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Annapolis

Judge’s ruling on Annapolis residential project creates a construction moratorium for city’s major developments

Eastport Shopping Center is the site of a long-proposed redevelopment project by Solstice Partners. The project is now at the center of a de facto construction moratorium in Annapolis.

Citing a judge’s ruling that Annapolis does not have enough police officers for its population, the Annapolis Police Department and the city’s Office of Law say they will no longer sign off on major construction projects in Maryland’s capital.

The policy change has indefinitely stalled all in-process major construction projects that had not yet received what’s called an adequate public facilities certificate. Since 2005, those certificates have been required to affirm that Annapolis has sufficient public services to support the new construction, including sewer systems, stormwater management facilities and police officers. The city’s adequate public facilities ordinance mandates that a minimum of 3.2 police officers be employed for every 1,000 residents.

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But the city has not been able to maintain those staffing levels for several years, and police recruitment continues to be a nationwide problem. The department adopted a practice of issuing the certificates anyway, as long as developers agreed to alternative crime-prevention measures, such as installing security cameras and hiring private guards.

On April 29, 2022, Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Judge Cathleen M. Vitale issued a ruling in an appeal of The Lofts at Eastport Landing redevelopment project stating that such “mitigation” efforts were not adequate, taking a hard line that developments increasing the population should not receive public facilities certificates as long as the 3.2 ratio remains the law and the police department is short-staffed.

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The police and city planners waited until November, however, to tell developers that the ruling meant the department would no longer be issuing APF certificates. Some members of the City Council were also kept in the dark.

“Housing delayed is housing denied,” said Alderman Brooks Schandelmeier, a housing advocate on the council who was disappointed to learn the city’s current interpretation of the judge’s ruling means indefinitely postponing several developments. “I look forward to working with my colleagues to finding a solution to this issue.”

Council members, city staffers and the Annapolis Police Department’s officers union all differ, however, on what that solution could be.

Caught in the middle is Housing Initiative Partnership, a Hyattsville nonprofit that since 2019 has been planning to build a 58-unit complex for low-income families on a vacant lot next to the American Legion in Annapolis. HIP and their partners had been told their project would be on the Planning Commission’s agenda for a final vote in the fall. They never made the agenda.

Instead, the police department informed David Holden, a development principal at Ingerman, the New Jersey construction and property management firm that is partnering with HIP to build The Willows, that it would not be issuing a certificate.

“I just don’t understand all the confusion,” Holden said. “This should be fixed. Good government should mean that when you see you have an issue, you work expeditiously to find solutions to your pressing problems.”

Further delays jeopardize The Willows, Holden said, because its 2021 federal tax credit package requires the development to be completed by December 2024.

“I don’t know of any other municipalities that tie APF to a police ratio like Annapolis,” Holden said.

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While frustrated, HIP and Ingerman take some comfort in knowing they are not alone, and that other developers who spent 2022 working toward approval are in the same boat. As many as five other in-process projects also have been stalled. Lists circulated by the Annapolis Police Department and city planners include:

  • Parole Place: A mixed-use community planned for Solomon’s Island Road featuring 90 smaller residential units built over retail space, plus 68 townhomes. The developers presented their project to the Annapolis Planning Commission at a September work session, at which time they appeared on track to be approved.
  • Godspeed Senior Housing: An 88-bed assisted living and memory care facility planned for Aris T. Allen Boulevard. Developers submitted that paperwork to the city in April.
  • 161 West Street: A vacant lot next to Lemongrass restaurant is listed to be used for “commercial condominiums,” according to state property records. That parcel is co-owned by Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley. Buckley’s business partner, Jody Danek, did not return a call seeking comment. It’s unclear whether construction planned for the site will be large enough to require an APF certificate.
  • The Village at Providence Point: This senior living community has been in the pipeline since 2011. The project has already received an APF certificate, but a judge ruled this month that the city’s Planning Commission botched its approval for a forest conservation variance. It’s unclear whether returning to the Planning Commission invalidates the old APF certificate.
  • The Lofts at Eastport Landing: A 98-unit redevelopment of the Eastport Shopping Center that would replace a long-shuttered movie theater with new retail space and one- and two-bedroom apartments. Solstice Partners originally applied for an APF certificate in 2016. A pair of residents challenged the approval before at the Annapolis Board of Appeals twice. Both times, the board agreed that The Lofts would overly burden public services. Solstice Partners appealed the board’s second decision in court, and it was that 2022 decision that has now set up a showdown over adequate public facilities.
An Anne Arundel County judge has ruled that The Lofts at Eastport Landing's plan to install security cameras and hire private guards is no substitute for a fully staffed police force. The decision has halted progress on at least three additional projects.

In her April ruling, Vitale sided with the appeals board, agreeing that the APF certificate should have been withheld because The Lofts failed three of the nine metrics: Traffic impact, stormwater management and police services. The police department had signed off on a plan that would allow Solstice Partners to install 10 security cameras and spend up to $50,000 annually for off-duty police officers or private security guards to patrol the community.

The judge disagreed. “The added police services required for this project both on-site and off-site will only add to the workload of the already significantly understaffed and inadequate police department,” she wrote.

But whereas a developer can offer to install a traffic light or help the city pay for upgraded stormwater management, Ingerman and Solstice can’t help the city hire police officers, and that’s how Vitale’s ruling ended up creating a de facto construction moratorium on major projects in Annapolis.

Alan Hyatt, a local land-use attorney who represents Solstice Partners, says he feels bad that Vitale’s ruling on the Lofts has stymied other projects, especially the Willows, which would provide homes for low-income residents.

“There is a need for this type of housing,” Hyatt said. “It’s a shame that it can be held up by a handful of people.”

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His clients remain committed to building the Lofts at Eastport, Hyatt said, and he has urged the city to change its APF ordinance. The public facilities metrics should be “objective and reasonable,” he said.

But Ross Arnett, the Ward 8 alderman who has taken the lead on finding a solution, says he wants to maintain the 3.2 officer standard set when he cowrote with council ordinance nearly 20 years ago. “I am loath to move away from the 3.2 standard for both safety and budgetary reasons,” Arnett wrote in an email to constituents earlier this month, explaining that, “no new major development project in the City can be approved” unless the ratio is met.

Annapolis Alderman Ross Arnett, D-Ward 8, has announced he will run for re-election. He has served on the Annapolis City Council since 2007.

In an interview, Arnett acknowledged that he does not remember where the 3.2 ratio came from. (According to the FBI, the national average has held steady at 2.4 officers per resident since 2019.) The alderman also said that in 2004, he and his colleagues wrote the APF ordinance using guidance issued by the state Department of Planning in 1992. In 2006, the state issued updated guidance, which stated “most jurisdictions in Maryland with [APF ordinances] will have some standards for road capacity, for schools, for water supply, and for sewer service.” That guide does not recommend developing APF ordinances for police as Annapolis did.

At a meeting in early January, Arnett and Alderwomen Sheila Finlayson and Rhonda Pindell Charles met with the city’s Office of Law and the director of planning to discuss possible solutions.

“We are looking at a whole host of things,” Arnett said in an interview, such as interpreting the ordinance so mutual aid agreements with the Anne Arundel County Police Department and the Maryland Capitol Police help reach the needed number of officers in Annapolis. “Why can’t we count those hours?” Arnett said.

Another option is waiting until the council adopts the 2024 fiscal year budget, raising salaries and offering higher bonuses in hopes of helping the department recruit officers. Public safety is the only justification his constituents would tolerate for a tax hike, Arnett said.

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The current budget calls for 124 officers; according to new census data for Annapolis, the number needed to achieve a 3.2 ratio is 131. The force currently has 107 sworn officers, although that number has fluctuated amid a slew of firings, resignations, retirements and new hires.

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City Manager Michael Mallinoff, meanwhile, is pushing for an overhaul of the public facilities code. “Through multiple city departments, we are actively working on the rewrite of the legislation that will change the code to address this issue,” Mallinoff said in a statement.

Annapolis’s police rank-and-file police officers also want the 3.2 ratio kept in place.

“We are very supportive of this law and the enforcement of this law,” said Mike Wilson, a spokesperson for UFCW Local 400, the union that represents the Annapolis police officers. The union also opposes efforts to count mutual aid agreements toward the department’s numbers. “If you call 911 in Annapolis, the Annapolis Police Department is going to be who responds,” he said.

However, Wilson said officers feel department leadership should be more proactive when it comes to filling open positions. For example, Chief Edward Jackson could dedicate more than one officer to recruitment. “We definitely think more can be done to get to the number the law calls for,” Wilson said.

The chief did not respond to a request for comment.

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Wilson added that officers are disappointed that disgruntled neighbors appear to have weaponized the APF ordinance to block new housing in Eastport.

“We don’t think that was the intent of this law,” Wilson said. “We are not anti-development in this city. There is no opposition to affordable housing from us.”


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