A county-owned park in downtown Annapolis could be developed into office, retail or residential space under a plan that has some neighbors upset about the loss of green space.
Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold has asked the County Council to declare Whitmore Park, a county-owned, half-acre park at Calvert and Clay streets, surplus property — a move that would allow the county to begin the process of selling the land.
The proposed resolution and sale, which county officials say would allow the county to add about $600,000 to its coffers, was introduced to the council at its Monday night meeting. Councilman Chris Trumbauer, a Democrat who represents Annapolis, successfully requested that the administration hold the resolution in order to seek more public input.
Two local businessman spoke in opposition to the plan. Erik Evans, the organizer of the First Sundays Arts Festival held at the park, said it serves as a vital gathering spot in an urban area with little open space.
"I really don't believe that our public parks should be considered surplus property," said Evans. "We don't need another office building that doesn't provide parking. … We need some open space for people to come out and enjoy this city."
The property is currently zoned as mixed-use, which would allow for development of office or residential space with street-level retail. The park was created in the 1970s when the county constructed the adjacent Whitmore Garage. A recent appraisal valued the property at $642,000, according to county officials.
Frederick G. Schram, director of the county's Office of Central Services, said officials considered selling the land about a decade ago when approached by local business owners, but decided against it. But the economic downturn changed the county's stance.
Schram said the park, most of which is concrete, has become a "financial drain" on the county, because of cleanup costs. In recent years, the park has become a hangout spot for homeless people, he said.
"When we first started this process, the county wasn't in as dire financial state as we are now, but as times have changed, we certainly are looking at this as an option," said Schram.
If the council approves the resolution, the county would have several options on how to proceed with a sale, including opening a bidding process, hiring a real estate firm or auctioning the property. The council would also have to approve any sale.
"It's got a lot of potential from a revenue standpoint," said Schram. The city of Annapolis would receive the lion's share of property taxes if the land were developed.
Annapolis Mayor Joshua J. Cohen said in an interview that the park's future should be considered with two community priorities: preserving the open space and creating economic vitality
"I'm not opposed to surplusing it conceptually," said Cohen. "I want to make sure whatever happens with that, that it helps support some broader community goals by adding to that part of town."