For its urban problems, Annapolis weighs independent planning


Annapolis still has the feel of a small town, with its historic

buildings and narrow streets. But the city is increasingly facing some of the same urban problems as its metropolitan neighbors.

Like Baltimore and Washington, Annapolis is struggling with aging roads and utilities, crime and suburban sprawl. Its business district has been hurt by the sour economy, development has shifted from the downtown, and its work force is shrinking as companies move outside the city limits.

To combat these troubles and better compete with the rest of the county, city officials are thinking of establishing an independent planning agency.

Annapolis used to be a member of the Baltimore Regional Council of Governments, but the city was excluded when the state agency was disbanded at the end of June and turned into a private, non-profit planning corporation.

The city is a voting member of a newly formed transportation committee that is planning highway projects for the Baltimore metropolitan region. But, miffed by its exclusion from the new Baltimore Metropolitan Council, and convinced the city has its own problems, Annapolis officials are looking to set out on their own.

Federal highway legislation passed last year requires that all urban areas with populations of more than 200,000 develop regional transportation plans. In the Baltimore area, a transportation committee was set up that includes the city, the five surrounding counties, the state Department of Transportation and Annapolis.

Annapolis, which was designated as an urban area in 1980, may withdraw from that group and create its own committee, said City Administrator Michael Mallinoff.

"Maybe we are a separate region, with our own identity, from either Baltimore or Washington," he said.

Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins is setting up a task force to study creating an independent agency. But the city would need the approval of County Executive Robert R. Neall and Gov. William Donald Schaefer to do it.

John Arason, deputy director of the city's Office of Planning and Zoning, said he fears Annapolis often is overlooked because of its size in the disbursement of millions in federal highway grants. "I don't think in any big group we would be considered a real player," he said.

He also believes the city needs to improve cooperation with the county. Annapolis is often outbid by the county in attracting new businesses. Competition from a growing number of shopping centers and discount stores at the city's edge have hurt Annapolis. "This would give us a little more of an ability to control our own destiny," Mr. Arason said.

Charles Krautler, executive director of the Baltimore Metropolitan Council, questioned the benefits of leaving the regional organization.

"It would seem to me that would dramatically increase their costs, because they would not have access to our planning capabilities," he said.

Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall, who chairs the council, also may oppose the establishment of an independent planning agency. Mr. Arason said the current proposal would make Anne Arundel County a member of two organizations -- the state committee and the Annapolis group.

The proposal, though still in talking stages, has won the support of some business leaders and residents.

Craig Purcell, a downtown resident and architect, said he hopes having an independent planning agency would give the city greater control over road projects.

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