Hospital site fate worries residents; Medical center to move west of city in 2 years


For almost 100 years, the hospital in the heart of downtown Annapolis has had a largely peaceful coexistence with its neighbors.

Skirmishes have occurred over expansion -- such as its successful fight 10 years ago to build a five-story parking garage -- but downtown residents say they felt a little betrayed when Anne Arundel Medical Center officials announced two years ago they would move to a new, much larger building west of the city in 2001.

But the potentially most contentious disagreement looms as hospital officials and residents try to work out what will happen to the building after the hospital is gone.

Residents want apartments or other dwellings on the 5 acres, the largest parcel to be available for development in the historic district in decades, or maybe a much-needed drug store. They also want assurance that their new neighbors will have a 24-hour use for the building so it won't be dark and empty after 5 p.m.

And there is the question of whether a 0.8-acre parking lot at the corner of the property will be given to the city -- as specified in the 1930s deed that transferred the land to the hospital -- or be part of the parcel for development.

With some of these issues unaddressed, hospital officials began sending requests for proposals (RFPs) to developers last week, with the intention of meeting with resident representatives next month to discuss the plans.

"That's kind of after the fact, isn't it?" said Alderman Louise Hammond, a Democrat who represents Ward 1, where the hospital is situated. "They shouldn't be sending out the RFPs until they have the issues fully addressed. We don't want to wait until a developer comes to them and says, 'Here's our project, everybody's going to love it. We've got to have that land.' Then the city's put in a tough position."

Lisa Hillman, the hospital's vice president of development and community affairs, said residents should not be concerned.

"Just because the RFP went out, that doesn't mean it's a finished process," Hillman said. "It's our intent to keep a very open communication with the community. The hospital feels responsible to the community because we grew up here. We want to leave on a good note."

Hillman worked with the 17 city, state and county officials and community leaders on the Site Re-Use Advisory Committee, which studied what to do with the downtown building.

Hospital officials will speak at the Ward One Residents Association meeting Feb. 17 and say they hope to call an advisory committee meeting next month to discuss residents' concerns.

The request for proposals sets criteria for the buyer of the site. Businesses seeking to locate in the 291,000 square-foot building or two other residential-style office buildings there have to be compatible with the neighborhood and benefit the community, generate employment or economic activity, have adequate parking, and generate no additional traffic.

Ward 1 residents have to agree to the businesses, and the newcomers have to generate tax revenue for the city.

The request also establishes a preference for mixed use -- residential and commercial -- of the hospital building.

It also calls for a sale that will "generate an acceptable return to the Anne Arundel Health System," the hospital's parent company.

"This is not an auction," said Dennis Curl, hospital vice president for property development. Curl said 45 requests for proposals have been mailed.

"We're looking for people to present a proposal for the site with what they feel it's worth to them," he said. "We're not fixing any price. We want the combination of the best project with a good return to the hospital."

Minor Carter, president of the Ward One Residents Association, said he is worried about the fate of the parking lot, which he feels should go back to the city. He said the wording of the RFP for the land is unclear.

Curl said the RFP specifies that the parcel has "a title that has a covenant associated with it that could impact the transfer or ownership of the property." He said he could not elaborate on what that means before having an attorney examine the deed.

Mayor Dean L. Johnson said a private individual, whom neither he nor hospital officials could identify, gave the land to the hospital in the 1930s with a clause saying that if it was no longer used by the hospital, it would revert to the city.

Curl said this is an issue he hopes to explore when the committee meets.

The deadline for proposals is April 10, and Curl said he hopes to bring developers in to pitch their projects in June.

He said hospital officials hope to pick a project by the end of summer.

"We care about what the community thinks," he said. "That's a significant part of what we're doing."

Carter said he hopes hospital officials will hear the residents out and the process will not generate discord in the community.

"You have a citizenry that's very concerned about what's going to move next door to them," Carter said. "And it's going to take all of our patience and common sense for us to keep our eye on the issue and not let this get into a nasty situation."

Pub Date: 2/08/99

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