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Annapolis City Council delays affordable housing bill, announces audio-only public testimony

The Annapolis City Council delayed a bill Monday that aims to increase affordable housing throughout the city and announced audio-only public testimony for future meetings.

The bill, O-39-19, would allow accessory dwelling units or ADUs — known by many less formal names such as “granny flats” or “in-law suites” — on properties in zones where detached single-family homes reside. It has been mired in the legislative process since December, including several public hearings and a negative report from the Planning Commission.

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Now, before it comes up for a final vote at the council’s last meeting ahead of the August recess on July 27, the legislation is expected to go before the Rules and City Government Committee for further review at the request of the committee’s chair, Alderwoman Sheila Finlayson, D-Ward 4.

This was the first City Council meeting since the body passed a bill reorganizing its meeting agendas. Monday’s meeting prioritized legislative actions. The July 27 meeting will consist of public hearings and ceremonial items — as well as debate on O-39-19 — thanks to language that allows the council to include legislative items if needed.

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Alderwoman Elly Tierney, D-Ward 1, asked that the bill be returned to the Planning Commission for review after the commission unanimously recommended in February the bill be returned to the council for revisions. Since that vote, the bill’s sponsors have crafted several amendments to address the commission’s concerns, said Alderman Marc Rodriguez, D-Ward 5, one of the bill’s sponsors.

“If it was up to me it wouldn’t go back to planning commission because we have addressed their concerns through the amendments,” Rodriguez said.

The amendments include one that would grandfather existing structures that are already being used as an accessory dwelling units and another that would prohibit ADUs from being used as short-term vacation rentals. A third amendment limits the maximum footage to 800 square feet and stipulates the accessory unit can be no more than half the size of the primary residence on the property or 625 square feet, whichever is less.

The sponsors also included a requirement that the planning and zoning director present an annual report on the number of accessory dwelling units in the city.

“These amendments would, in many ways, make (the bill) weaker but I think that it will still offer a good place to start,” said Alderman Rob Savidge, D-Ward 7, another sponsor.

Alderman DaJuan Gay, D-Ward 6, the bill’s third sponsor, gave a presentation about accessory units during the meeting, pointing to the benefits such housing could provide for workers as well as older populations and students. He expressed frustration at what he described as “false rumors” and “bad stereotypes” about accessory dwelling units.

“I can’t stress enough how important these options are in the city of Annapolis,” he said.

The discussion got contentious with Gay at one point calling some of his colleagues “out of touch.”

Two councilmembers, Alderwoman Rhonda Pindell Charles and Alderman Ross Arnett, took issue with Gay’s comments. Arnett asked for an apology.

“We don’t attack each. We don’t besmirch each other,” Arnett, D-Ward 8, said. Gay waited until the end of the meeting to apologize to the council.

“I’m sorry for blowing up,” he said. “Obviously we are all passionate about the work.”

Later in the meeting, the council spent a long time discussing a proposed hiring freeze introduced by Alderman Fred Paone, R-Ward 2. The measure was expected to save $1 million in the fiscal 2021 budget. It and several amendments did not pass.

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Those savings will instead be made by managing existing vacancies, City Manager David Jarrell said.

Audio-only public testimony

Mayor Gavin Buckley announced Monday the city will begin accepting audio-only public testimony at meetings moving forward. Residents may request meeting credentials at http://annapolis.gov/testimony for either the public comment section of the agenda or for a specific legislative hearing.

The city will not provide video to avoid the practice of Zoom-bombing, or displaying offensive or inappropriate material during a virtual meeting, which has marred public meetings in other jurisdictions.

Written testimony will also still be accepted.

Other business

In other business, the council enacted a $100 fine for cars that park in spots designated for plug-in electric vehicles. They also passed a resolution declaring youth violence a public health epidemic and announcing plans for trauma-informed education and response methods. All nine members signed on as co-sponsors of the resolution introduced by Gay.

A bill that would amend the Planning and Zoning appeal procedure was postponed to a future meeting.

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