Preservation groups fight Annapolis garage plan; Delay in demolition of old buildings sought to allow study of value


Annapolis preservationists and residents are pressing city officials to delay demolition of four 100-year-old buildings on West Street to build a much-needed parking garage until a study can be done to determine the structures' historic value.

City officials could tear down the buildings in the 100 block of West St. as early as next week to make way for retail and office space and the garage. Mayor Dean L. Johnson presented the garage plans at a Planning Commission meeting last night.

Although the Historic Annapolis Foundation and the Ward One Residents Association stressed that the garage is essential in a part of downtown that has suffered a critical parking shortage for months, they say they don't want city officials to raze the buildings until they've gauged the structures' significance.

"They are simple houses, don't get me wrong," said Dan Sams, director of preservation at Historic Annapolis. "But they are charming in their own way. They incorporate characteristics of native Annapolis architecture and contribute to the character and ambience of the neighborhood. When you tear these down, you lose what Annapolis is about."

Last week, Historic Annapolis sent a letter to the city urging that the buildings be saved.

The buildings in question are a red-brick, two-floor commercial structure and three 2 1/2-story, narrow houses that have been vacant since the city bought the 37,000-square-foot parcel in June.

Historic Annapolis -- which advises the city on demolition, renovation and construction in the historic district -- cannot block the planned demolition because the West Street buildings are outside the designated district.

'Not enough space'

The Historic Annapolis letter urged city planners to save the old buildings and construct the garage around them, but Johnson said that was almost impossible.

"There's really not enough space," Johnson said yesterday. "The site is pretty small."

Johnson stressed that officials are aware of the buildings' history.

"All buildings like that have some value," he said. "They hark back to another day. We've been trying to find someone who would be willing to move the buildings. We've called various organizations that might be able to use the houses, like Habitat for Humanity. But there's been no success at all."

Erich Rose, chairman of the Ward One Inner West Street Development Committee, said downtown residents want officials to at least study the buildings.

"We feel there might just be some historic value to it, but the problem is, nobody really knows," Rose said.

"There could be no value to it, but with all the development along West Street, there are some folks in the neighborhood who feel very strongly about whatever little historic aspects there might be left on that section of West Street," he said.

Facade like storefronts

Sams also cautioned against the possible walling-in of West Street.

"We're concerned about the fabric that's being lost along that corridor," Sams said. "If we keep developing West Street with brick walls it'll become a sort of urban streetscape."

Johnson said the new garage and retail building will be designed with a facade that looks like a row of separate storefronts -- mimicking the style of many Annapolis streetscapes.

The debate over the West Street garage is the second over parking that has emerged in the state capital this week.

Hospital garage

To the alarm of residents who successfully lobbied for houses to be built on Anne Arundel Medical Center's 5-acre downtown site, several Annapolis lawyers and businesses started pressing the city to keep the five-story, 330-space garage on the property.

The hospital garage also was discussed at last night's meeting, where Madison Homes -- a Virginia company that medical center officials selected to develop the site -- presented detailed design plans for the residential units planned.

"We have absolutely no intention of keeping the parking garage," said Alan Hyatt, Madison Homes' attorney.

"It is not a part of our plan," he said.

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