Panel enacts Cohen plan

New construction banned until council writes facilities law


Amid a building boom in the historic state capital, the Annapolis city council has placed a moratorium on major new developments until the city can develop a law to make sure the necessary infrastructure is in place.

The council voted 6-to-3 on Monday night to adopt Alderman Josh Cohen's proposal, which applies to commercial projects of more than 10,000 square feet and residential developments of four or more units.

Although the move won't affect projects such as the $300 million Park Place complex on West Street that have already begun, some city council members described the moratorium as a "stopgap" measure that will ease pressures and ensure that the city can support new construction.

"This resolution is responsive to the overwhelming concerns of local residents and businesses," said Cohen, a Ward 8 Democrat who is running for County Council this fall. "It's moderate, but better than the status quo."

Critics described the measure as symbolic and said the council's time would have been better spent completing work on an adequate public facilities ordinance.

"This resolution does not seek common ground and it doesn't do anything productive," said Alderman Wayne M. Taylor, a Ward 4 Democrat who was joined by Mayor Ellen O. Moyer and Ward 3 Alderman Classie G. Hoyle in voting against the measure. "It doesn't stop traffic and it doesn't stop development that is in the hopper. ... It's smoke and mirrors."

Passage of the resolution comes as a flurry of projects are under way in and around Annapolis, including the towering Park Place development - a mix of offices, condos and a hotel - and intense residential projects at 1901 West St. and the former Anne Arundel Medical Center property. Developers have also broken ground on a massive project at the city's edge, at the former Parole Plaza site.

Concern about new development was a theme of many political races last fall, including Moyer's re-election campaign.

The building moratorium applies to major developments for which an application is not already on file. About 30 projects already on file will be exempt.

"I think a blanket moratorium sends the wrong message that Annapolis is anti-growth and anti-development" said Dennis Murphy, managing partner for Murphy and Hogan Commercial Real Estate in Annapolis. "Some people are going to feel like the plug was pulled on them. I don't know how many projects will be affected, but time is money in terms of investment."

Murphy said that the yearlong delay is short-sighted and that the city could have looked more closely at individual developments and how they affect infrastructure.

New grocery stores and projects in the city's capital improvement plan - the Eastport Fire Hall and the Truxton Park Recreation Center among others - will be allowed to go forward as well.

A proposed public facilities ordinance is expected to be introduced in September.

Hoyle, who is running against Cohen for the District 6 county seat, said the move was politically motivated and sends mixed messages.

"We haven't done anything. I think it's nothing but a political ploy."

Hoyle said that the measure won't ease congestion in Annapolis, and that the council should focus on ways to deal with traffic concerns.

To that end, the council passed two resolutions aimed at reducing traffic on Forest Drive.

One resolution expressed the council's support for a traffic study of the intersection of Aris T. Allen Boulevard, Forest Drive and Chinquapin Road.

The council will also request that Anne Arundel County implement reversible traffic lanes on Forest Drive between Spa Road and Aris T. Allen Boulevard.

There is public support for the temporary building freeze - Taylor said that he'd received many e-mails from constituents who wanted the measure to pass.

But Moyer called the resolution reactionary and said it "fools the public and gives the false impression that all development is going to stop."

"This resolution does nothing," she said. "It's bereft of leadership."

In the meantime, several council members are working to develop the public facilities ordinance, in consultation with the state.

"Everyone agrees that our development needs to let infrastructure keep up," said Ward 5 Republican David H. Cordle Sr., who called the moratorium a start. "It's of paramount importance to pass an [ordinance] that has teeth and doesn't sugarcoat the problem."

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