Anne Arundel school board opposes Annapolis' plans to build garage near elementary school

The Anne Arundel County school board voted unanimously Wednesday to oppose the city of Annapolis' efforts to build a parking garage and mixed-use development on land adjacent to Annapolis Elementary School, echoing sentiments of some residents who have argued vehemently against the project.

Superintendent Kevin Maxwell recommended the board vote against entering into a memorandum of understanding that would have allowed the city to move forward with the project, which calls for using a portion of the parking lot at Annapolis Elementary for a garage. The proposal would also eliminate a playground next to Annapolis Elementary. The playground is owned by the city; the school parking lot is owned by the county school board.

The school board voted 8-0 against the memorandum of understanding at its meeting, with board member Eugene Peterson abstaining because he is employed by the city.

The board's vote adds another chapter to a decades-long battle to either preserve the playground widely used by students during recess or capitalize on its downtown location and development potential. The city of Annapolis had hoped to move parking spots at City Dock to the playground site, at Compromise and Newman streets, and relocating the playground.

The proposal also would add retail space on Compromise Street and corporate offices atop the retail space.

The school board voiced concerns about the impact of such a project on renovations to Annapolis Elementary that are scheduled to begin this summer.

The board's vote was met with applause by residents who oppose the project. Even before casting its vote, the school board expressed concerns about the measure to Annapolis city council members Sheila M. Finlayson and Ross H. Arnett III, both Democrats, who sponsored legislation on the matter that was supported by the city council.

Arnett and Finlayson were among those who stated that the memorandum of understanding allowed only for the school board to engage in dialogue with the city to see if the measure would move forward.

"We have ample support for moving forward," said Finlayson. "The council has heard from the community. We have heard from the stakeholders. We have seen the report and analyzed the data, and we came to the conclusion that we need to continue dialogue on this garage."

But Chris Stelzig, president of the Annapolis Elementary PTA, argued that the proposal compromises the health and safety of the students as well as the school's construction timeline.

"We would like to preserve the current location and size of the downtown playground," said Stelzig, "and we would like to broaden this conversation to where we're no longer talking about this very narrow focus. This conversation should be about how do we as a community build a better Annapolis."

Sean O'Neill, president of the Annapolis Business Association, said he was "disappointed that we weren't at least able to continue the dialogue." He added that his group would see what the next step would be from the City Dock Advisory Committee, which was established to look at ways to revitalize the downtown waterfront area.

School board member Deborah Ritchie asked how the business community would compromise. "We're asking the parents and the residents in the area to compromise because now you're taking the playground in that area and possibly moving it … but there's nothing here about what the businesses are having to give up," she said.

Also opposed to the memorandum of understanding was Annapolis Mayor Josh Cohen, who said he did not support the measure because of the location of the project as well as how it relates to the overall planning of City Dock.

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