The Compromise Garage Should Be Built, And Why It Won’t Be

| April 24, 2012
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Like chicken little, the residents of Wards One and Eight poured into City Hall last night for an unprecedented 8 hour session to voice their opposition to what amounts to little more than a fantasy–the dreaded garage on Compromise Street. The Council voted to continue discussions by a 6-3 vote with Mayor Cohen,  Alderman Pfeiffer and Alderman Israel opposing.

If one was to go purely by the vitriol extolled by the garage opponents, one might think the City was looking to build a kitten slaughter mill.  The rhetoric was amusing and embarrassing at the same time.

The fact remains that the City is not really in the driver’s seat. This project will never get off the ground–at least at this time. To do it, they  need the Anne Arundel County Board of Education to approve it.  In terms of involvement, the City’s part likely will be to muddy the waters and create delays–a task that they are decidedly up for.  But let’s take a look at the past in four words–Market House Police Station. Enough said?  The City has a tough time getting out of its own way. What are the chances that they are going to be able to come to a consensus and be an active participant with at least two other entities within two months when construction starts? It has taken them eight years (and counting) to figure out the Market House. It took several months to debate the chicken issue.  Realistically, the school is going to go forward on their schedule for the renovation and this project will be a moot point and a tragic lost opportunity for the community.

People have asked me where I stand. I am in favor of the garage.  And, without the benefit of seeing the plans or really digging too deeply into the project, here’s why:

  • Retail is suffering downtown and part of it is the apathy and ignorance of the merchants, the greediness of the building owners, and the comparative inconvenience of shopping downtown. Look at Parole Town Center where I can park in a garage and be inside a store in a matter of minutes.
  • The greening of City Dock is an awesome idea. Imagine grass and fountains and benches where the cars and buses now park. This can also serve as a supplementary playground as well for children (and adults) not in Annapolis Elementary.
  • The garage, if done right can blend in with the surroundings. There can be a facade created that will offer retail (1st floor) and commercial (2nd floor) on the front. It does not need to look like a garage. The garage can be “behind” the facade; and, I heard talk of “green walls” to further enhance the appearance on the other sides. Yes, there may be some sunlight restrictions, but I am thinking there is truly little impact.
  • The playground. I have heard that they are looking at splitting the playground apart into different areas. That might be a great idea to offer another green space along the water along Compromise Street. As to the existing playground, it can be placed on TOP of the garage. In most major cities, the playgrounds of schools are located on the roofs. The roof can be real grass decreasing the carbon footprint and offering a safe (away from the street) place for children to play on real grass–something that is not offered now. The playground would have an awesome view and it can be “fenced” in utilizing the newer plexiglass to prevent balls and people from getting out. Look at any cruise ship for an idea. The playground could have a separate direct access to the school–perhaps via dedicated pathway or a skyway. If crime or vandalism becomes an issue, it is easily locked up and secured outside of daylight hours. By removing the children from a road-accessible playground, it actually creates a safer environment.

I can’t speak to Annapolis Elementary School, but the amount of time that my kids received for recess each day was ridiculous compared to when I was a kid. They got 15 to 20 minutes max which included travel time to and from the classroom. And of course during inclement weather it doesn’t happen at all. And to be honest, the primary benefit of recess for the kids is not to battle childhood obesity (although bringing that argument to the table was a valiant effort–try dead kittens next time for more emotional reach) it is to give the kids and the teachers a mental break. And this can (and has) been accomplished in a myriad of other ways.

And finally, with the planned renovation of Hillman Garage in a few years, it could be devastating to the merchants downtown–not to mention all of the employees of the City who park there (insert sarcasm here). While I think the circulator is a great idea and I do use it (because I am cheap and like the $5 rate at Knighton) a lot, it is currently underused. If it were robust and full, the argument against the garage might be a bit more palpable to me. The merchants downtown do not live by tourism alone. I spoke with a restaurant owner who told me point blank that a poor Midnight Madness and Eleventh Hour was the difference between profit and loss. It is that close! Now, take away the parking and you can guarantee a loss for two years (estimated time for renovations). Can the businesses handle that? How large will the losses be? Will downtown turn into a ghost town?

No one likes change for the most part. But sometimes, change is good. And Annapolis has embraced it before and should embrace it again.

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Category: Editorial, OPINION

About the Author ()

John is the publisher and editor of Eye On Annapolis. As a resident and business owner in Anne Arundel County for more than 15 years, he realized that there was something missing in terms of community news--and Eye On Annapolis was born in late spring 2009.John's background is in the travel industry as a business owner, industry speaker, and travel writer. In terms of blogging and social media, he cut his teeth with MSNBC.com.
  • Melissa

    I will admit I can see both pros and cons for each side of this garage. But I am curious how big this garage will be that it can offer retail and commercial spaces on the first and second floors and a playground (that would have to be mulched not grass) on the top floor?  Plus, the Board of Ed would keep the same amount of spaces for the staff of the school and the board offices that are there now. And as much as I love the idea of a rooftop playground – would HAF ever approve having the plexiglass walls all round the the top of a building? They won’t even approve rooftop dining for Buddy’s or Rockfish. 

    How is all that going to fit in that little tiny space? Not judging, just asking.

    • http://www.eyeonannapolis.net/ John Frenaye

       There are a lot of unanswered questions HAF, permits, etc. I did not look at the plans, but believe it could be done. Why not a grass roof? There is one in Edgewater at the Brick Companies Building.

      I don’t believe this garage was ever intended to actually ADD spaces, but to re-allocate them from Susan Campbell Park/City Dock to the garage.  There will be 100 allocated to retail and school from what I heard out of the 350 or so proposed.

      • Melissa

        Thanks – I still don’t think that one can fit 350 spaces into a garage that will be 2 floors (Counting the 1st & 2nd floors as retail and commercial then the top as a playground – don’t think it will be taller than 5 stories total)?  And if a playground is on the roof (with all the HVAC stuff, yuck!) it would have to be mulch not grass for both maintenance and safety (no comment!) issues.

        Again, see both pro and con for both sides – just think this is happening WAY too fast to answer all these question – plus the ones from the Smart People!

  • Rogerhkb

    I suggest you look at the plans, which Compromise LLC has on their website. While a garage under the current playground or a rooftop playground that can be accessed from the school may be options the community can get behind, they are not what is being offered by this developer. The vote last night was to proceed with the option put forth by one developer which would eliminate most of the play area for the children attending Annapolis Elementary.
    Your right that ultimately the decision needs to be made by the Board of Education. They need to decide whether or not to reduce the play area as well as give up all future use for their land downtown.
    There was talk of compromise but the only changes the developer made was to add in taking over the Old Rec Center parking lot and turning it into a smaller version of the basketball court they eliminated.

    • http://www.eyeonannapolis.net/ John Frenaye

       The vote was not necessarily to move forward with the plans as submitted. The City, while they have no control over the construction, does have considerable clout over Compromise LLC in terms of what they need to build.  If Parks does not want to build it, the City has the right to not approve it.

      Parks did not develop complete construction plans based on a hope that it will go through. It is too expensive. He has an architects rendering which is a far cry from reality in ANY circumstance

  • InterestedResident

    A playground on the roof of a garage would be a security nightmare; anyone could be lurking in the stairwell or on elevators, and kids fighting and falling off the roof unless you put up a chain link fence. That would look real nice. Perhaps it would be a good idea to review the plans before posting. The garage at that location is a bad idea and contrary to the original purpose of the site. Times do change and needs change. The needs for kids to have a little playground at their school will never change. Parking isn’t the problem in Annapolis. Politics and self interest are.

    • http://www.eyeonannapolis.net/ John Frenaye

       I do not suggest an open platform playground. I suggested that it could be accomplished with a glass/plexiglass type hi wall to keep people from climbing/falling and to keep balls, etc within the boundaries.

      The deed (from my understanding) calls for the playground to be there. I am not sure it calls for it to be the same playground.

  • Ward 1 resident

    The last thing downtown Annapolis needs is another garage. 
    1.The streets are bursting with traffic now.  These same streets are not conducive to a clean flow of inbound and outbound traffic which will lead to more traffic jams. 
    2. Further, kids regardless of the time spend in recess, do not need to be ‘caged in’ by a sterile parking garage.
    3. The folks who are behind this build Park Center which is pretty sterile — a few restaurants, one of which has closed, vacant store fronts — and if it weren’t for Fado’s the area would be pretty much abandoned.  Conclusion: lots of promise, not much on delivery.
    4. Do we really need more retail space in the area.  Take a walk and count the number of vacant storefronts.
    5. And, the greening the Ego Alley parking area is not dependent on the building of a garage.  They are separate issues. 
    What we need is peripheral parking much like you will find in European cities such as Oxford.