Downtown Annapolis is a place where it's easy to buy a plate of penne arrabiatta, but tough to find a box of spaghetti. Where tourists can purchase U.S. Naval Academy sweat shirts on every block, but residents have a difficult time buying needle and thread.
Folks in Murray Hill, a well-groomed neighborhood near the city's popular promenade, say there are many wonderful things within walking distance of their homes, but the basics aren't among them. For those, they must lose hard-fought parking spaces and drive to the suburbs.
Yet changes are afoot, and residents may someday be able to stroll as easily to shops that carry diapers, breakfast cereal and laundry detergent as to ones that offer "Don't Bother Me I'm Crabby" coffee mugs.
The Anne Arundel Medical Center, a private, nonprofit hospital, plans to vacate its cramped downtown facility--which includes the century-old original building--to join existing offices on Jennifer Road, on the outskirts of Annapolis. That will leave five acres on Cathedral Street open for development, and although the downtown facility isn't going anywhere for two years, administrators and community leaders are well into plans for what should be done with the site.
"We wanted to leave something behind that was not objectionable to the community or the city. We wanted to be remembered as good neighbors," said Dennis Curl, the medical center's vice president of property development.
"The thing we most wanted to see was that there be a restoration of residential use on the site, and that the site should not be converted to a use like an office building that would go dark at the end of the day," said Sandy Cohen, president of the Murray Hill Residents Association.
Cohen, whose group represents about 800 homes, sent an advisory in April to potential developers on behalf of the association, outlining what she and her neighbors wanted: town houses, a drug store, maybe a newsstand. A park, perhaps. Or a bookstore. Or a medical clinic. Anything nice, as long as it meant people would be there round-the-clock.
Twelve developers approached the hospital with plans. Cohen and other neighbors said they were relieved earlier this month when they read the four proposals hospital officials had selected for the final cut. Although the century-old building at the corner of Franklin and Cathedral streets will be preserved no matter what goes there, three of the plans would demolish the rest of the hospital and its parking garage.
Village at Franklin Park, a residential community of assisted-living units, town houses and single family homes. The historic corner building would hold neighborhood retail, and a portion of South Street would be converted into a public park. Developer: The Holladay Group, Washington Architect: Torti Gallas and Partners/CHK, Washington.
South Street Landing, a residential community of luxury apartments, condominiums and town houses. The historic site would have neighborhood retail on the lower level and apartments on the upper floors. Developer: A limited partnership to be formed by David F. Tufaro and Toll Brothers Inc., Baltimore. Architect: RTKL, Baltimore.
Villages of Annapolis, a project of condominiums and town house units. The historic building would be renovated and designated partially for community use and partially for office space. It could contain a fitness center. A waterfront public park would be created on the South Street lot. Developer: the Villages of Annapolis and Madison Homes Inc. Architect: Lessard Architectural Group Inc., Washington.
Finally, a mixed-use design of market-rent apartments, upscale condominiums, retail and office space. This proposal aims to keep the existing hospital and garage structures with extensive renovations. Developer: Streuver Brothers Eccles and Rouse, Baltimore. Architects: Boggs and Partners, Baltimore; Hord Coplan Mocht, Baltimore.
Gary Richardson, a retired vascular surgeon who lives within walking distance of the hospital where he served for 25 years, said he hates to see the hospital go. But if it must, he would just as soon demolish the building and its unsightly parking garage.
"I didn't think it was possible they would consider knocking down the hospital," Richardson said. "I would love to see it go back to residential or condo-style."
Richardson, who pointed out that some of the nicest homes in Annapolis share a block with the hospital, said he's just happy the medical center didn't decide to convert the entire block into an office center.
Cohen said, "It could have been the death knell for pedestrian activity in the evening." She added that each of the proposals goes a long way toward creating convenient shopping for locals, which has been a need ever since lower rents lured the only downtown supermarket to the suburbs a decade ago and the drug store just last year.
Even if the area cannot sustain a supermarket, Cohen said that increasing the residential base will at least encourage the development of stores that cater to locals as well as tourists.
"There are people who cannot live downtown without services," she said. "There are people who do not drive and cannot walk to get a prescription filled or buy bread and milk."
The hospital committee will meet July 30 to hear presentations from each of the developers. And, while advisory board members are free to attend, it will ultimately be medical center officials who decide the neighborhood's fate.
Janet Shenk, an architect and council member who represents the downtown neighborhood, said she will be anxious until she is sure the proposals look as good in real life as they do on paper. Done right, she and other residents said, good residential development that propels retail can knit downtown neighborhoods together.
"It's really a turning point in terms of what happens with the downtown area in the next decade," she said.
CAPTION: Sandy Cohen, president of the Murray Hill Residents Association, stands in front of the Anne Arundel Medical Center, which plans to vacate the facility.
CAPTION: The hospital, which is leaving its five acres on Cathedral Street, is across from the courthouse in downtown Annapolis