Museum expansion may start, judge says


An Anne Arundel County Circuit Court judge ruled yesterday that the state need not meet Annapolis regulations to begin work on a $5.5 million addition to the Banneker-Douglass Museum, in the heart of the state capital's historic district.

Annapolis attorney Thomas McCarthy Jr., whose office is across the street from the African-American history museum, has criticized the design of the 12,000-square-foot addition, which has never been approved by the city's Historic Preservation Commission.

In an opinion released yesterday, Judge Philip T. Caroom rejected McCarthy's request for a construction delay to allow the commission time to review permits and approve architectural designs for the project. McCarthy's attorney, Brennan McCarthy -- who also is his brother -- said he "absolutely" will appeal the decision.

"We are disappointed," said Brennan McCarthy. "Obviously there are some extremely sophisticated issues in this case that are going to require an appeals court decision."

Brennan McCarthy said he will seek permission to bypass the Court of Special Appeals and take the case directly to the Court of Appeals, the state's highest court. He said other jurisdictions could be affected if the court rejects the state's long-held contention that its projects are exempt from local regulations.

"I'd love to see [local jurisdictions] be able to control some of these projects," said Brennan McCarthy. "It may be Annapolis now, but it's really a statewide issue."

Annapolis officials and residents long have complained that they have no say regarding state building projects in their city. The bulk of some state buildings and the use of unnatural building materials, such as aluminum window casings, don't match the city's Colonial look.

Paul G. Goetzke, special counsel to Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer, said the issue would be better addressed by state lawmakers. Lawyers for Annapolis and Anne Arundel County, which were named in the lawsuit and later dismissed from the case, testified in court that the museum project was exempt from local code.

"That's how we always interpreted the law," said Goetzke, who added that the feud over the museum addition has always been between Thomas McCarthy and the state. Thomas McCarthy's wife, Jessica, also is a co-plaintiff in the case. Brennan McCarthy acted as attorney and spokesman for his brother and sister-in-law yesterday.

Department of Housing and Community Development spokesman Ed McDonough said state officials were pleased with the opinion and eager to move forward with the high-profile project. State officials, including Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., broke ground at the site Feb. 3. The brick addition will more than double the size of the museum, which is state-operated.

In an effort to be sensitive to Annapolis' historic preservation efforts, state officials twice have appeared before the Historic Preservation Commission to talk about the museum addition.

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