager to move on.

"I think it's about time to finish it," Moyer said. "We've got an agreeable lease and we've gotten some support from the downtown community associations. We'll see Monday. You never know until it's all done."

Moyer said that if the council approves the lease tomorrow, the site should be on track to open in April.

Alderwoman Louise Hammond, an outspoken opponent of Moyer's handling of the issue, said she will support the lease if her amendments to limit the vending there to fresh produce, meats and bread are included.

"I will be very relieved to have the Market House issue settled and hopefully settled the way I would like to see it settled," she said. "That final language is something that will be good for the city."

As with the Market House, many Annapolis residents have asked the council to postpone voting on several annexation proposals until after the new council is sworn in Dec. 5. The annexation resolution, which was changed at the last meeting to halt development on annexed land rather than stopping the annexation itself, has met with strong opposition from Hammond and Alderwoman Sheila M. Tolliver, and tomorrow's city council meeting will begin with a public hearing on the matter.

Several properties are being considered for annexation, including the Rodgers and Katherine properties in the Forest Drive corridor. At 179 acres, the Katherine property would be the largest annexation in years. Between 1991 and 2001, the city annexed 230 acres. Preliminary plans call for adding a small shopping center to the Katherine property, now a horse farm. The Rodgers property is 6 acres.

Alderman Josh Cohen, an Eastport Democrat, has said that annexing the land will be good for Annapolis because it will enable the city to impose more stringent controls on developers who could otherwise build under Anne Arundel County's more liberal codes. Hammond pointed out that nothing can be built on some of the properties being considered because the county has not met state laws for adequate public facilities in those areas.

Moyer said that if the land isn't annexed, it will be developed eventually, likely in a way with which Annapolitans will not be comfortable.

She referred to studies showing that land annexed by Annapolis has been developed only to one-third of what would have been allowable by county guidelines. And in Annapolis, community groups and residential associations have more input in the process.

The last contentious item the council will consider is a longstanding proposal to update mixed-use zoning rules along West Street from Church Circle to West Gate Circle at Spa Road. The changes 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.

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