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.