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State and county eye Elks lodge for courthouse site Proposed facility would be close to Tawes complex


Officials from the state and Anne Arundel County are weighing a plan to build a judicial complex in Annapolis at the present site of an Elks lodge dogged by controversy over its membership policies.

The county, which two years ago abandoned plans to expand the current courthouse, would scrap plans to build a new Circuit Court building in downtown Annapolis in favor of a joint venture with the state to build a combined Circuit Court-District Court facility.

Similar ventures have been successful in Frederick and Prince George's counties.

The favored site for such a facility would be the corner of Rowe Boulevard and Taylor Avenue, where Lodge 622 of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks stands. The building sits across the street from the Millard Tawes complex, site of the state Courts of Appeal building and what is now the District Court for Annapolis.

"I'm all for it," said Maryland District Court Chief Judge Robert F. Sweeney. He said the 7-acre Elks club property is a "marvelous site" because it appears large enough, is easy to find, is on a bus line and because the neighboring Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium offers plenty of parking.

Judson P. Garrett, Anne Arundel County attorney, said the idea for a judicial complex came from meetings between County Executive Robert R. Neall and administrative judges in Anne Arundel County.

Neall and court officials are not happy with a $16.3 million plan to build a new Circuit Court building in downtown Annapolis and house court clerks and other support personnel across the street in what is now the Arundel Center. Space would open up in the Arundel Center after the county government's move to a new complex in nearby Parole.

Under the current plan, the new Annapolis courthouse would be open for business in 1995. The current courthouse, parts of which are nearly 120 years old, could be used to house County Council chambers and Annapolis city government.

The biggest complaint about the planned downtown courthouse involves court clerks having to ferry documents across the street from the Arundel Center. Officials have considered building a tunnel beneath the street, but cost estimates cost range from $500,000 to $750,000.

State officials had expressed interest in property off Bestgate Road near the Annapolis Mall as the site for a $15.7 million Annapolis District Court. A new court is needed because state court officials want to move clerical staff into the present Annapolis District Court building.

The Elks club property, on the main entrance into the city's historic state government district, had been coveted under an ill-fated plan to develop Rowe Boulevard into a "gateway," complete with visitors center. The club in recent years has found itself at odds with the Annapolis City Council; the Elks lodge this month convinced a judge to overturn a city law denying liquor licenses to clubs that discriminate in their membership policies.

In a session laced with accusations of bigotry, the City Council voted Monday to forgo an appeal of the judge's ruling. Dean Johnson, an Annapolis alderman who represents the Rowe Boulevard area, said that rumors that the Elks may sell the land for the court project did not influence the vote.

Robert A. Dietz, an Annapolis attorney and spokesman for the Elks lodge, said yesterday: "We would be stupid if we didn't explore various avenues, with the nature of the dispute and the ability of legislatures to bring up more laws."

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