City Council delays garage vote

The Annapolis Capital reports:

The City Council didn’t pave the way for a City Dock parking garage Monday — nor did it hear from people opposing the plan, which would shrink a neighborhood playground.

Instead, city officials listened to developer Jeremy Parks of Compromise LLC, which wants to build a $25 million garage at no cost to the Annapolis government.

But some say there is a cost.

Before the “emergency meeting” of the City Council, about 100 people rallied at the playground beside Annapolis Elementary School, some with signs that said “Build a community not a garage.”

Mayor Josh Cohen, once an enthusiastic backer of the garage plan, reversed his position over the weekend because of concerns that Annapolis Elementary would not get enough play space. But Alderwoman Sheila Finlayson, D-Ward 4, along with Alderman Ross Arnett, D-Ward 8, is sponsoring the bill to negotiate with Compromise LLC.

Finlayson supports the garage, despite the vocal opposition.

“How many of them want to take a shuttle and park out of Park Place and bring their kids downtown?” she said.

The site includes an 8,800-square-foot playground, a 6,700-square-foot asphalt play area, a 5,850-square-foot basketball court and the 7,000-square-foot Newman Street Park.

Parks said under Compromise LLC’s plan a 6,600-square-foot playground would sit at the back of the school, with a 925-square-foot kindergarten play area on the side; a 4,000-square-foot pickup basketball court would be pushed below Newman Street, with about 8,000 square feet next to it for the Newman Street Park, he said.

Across Compromise Street, Compromise LLC would consider building an 11,000-square-foot City Dock park where the Donner Parking Lot is now, and an 11,000-square-foot city playground below the old Fawcett Boat Supplies building.

Former City Administrator Doug Smith said the offer represents a rare opportunity to get rid of the cement surrounding Ego Alley and resolve long-standing parking problems facing downtown.

For months city officials have worked on a deal with Compromise LLC to develop a parking garage on land straddling city and school properties near City Dock. The plan includes retail and office buildings.

The county school system would have to agree. Construction would also have to coincide with Annapolis Elementary School’s construction this summer.

City officials have other issues with the project, including he inability to build the garage underground because of the floodplain and stipulations in the historic deed for the playground property that the site’s use not change.

The clock is ticking for the city, and Alderman Fred Paone, R-Ward 2, said its officials need to act.

“This council and this administration have to have the political courage to look at what is in the best interest of the downtown area — period,” he said. “Part of that’s a playground, but it’s a lot more than that.”

One sticking point is whether the city should negotiate solely with the developer without soliciting other bidders. Supporters of the plan said because of time constraints, it wasn’t realistic to request other offers.

But Alderman Ken Kirby, D-Ward 6, wondered why city officials wouldn’t want to hear from other bidders.

“If this project was so viable, I just would think people would be beating down doors to compete,” he said.

Alderman Dick Israel, D-Ward 1, said the key unanswered question is whether the city needs another parking garage downtown if many of the existing city garages go empty.

At the afternoon rally, Chris Stelzig, one of the organizers, said many residents wonder why the city never studied whether another parking garage was necessary.

He and others used a megaphone. Silvia Underwood, a first-grader with long braids, interrupted an adult speaker to shout to the crowds.

“We are not going to let those people turn our playground into a smelly old garage,” she said, hoisting her hands in the air. “Are you with me, people?”

The mayor and aldermen will hold a public hearing at the April 23 meeting.

The full text of this article is available at: http://www.hometownannapolis.com/news/top/2012/04/17-17/City-Council-delays-garage-vote.html

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