A powerful state board brushed aside concerns of transit advocates and an Annapolis neighborhood group yesterday by endorsing a five-story parking garage at the gateway to the city's historic downtown.
"I have a hard time buying the notion that we have enough parking in Annapolis," Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said at a meeting of the state Board of Public Works. "In fact, I reject the notion."
Ehrlich, who is on the three-member board, was joined by state Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp and a representative of Comptroller William Donald Schaefer in approving the project's first step yesterday, authorizing a procedure that allows the same company to design and build the public garage.
The streamlined process will allow more rapid completion of the project, officials said. Schaefer, who was ill, did not attend the meeting.
The 732-space garage, planned at Bladen and Calvert streets, has long been envisioned as a replacement for more than 400 state employee parking spots that were lost when a nearby parking lot was used for the Bloomsbury Square public housing complex, state officials said.
Expected to be completed in 2006, the garage will cost at least $24 million and will be paid for through revenue bonds issued by the Maryland Transportation Authority.
The design and construction company will be selected through competitive bidding in the spring.
Yesterday's approval came despite objections from civic activists, and with only tepid support from city officials.
"Whether I like the garage is irrelevant," Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer said in a phone interview, adding that she viewed the proposed garage as a given.
"The obligation is to work with the state to get some good architecture in the gateway," Moyer said.
The garage is planned for a vacant lot near the site of the Lowe House Office Building expansion.
By law, the state is free to build the structure without having to comply with the city's zoning code for the historic district.
Critics point out that it will be visible to visitors approaching the State House complex via Rowe Boulevard and create hundreds more spaces than were lost to the housing project.
Several activists and civic leaders urged the board to delay its decision yesterday so that other options could be studied.
Shuttle service option
They said improved shuttle service between the downtown state office complex and existing lots and garages elsewhere in Annapolis could erase the need for a large and expensive new structure.
"We view this as spending a ton of money to fix something that is not broken," said Bevin Buchheister, head of the parking and transportation committee of the city's Ward 1 Residents Association.
Although a land swap for the public housing property and the House office expansion recently devoured 400 spaces, the area has gained parking spaces in other ways, Buchheister said. A recent Senate building expansion created 100 spaces in the area, and the Lowe House Office Building expansion will add 90. A new surface lot made room for more than 150 vehicles.
The current system for displaced state workers - having them park near the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium a half-mile away and take shuttles to and from their cars - works well because it meets the city's transportation goals, she said.
"We want the people to come in, and the cars to stay out," Buchheister said.
Ann Fligsten, an attorney and board member of the Annapolis Regional Transportation Management Association, also supports the shuttle use.
"People come here because we have preserved so much of the fabric [of historic Annapolis]," Fligsten said. "Building more garages as a long-term solution doesn't work."
Annapolis city officials say they are working closely with state officials to minimize design concerns raised by the state architectural review board this fall, particularly over the presence of large faux gables and Georgian flourishes.
"Our desire is to have a well-designed building," said Jon Arason, city planning director. "Assuming the garage is going to be built, we hope there won't be big triangles that stick up."
Working on a design
Anne Hubbard, a spokeswoman for the state Department of General Services, said the proposed gables have been "softened" to respond to the state board's comment. "They break up the faM-gade," she said. "It will be compatible with other Annapolis buildings."
Ehrlich and Kopp said the suggestions from transit advocates should be taken into account and incorporated into city plans, but that construction of the garage should proceed.