The Capital: “Annapolis aims to review annexation agreements”

Capital Gazette: June 13, 2016

By: Chase Cook, Capital Gazette reporter

Several resolutions were introduced Monday at the City Council meeting that would allow the city to revisit and redraft previous annexation agreements they believe have been breached, most notably the agreement linked to Crystal Spring.

City attorneys assert these annexation agreements have been breached as the properties have not linked up their public facilities usage with the city.

These annexed properties must adhere to city laws within 10 years, according to the city charter, and that includes hooking up to the city’s public facilities.

In the case of the Crystal Spring property, the Mas Que Farm should have been connected, said City Attorney Mike Leahy.

That lack of a public facilities connection also has led the city to have a higher insurance rating for fire insurance, Leahy said, and homeowners are paying more for that insurance.

If the arm was connected, it could lower the cost of that insurance, although Leahy couldn’t say how much more residents were paying now.

“I don’t think anybody acted in bad faith,” he said. “Everyone thought this would be built in three to five years and the houses would be connected in due course.”

The Crystal Spring property isn’t the only annexation agreement in question. The Annapolis Neck Road, Rogers, Brown and Fischer properties also had resolutions specific to those properties. Those resolutions feature the same possible breach as the Crystal Spring property.

If the city does redraft the agreements, it is an opportunity to review that agreement under the guise of the city’s comprehensive plan and other changes that have happened in the last 10 years, Leahy said.

The Crystal Spring developers say they haven’t breached the annexation agreement.

The city’s interpretation of that portion of the city charter is a stretch, said Crystal Spring attorney Alan Hyatt. It doesn’t specifically state anything about public facilities hook-ups, and the current agreement only required public facilities connections of occupied residences at the time of the annexation’s approval.

There were no occupied buildings on the property at that time and there is no breach, Hyatt said.

“(These resolutions) are improper and ill-conceived,” he told the council. “I suggest to you that is a very strained reading of the (city charter).”

Passage of the resolution would mean the city’s Planning Commission would begin the redrafting process with the property owner, Janet Richardson. The language in the resolution requires the redrafting be “mutually agreeable to the owners of the annexed properties and the city.”

Since the annexation agreement doesn’t involve the Crystal Spring developer, it won’t slow down their process and isn’t a delay tactic, Leahy said.

Opponents of Crystal Spring, lead by former Sen. Gerald Winegrad, applauded the city’s decision to review the drafted agreement. But they raised concerns about the “mutual” language, saying it could put the city back in the same position with the Crystal Spring project.

Winegrad believes the city should revoke the annexation agreement.

“The owner is the one who breached the terms and should not be given such authority,” he said in an email.

Introduction of legislation is typically a quick affair with little discussion, but Alderwoman Sheila Finlayson, D-Ward 4, raised concerns about the four resolutions. It could be a precursor to the legislation having a tough battle through the council.

Finlayson voted against each resolution. She proposed the city request an Attorney General opinion on the topic in lieu of redrafting the agreements.

“It doesn’t feel right,” she said. “On the surface it looks like we are trying to manipulate something.”

In other business

The council held public hearings on several pieces of legislation, including the budget, but didn’t vote on any legislation.

Other newly introduced legislation included extending hours in parking districts 3 and 4 to midnight, seven days a week. This would impact streets within the Murray Hill and President’s Hill areas that have seen increased parking traffic between Church Circle and Westgate Circle, according to a city staff report.

Another bill would allow on-street dining in the first block of West Street for the Dinner Under the Stars event, running from July 13 through Sept. 21.

A public hearing also was heard on a bill allowing the city to fine drivers $250 who park their vehicles on snow emergency routes.

In addition, the city recognized Hannah Scott Chambers, the wife of John Chambers Jr., who was the first African-American mayor of Annapolis. The council’s chamber is named after John Chambers.

Hannah Chambers passed away on June 4.

“Mrs. Chambers would give away the world,” said Rhonda Pindell Charles, D-Ward 3. “She was probably the most generous person I’ve ever known in my life.”

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