After building ban, no big rush

The Baltimore Sun

Whether it's because of the slowing real estate market, developers' caution after a yearlong wait or just the naturally slow pace of paperwork, Annapolis officials aren't seeing a rush of applications since the city lifted its ban on major development.

Planning and zoning Director Jon Arason said that since the city council ended the moratorium Sept. 10, he has just one new application to review: one submitted during the past year, but put on hold, to redevelop annexed property on Annapolis Neck Road.

Developers who want to launch new residential or commercial construction must prove their projects do not overload the city's public works, emergency or recreational systems.

First, they need to apply for a certificate of adequacy when they submit designs for review. Police, fire, public works and other officials must then sign off on the proposal, deciding whether they can provide adequate service once development is complete. A rejection sends developers back to the drawing board - or forces them to walk away from their plans.

But even those who think their projects qualify say they're proceeding with caution after a frustrating 14 months in development limbo.

"This is something we're all trying to figure out," said Shannon Waldron, an attorney at Annapolis-based Hyatt & Weber who specializes in land use and zoning. "Now that the moratoria are gone, that will actually be the focus. Let's do some community work, start planning and get some site designs started."

Those who consider the adequate facilities ordinance too weak hope developers' slow return to the city will give officials time to strengthen the law.

Alderwoman Julie Stankivic, who represents Ward 6, cast one of the two votes against the ordinance, saying it didn't go far enough to limit development in areas with crowded roads and public schools.

"The fact that roads and schools are excluded is definitely a problem," Stankivic said. "And if you read the content of the bill, there really are no standards for the rest of the areas. It's sometimes left up to department heads to decide what the standards are."

Scott Mobley, president of the Annapolis Neck Peninsula Federation, insists the law leaves "too many escape routes for developers."

"We had high hopes that they would bring development under control," said Mobley, whose organization represents 36 neighborhoods in and around the city. "But lifting the ban looks like they're bowing to the pressure of developers rather pressure from the community."

He wants to see the law amended to include roads - a component that the bill's sponsor in September 2006, Alderman David Cordle, opposed because it might force the city to cede control of development near county or state roads. Mobley also complained that the environmental and storm water management rules aren't strict enough, citing a pending high-density housing development in Annapolis Roads near the South River.

Annapolis Roads isn't the only community primed for growth. In 2005, the city annexed a 180-acre tract at Forest Drive and Spa Road known as the Katherine properties. The site is zoned for single-family homes, and Cordle said as many as 160 houses might eventually be built there. The project was frozen, but without a requirement for adequate roads, Stankivic and Mobley expect it will get the green light from city officials.

Cordle, a Ward 5 Republican, said he is open to discussing amendments to his bill, but prefers to see how the current law works before undoing a year's worth of negotiations with fellow council members.

"We're going to keep a close eye on what the impact is," he said. "Is it too restrictive for the betterment of the city, or is too lenient and needs to be tightened up a bit?"

Arason, for his part, said residents might not have as much to fear as they think.

"The real estate market is not what it was six months ago," he said. "I think a lot of these residential projects are going to be rethought."

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