The Annapolis City Council smoothed the way for several major construction projects last night, including the expansion of the Anne Arundel County Courthouse and the renovation of the Bay Ridge Garden Apartments.
At the meeting, the council amended the city's historic district ordinance, which limits the height and bulk of new buildings, to exempt the courthouse block bounded by Church Circle and Franklin, Cathedral and South streets.
In designing the new expansion, however, the county must use architectural guidelines that also were approved.
The guidelines are intended to keep the $43 million expansion of the courthouse in scale with the colonial architecture of downtown.
The county has considered moving the court out of Annapolis to a larger site. But city officials and business leaders, fearing the move would be a big economic blow for downtown, fought to keep the courthouse on Church Circle.
Court officials want to expand the number of courtrooms from seven to 12.
Historic preservationists signaled their willingness last year to work with the county by promising to draft an ordinance immediately that would waive the height restriction for the courthouse. Last night's amendment was the product of that effort.
Donna Ware, chairwoman of the city's Historic District Commission, said the commission was disappointed that a larger package of amendments strengthening the panel's regulatory authority over downtown construction was not approved.
"We're making major changes in the ordinance to allow the courthouse, and the commission felt, in return, the ordinance should be strengthened," Ms. Ware said.
In other action, the council authorized city officials to secure a $200,000 loan through the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development to help a Warwick, R.I., company renovate the Bay Ridge Gardens, a 197-unit low-to-moderate income apartment complex.
In addition to the HUD loan application, the council also placed a limit on property tax increases that Landex, Inc., would pay to the city once renovation is complete.
Taxes will be frozen at the current level for the next five years, then they will be held to a gradual increase each year over the following 10 years.
Alderman John Hammond, a Ward 1 Republican and Finance Committee chairman, said city taxes on the property could have nearly doubled after the $12 million renovation.
Landex offered to acquire and renovate the complex after the city condemned it for failing to meet the housing code.
The council also approved James Brianas' application to convert his Compromise Street home into three apartments.