Tempers flared at Monday’s Annapolis City Council meeting after Ward 6 Alderman DaJuan Gay alleged that city staffers fast-tracked a development plan proposed by a company with ties to Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley. The mayor then accused Gay of showing up to the meeting “wasted.”
Buckley, Gay and all other council members are Democrats, but Monday’s meeting demonstrated that their views sometimes differ widely, especially when it comes to local housing and development policies. Before the night was over, the council narrowly passed a controversial bill that was put on the agenda by mistake, Gay defended himself by saying he was taking cold medicine, and the mayor declared in jest, that he was going “to go get wasted.”
Fireworks began during the opening committee reports, when Gay said he was requesting that the acting director of planning and zoning be present at the next housing committee meeting to discuss “expedited development review for a property along the West Street corridor.”
“I’d like him to provide an explanation to how, why and when expedited review was processed for the property along the West Street corridor that is not proposed for affordable housing,” Gay said.
He appeared to be referencing 161 West Street, a property owned by West Village LLC, a limited liability corporation co-founded by the mayor. Buckley has stated while he is still an owner of West Village LLC and 167 West Street LLC, the property owner, he is not involved in “day-to-day operations” of the businesses.
On March 16, the city’s Planning Commission approved West Village’s site development plan, after the schematics were submitted to Planning and Zoning last fall. The West Village team made several previous attempts to develop the corner lot, most recently in 2013. In the interim, multiple projects for which the commission had already held work sessions, including an affordable housing community, have been unable to get back on the commission’s schedule.
After the committee reports, the council heard comments from the public. Tara Stout, a city resident and real estate broker involved with The Willows, a nonprofit income-restricted community, said the developers have been unable to return to the Planning Commission despite applying for approval in April 2022. She also referenced the apparent speed at which the application 161 West Street was processed. “The target market for that development was higher than The Willows,” she said.
As Stout’s three minutes at the podium expired, she asked why Buckley or city staffers had not responded to queries from an attorney representing The Willows. The mayor cut her off, and when Gay intervened, Buckley retorted, “Alderman Gay, you are wasted.”
“No, I’m not,” Gay said, “And it is incredibly inappropriate for you to say that.”
Much later in the nearly two-hour meeting, Buckley apologized, and Gay would explain that he’d been very sick and taken cold medicine.
The most contentious action was the approval of R-1-23, a measure sponsored by Ward 7 Alderman Rob Savidge that acknowledges the need for more “workforce housing” in the city, but postpones “any significant changes” until after the adoption of the next comprehensive plan, set for May 2024.
Savidge intended for his bill to counter O-40-22, a bill sponsored by Gay and Ward 5 Alderman Brooks Schandelmeier. That bill would have allowed housing targeted at lower and median-income residents by right across the city, as long as the new construction abided by other multifamily restrictions, such as setback requirements.
According to Gay, both bills were still in committee, specifically the housing committee on which he and Schandelmeier serve. After a draft agenda was sent on March 22, Gay said he alerted the city clerk and Office of Law that the bills were still in committee.
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“It was a typographical error on our part,” City Attorney D. Michael Lyles said. “It should not have been on the agenda.”
Savidge called for a vote on the resolution, as well as one of his amendments to it, which was added to the agenda Monday afternoon. Savidge also bypassed two additional amendments sponsored by members of the housing committee, including one that set comprehensive plan deadlines.
Schandelmeier joined Gay in protesting the turn of events, and quoted apartment rental statistics from Zillow and Apartments.com, both of which indicate there are few apartments available in Annapolis for under $2,000. He also noted, citing studies commissioned by the city, that the median home sale price in Annapolis has risen from $350,000 to $625,000 over the past 14 years.
“We can see, just through numbers,” Schandelmeier said. ”We have failed at any kind of meaningful and sustainable housing affordability since the 2009 comprehensive plan.”
Savidge pointed out that the city now allows accessory dwelling units, or so-called “granny flats,” a concrete step the council has taken to expand affordable housing options.
Before 9 p.m., his resolution was approved by a 5-4 vote, with Buckley and Ward 1 Alderwoman Elly Tierney joining Gay and Schandelmeier in opposing the legislation.
“I need to get wasted now,” Buckley said, adjourning the meeting. “That’s a joke at me. I apologize, Alderman Gay.”