Owners of small businesses and office buildings along Annapolis' West Street won a reprieve last night from a set of costly fees to provide parking in the congested downtown.
The City Council unanimously approved waiving its requirement that businesses without on-site parking chip in to build and maintain nearby lots and garages.
Hurt by the lingering economic downturn, a number of business owners, restaurateurs and developers on West Street pleaded with the council two weeks ago to abolish the fees.
Alderman John Hammond, a Ward 1 Republican, introduced three amendments last night to avoid entirely waiving the fees. He suggested that the Planning and Zoning Department be given the discretion to waive a percentage of the fees, rather than having an "all or nothing" ordinance. He also argued against refunding those businesses that have already contributed their share of the fees.
But his colleagues on the council shot down all three amendments to the bill that was introduced a year ago after a business went bankrupt on West Street. Alderman Ellen Moyer, a Ward 8 Democrat, called one of the amendments a "smoke screen" to reintroduce the fees.
Mr. Hammond argued that businesses should have a third option if they fail to provide on-site parking and their fees aren't waived. In that case, businesses should be allowed to pay a fee for off-street parking, he said.
"It's the ultimate flexibility," he said. But the rest of the council disagreed and vetoed the amendment.
The city began charging businesses a "parking transfer fee" several years ago in an attempt to create more parking in its historic downtown.
But the plan backfired because the city didn't open its long-planned Gotts Court Garage until last winter. By then, many buildings were suffering from high vacancy rates and business owners were struggling to survive the recession. They said they could not afford the fees.
The council agreed to refund the $87,000 that's already been collected from five businesses on West Street under a pro-rated formula.
In other business last night, an accountant urged the city administration to increase the number of contracts awarded to minority-owned businesses.
Michael A. Brown, a representative of Abrams, Foster, Nole and Williams of Baltimore, asked the city to share some of the accounting work now provided by KPMG Peat Marwick. He proposed that his minority-owned firm be allowed to provide some services for the city to comply with its goals of having 20 percent of its contracts go to businesses owned by minorities and females.
Alderman Carl O. Snowden, a Ward 5 Democrat, agreed. He also questioned requiring a $1 million bond for a planned contract to cap the landfill. Many small minority-owned businesses would not qualify, he said. Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins promised to look into the matter. John Patmore, the director of public works, said the $1 million bond was necessary to guarantee that 25 trucks a day dump dirt on the landfill. But he agreed that the city could award subcontracts to minority businesses.