Secluded on the second floor of a vacant store in the Annapolis Mall, about 45 architects and planners spent the weekend brainstorming ways to turn Parole into the ideal small town.
They came at the behest of the county Office of Planning and Zoning and the Chesapeake BayChapter of the American Institute of Architects, which jointly sponsored a design workshop called a "charrette" for the Parole area.
The county has been looking for ways to redevelop Parole, a 1,300-acre hodgepodge of suburban sprawl, for the last two years.
The architects, landscape architects, urban designers and traffic engineers who participated in the charrette found they had their work cut outfor them.
"It's a terribly difficult design problem," said Michael Hickok, a Washington architect. "There are hardly any precedents for high-density suburban development. There are many, many urban precedents, but this is a new animal. Not many people understand it."
Another architect put it this way: "Parole is basically a 30-year-old,800-pound baby that Annapolis has given birth to. This 30-year-old baby has grown up into a monster."
The designers gathered in the top of the old Garfinkles store Friday night, where they separated intosix teams. They worked all day Saturday and into the afternoon yesterday before presenting their ideas to an eight-member panel that includes County Executive Robert R. Neall, Annapolis Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins, and Washington Post architecture critic Roger Lewis.
A numberof concepts showed up in each of the presentations:
* The idea ofa compact neighborhood, where people can live, work and walk from one place to another for virtually anything they need.
* A town center serving as a transportation, commercial, cultural entertainment hub. One group called it "Old Parole Junction"; another suggested "Parole Station Center."
* Mass transportation, with light rail or monorail linking Parole not only to downtown Annapolis but to Baltimore and Washington as well. All planners agreed that use of the automobilemust be minimized.
* Mixed use of residential dwellings, office buildings and commercial space.
* Generous amounts of green space and aesthetically pleasing "streetscapes." Tree-lined boulevards, often leading to parks, monuments or connecting one building to another, were a part of each presentation.
It will be decades before anything resembling the designs presented yesterday comes to fruition in Parole, said Shep Tullier of the county Office of Planning and Zoning. But countians can expect to see the first signs of change -- streetscapes, pedestrian walkways, better landscaping -- within the next fiveyears, he said.
County Councilwoman Maureen Lamb, D-Annapolis, was concerned that some of the designs at the charrette are unrealistic. "I was hoping to see something we could start working on right away," she said.
Admittedly, some of the designs are ambitious and idealistic, Annapolis architect Craig Purcell said. But that doesn't mean they are unrealistic, he added. "If somebody can make money from implementing these concepts, it will happen," he said.
The Parole Area Management Group, a committee of residents, developers and environmentalists, continues to work on a growth plan for Parole, an area bordered roughly by Bestgate Road, Route 2, Annapolis High and the Annapolis landfill.
The drawings that came out of the charrette are meant to serve as food for thought for the committee and county planners.
"What we do in a day and a half doesn't substitute for detailedstudy," Hickock said. "We're here throwing ideas around. We didn't necessarily solve the problem, but we have elevated the level of the discussion."
Planners agreed that there is an almost perfect model for what Parole should become. It's called Annapolis.