Use of open space debated

Residents upset over planned mixed-use complex

March 04, 2007|By Dan Lamothe | Dan Lamothe,[Sun reporter]

On busy West Street in Annapolis, it sticks out: 1.9 acres of grassy open space amid a nonstop line of shops, banks, restaurants and gas stations.

But the empty land at 213 West St., former home of The Capital newspaper, is unlikely to remain that way much longer.

After two years of discussions with city officials, a Virginia-based developer is one major step from getting approval to build a mixed-use complex of single-family homes, nearly 8,000 square feet of retail shops and about 45 condominiums, city officials said.

As proposed, the project abutting the Murray Hill neighborhood will stretch from Southgate to Steele avenues. The centerpiece is a five-story building on West Street, which would include three stories of high-end condos, a penthouse, retail shops and underground parking.

E. Thomas Smith, Annapolis' chief of current planning, said the city is "very close" to granting final design approval. On Thursday, the Planning Commission formally approved the project, leaving only the OK from the Planning and Zoning Department for the project to become reality.

"At this point, it has been through a dozen steps' worth of reviews and going back and forth between the architect consultants, the city and the community," Smith said. "We're looking at a lot of the final details."

The developer, Madison Homes Inc. of Virginia, is also behind the new 106-unit Acton's Landing community on the old Anne Arundel Medical Center site in Murray Hill.

Russell S. Rosenberger, company president, did not return calls Friday.

Residents in the area, who have closely followed the West Street project's progress, remain worried about how it will affect traffic and the physical makeup of the neighborhood.

"People want to go where it's cool, and that eventually kills the coolness, unfortunately," said Elizabeth Seabrook, who has lived on Southgate Avenue since 1976.

The Murray Hill Residents Association asked the city to buy the front portion of the lot from the developer. That plan would have allowed for the construction of the homes on Steele and Southgate avenues, but the retail and condominium complex would have been replaced with a park.

"This is really the last chance to save some land on West Street for public use," association President Denise Worthen said. "This wouldn't just benefit us, it would benefit the city and allow them to have street fairs and other outdoor events."

But Mayor Ellen O. Moyer said there are several problems with that plan. Madison Homes has never expressed an interest in selling part of the property, Moyer said. The price of the property, which sold for $2.5 million in 2004, would also have to be right, she said.

"I'm not saying it wouldn't be nice to have as a park, but there's a lot of things that go into something like that," Moyer said. The city remains committed to developing 7 acres of open space near Edgewood Road into a park about four miles away, she said.

That isn't good enough for everyone. Josephine Thoms of Southgate Avenue said she and several of her neighbors believe that the project exemplifies how the city has allowed too much development.

"It's part of the pattern of making us lower Manhattan," she said. "It's a continuation of the building of a metropolis, rather than a village or a town."

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