In the latest detour in Annapolis' contentious trek toward building a parking garage and mixed-use complex on West Street, the city council rejected late Monday a resolution that many say would have undone months of progress.
The dust still had not settled yesterday from the angry debate that preceded the vote.
The resolution, introduced by Alderman Samuel Gilmer, a Ward 3 Democrat, and Republican Mayor Dean L. Johnson, would have prohibited the sale "under any circumstances" of any portion of the Cecil Knighton Property at West Street and Colonial Avenue, which the city bought for $1.1 million for a parking garage in June last year.
Critics of the resolution say it would have effectively resulted in demolition of the five century-old buildings on the property - on which the council voted two months ago to begin accepting rehabilitation proposals - because smaller, preservation-minded developers might have difficulty in financing a project if they did not own the property.
"There was an effort, and there still is an effort by this administration to tear those buildings down," said Democratic Alderman Louise Hammond, whose Ward 1 area includes the property. "They want to clear that lot and build the biggest garage they can."
The resolution shocked many members of the council and other residents who thought a consensus had been reached on the project at the council's last meeting in July, when members voted to follow the recommendations of a committee of residents and business owners appointed by the mayor in March to study the project.
The committee had suggested that the city first seek proposals from developers to rehabilitate the buildings for retail and residential use as a screen for the parking garage before seeking proposals that would include demolishing the buildings.
Several residents showed up to decry the resolution, including Minor Carter, Ward One Residents Association president, who compared the issue with a game of Whack-A-Mole.
"You think you've resolved it, and over here it pops up again," he said.
Jim Martin, a longtime West Street business owner who served on the committee to study the project, then accused the mayor of trying to "snatch defeat from the jaws of victory" by going against the recommendations of a committee Johnson had chosen.
Emotions heated up, with Martin and Johnson engaging in an angry debate that left the often quiet Alderman Joseph Sachs trying to restore a semblance of order.
Martin, who said he had supported razing the buildings before investigating the matter with the committee, said yesterday that he felt sorry for his "bad behavior" at the meeting but that the "scheme" proposed by Gilmer and the mayor was too frustrating.
"I'm trying to get him to move forward on this and not revert to his personal position, which is not the consensus of the community," Martin said of the mayor.
Johnson said yesterday that the idea for the resolution came from Gilmer but that he signed on as a sponsor because he did not agree with the findings of the committee. In the voice vote on the resolution, only he and Gilmer voted in favor.
Johnson said that if he had it his way, he would tear the buildings down and replace them with modern screening buildings on West Street and Colonial Avenue to conceal a larger, 500-space garage.
If the buildings, which he said have no historic significance, are rehabilitated, "we'd be lucky to even get close to 250" spaces, he said.
Johnson also criticized the council's action to accept the committee's report at the July meeting.
"We're operating under something that had no debate," he said yesterday. "The council didn't evaluate the committee report. The night we officially received it, the motion was thrown on the table, and the council acted that night."
With the resolution they introduced Monday, Johnson said, he and Gilmer wanted "the council and the citizens to understand that we purchased the property - and some was given to us - and we owe it to those who pay the bills that we get the best use of the property."
The resolution reminded many of the mayor's action last fall, when Hammond and angry residents spoke up at the 11th hour to halt the bulldozers on the property from leveling the buildings.
Gilmer criticized those behind saving the buildings, remnants of West Street's commercial heyday. "Every time that some of this begins to go through at this part of West Street," Gilmer said Monday, "we have these certain people and certain groups coming through and trying to stop it."
Alderman Ellen O. Moyer, who engaged in a heated debate with Gilmer, said the resolution "made no sense."
"The council took action to go forward on a RFP [request for proposals]," Moyer said yesterday. "The time to decide what to do with this property is when the proposals come in. I don't think we know the whole story behind this resolution."
City Administrator Sanford W. Daily said the RFP for the existing buildings and a new screening building on the corner is nearly complete and should be made public in about a week.
In other business Monday night, the council voted to make an area of the Annapolis Gardens and Bowman Court public housing neighborhoods the city's eighth drug-loitering-free zone.
The council is continuing to bestow the designation, even though the city is not enforcing the law because of a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.