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Annapolis housing authority running well, City Council told

Chase Cook
Contact Reporterccook@capgaznews.com
Housing authority to announce new executive director on Nov. 1.

Despite five high-level resignations, officials from the Housing Authority of the City of Annapolis told the City Council on Monday night that their agency continues to serve residents well.

"I want to assure you and the City of Annapolis, given the little federal funding, our agency is one of the best in Maryland," said Jeffrey Henderson, chairman of the HACA Board of Commissioners.

Officials also said the agency was in the process of hiring a new executive director by Sunday. The former executive director, Vincent Leggett, resigned, as did Director of Operations Sean Griffith, Treasurer Richard Callahan, Morris Blum property manager Victoria Garcia and commissioner Cynthia Carter, a former alderwoman.

The authority, which oversees federally-funded public housing in the city, declined to discuss personnel changes in detail, but did say other recently vacated high-level positions would be filled after the new executive director is chosen.

The resignations at HACA have come with increased scrutiny from members on the City Council. Mayor Mike Pantelides has said he believes the resignations at the organization are connected and has raised concerns about the operation of the agency.

Alderman Jared Littmann, D-Ward 5, asked about a director of public safety position that had yet to be filled. HACA officials said that job would also be filled once the new executive director is in place.

"I'm not trying to beat you up on this," Littmann said. "People need to know HACA is being managed while it is going through this transition."

Apart from briefly discussing the resignations, HACA officials released financial information and their "report card" score. The U.S. Housing and Urban Development had listed HACA as a troubled housing authority but rescinded that status this year after the organization recovered from financial troubles. They are now deemed a standard performer.

The report showed financial recovery. HACA posted a surplus of $53,272 in the first quarter of fiscal 2016 compared to $2,530 in first quarter of fiscal 2015. The Blum complex continues to operate at a deficit, with $16,207 in the red so far this fiscal year. But this is still an improvement of last year's deficit of $56,855, according to the report.

In other business, the Ward 1 Resident's Association spoke out on the city's posting of the council agenda. The agenda was posted Friday, which angered members of the association due to a public hearing on legislation that would change the zoning for the Waterfront Maritime Conservation district.

The association asked the city to wait until a cultural landscape study — which would define the city's historical landmarks and valued landscapes — is completed before the zoning is approved.

Association board member Ann Berger said the council did not give the public time to fully discuss the legislation before announcing that it would be up for public hearing on Monday. The association called the legislation "overreaching." The group supports development at 110 Compromise St., but feel the legislation as introduced goes too far.

"The fact that the agenda was not made available until late Friday afternoon is frankly unacceptable to the public interest," Berger said, reading from a statement. "It is a sign that the mayor and City Council do not value or respect the time of the citizens who voted for you."

The legislation would redefine the size of retail and restaurants that are approved, with 60 percent of the property available for either type of development. The remaining 40 percent would have to be used for maritime projects. Currently, the zone allows up 30 percent of retail or restaurants with special exceptions, with no pre-defined minimum of maritime usage.

Supporters of the bill say it will make the City Dock area more competitive with other portions of Annapolis, which are limited by maritime restrictions. The zoning change would also give the developers of 110 Compromise St. the freedom to build their proposed project, which would include rooftop and dockside dining.

Opponents of the legislation say the bill sets a precedent that would weaken the maritime industry in downtown Annapolis as business owners would want to expand their retail and restaurant properties, which may be more lucrative than maritime businesses.

Some Ward 1 residents support the bill, and told the council the association doesn't speak for every resident living in the ward.

Todd Nichols, a Ward 1 resident, said he feels the legislation is a step forward to the city becoming more business friendly.

"I wholeheartedly support the change," Nichols said. "We deserve an Annapolis that lives up to its potential."

Pantelides told Berger the city would be implementing a stricter Thursday deadline for the agenda. The city's website lists agendas as being posted on Wednesdays, although the last two agendas have been posted on Friday.

The public hearing on the legislation was left open until the end of the Nov. 9 council meeting.

The council meeting was continuing as of press time. To read about the rest of the meeting, visit www.capitalgazette.com.

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