As the parking crunch in Annapolis continues to worsen, the mayor changed tack yesterday, skipping the planned construction of a temporary lot at West Street and Colonial Avenue to concentrate on building a 400- to 450-space garage at the site.
Work on the 37,000-square-foot facility should begin in spring 2001 and give some relief to a city known for its shortage of on-street parking and for garages that fill by 9: 30 a.m. The garage would be part of the city's parking strategy, which includes increasing shuttle service and calling on the county for help.
"There's no single silver bullet to provide relief," Mayor Dean L. Johnson said at a news conference.
The mayor also said he would not support any effort by the city to take over the 393-space parking garage on the Anne Arundel Medical Center site. The hospital is relocating to Parole in a move that is to be completed by the fall of 2001.
A Virginia-based developer bought the land to demolish most of the structures and build 139 condominiums, townhouses and single-family homes. The proposal to tear down a parking garage prompted some business owners and residents to ask the city to save it.
The mayor said that condemning and acquiring the garage would cost the city $7 million. Not only would condemnation proceedings be costly, he said, but they would delay a project at the site seen as a benefit to the area.
W. Minor Carter, president of the Ward One Residents' Association, said his organization supports the demolition of the garage, but is concerned about the density of the project, called Madison Homes. The project is under a zoning review.
"We believe this declaration by the mayor is a vital step in the development of a comprehensive parking plan for the city of Annapolis," Carter said yesterday.
From community breakfasts to the halls of the Anne Arundel County Circuit Courthouse, parking has been the topic of conversation. Businesses worry they will lose clients, lawyers can't find spaces and visitors often have to drive in circles until they find a spot.
Johnson said it was the first topic addressed by the Capital City Commission, a group of representatives from the state, county, city and Naval Academy that has met twice this year. Among them, Johnson said, 8,000 parking spaces are available.
"We have our staffs looking into the unmet parking demand," he said.
The city-owned Gott's Court garage has 550 spaces, but only 250 available daily for the public, with 300 spaces leased by month. The city's 435-space Hillman garage has 200 monthly leases and 80 spots are reserved by the city.
The county-owned 801-space Whitmore garage has 350 spaces reserved by the county and up to 300 reserved by the state, leaving at least 151 for public use.
The city had planned to build a temporary surface lot at West Street and Colonial Avenue while officials develop plans for the garage, but Johnson said it wouldn't make "financial sense." The lot would have cost the city $30,000 to $35,000.
"We are in the process of planning that facility now and wish to proceed with all deliberate speed to get construction under way," Johnson said.
The city acquired the property, through sale and donation, in June from Cecil C. Knighton to build a parking garage. The city was ready to raze the seven buildings on the site in November, but preservationists stepped in to protect five structures that were more than 100 years old, until their historic value could be determined.
The mayor established a committee to study the economic viability of saving the five buildings and report to the council by June 15. Yesterday, Johnson said he'd like a response by May 15.
"I particularly don't think they should stay," he said, adding that the other buildings have been razed.
The city plans to make the garage part of a shuttle system, which will operate among all the parking garages and Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. City officials are looking into funding to make it a free service.
Danielle S. Matland, director of the department of transportation, said money is budgeted to buy buses and shuttles over two years. "We're geared up for expanding the shuttle system," she said.
Johnson said development of the Knighton property would help alleviate parking pressure on Inner West Street, which has increased with the courthouse expansion.
The city has experienced an increase in county employees and a decrease in parking, Johnson said. When it was planned, he said, there was an attitude that, "We'll deal with parking tomorrow."
"Tomorrow has arrived," Johnson said.
The county, he said, has yet to provide 387 parking spaces at off-site locations, which was part of the special exception usage granted by the city council to expand the courthouse. "I sincerely believe the city and the county can work together to solve the problems of courthouse parking in a manner benefiting our mutual constituents," Johnson said.
Andrew C. Carpenter, a spokesman for County Executive Janet S. Owens, said the county's spots at Whitmore and its allocation for Gott's fulfill the 387-spot requirement for the courthouse parking obligation. The county is willing to help, Carpenter said.
"The county, through its membership with the Capital City Commission, is working with the city, the Naval Academy and the state to do whatever we all can to mitigate the parking problems in the city," he said.