Some say the bill will destroy the quaint Annapolis we love. Others say it will save a diverse Annapolis that is fast disappearing.
Some say it will only benefit greedy developers. Others argue that its opponents are racists, classists and elitists.
Sigh. Want to kick over the wassail bowl and throw some fruitcake just before Christmas? Start talking about Ordinance 40-22, a measure before the Annapolis City Council that’s the latest plan to create more places to live that don’t cost more than most people can afford.
“I think it really just boils down to the messaging and the fear of people losing their personal property or losing what they just are used to,” said Alderman DaJuan Gay, one of two lead authors of the legislation, in explaining all the controversy.
That’s one view. Here’s another from Alderman Rob Savidge, a leading opponent.
“I do think there’s a lot of effort to make this about whether I support this type of housing when in my mind the question really should be about how do you responsibly add density to the city?” he said.
There has been a lot written and said about this legislation; even a local podcaster delved into it. But here’s something you won’t read anywhere else: This (probably) shall not pass.
The votes don’t seem to be there on the council for something this contentious. Not every member has revealed their intent, and lots of attempted amendments are likely. But the forecast is pretty clear.
The question is, then, what should Annapolis do about the “crisis” of not having enough affordable places to live?
Currently open for public comment through Jan. 9, O-40-22 would make it much easier for developers to build — or redevelop existing properties for — “workforce housing.” That’s the wonky term for homes intended for people making 120% of the median income, or about $147,000 a year in Annapolis for a family of four.
It sounds like a lot of money. But in Annapolis, a stinking expensive place to live, it’s not enough to afford a mortgage payment — or even rent.
Gay and his lead co-sponsor, Alderman Brooks Schandelmeier, envision houses, duplexes, quadplexes, small apartment buildings and other types of housing filling a gap in Annapolis — some call it the “Missing Middle.” The median home price in Annapolis has fallen a bit during this chilly real estate season, and yet many teachers, police officers, other professionals (such as journalists) and a whole bunch of young people are finding the city increasingly out of reach. The problem is not limited to the city; there’s a nationwide shortage, and lots of communities in this region are struggling to meet the need for affordable housing.
Gay and Schandelmeier, the youngest members of the council, came up with O-40-22 and some other legislation based on a housing study that Gay led. It would create a workforce housing category in the zoning code to make it easier to build this sort of housing everywhere in the city, except on land intended for maritime and industrial uses. In exchange for breaks from the city’s cumbersome planning process, deed restrictions and income tests would govern use of these properties.
The legislation has been brewing for more than a year, but strong views on the topic boiled over at a public hearing a few weeks ago. There were dark warnings and angry exchanges among council members.
We’ve been down this road before. Attempts to change the rules in Annapolis so that more housing can be built always generate fear about traffic, crowded schools, property values and — at worst — people who are different.
A decade ago, the city adopted a plan to require more multifamily housing in new projects that offered developers an option to pay the city a fee in lieu of meeting the requirement. It’s been modified, but the effort basically failed.
“The way I look at it is that we have this bill that is probably at least, you know, five years too late. We’re always behind the market,” said Alderwoman Elly Tierney, a former construction executive who joined as the bill’s third sponsor.
Considering public comments and interviews with council members, the bill seems likely to come up short. The outcome, unfortunately, might be that Annapolis won’t tackle the need for more affordable housing again soon.
“Everyone on the council has talked the talk on affordable housing, but I bet they slow roll it for four years,” Mayor Gavin Buckley said.
Tierney and Buckley support the legislation as a step toward addressing the city’s “desperate” need for less expensive places to live. The city’s professional planning staff agrees, and its report on the bill calls the shortage a crisis. Planners back the measure as a way to get around the hurdle of rezoning existing properties that have been discussed for apartment and condo projects that would meet the need.
At the root of this roadblock, though, is a lack of consensus on whether there is a crisis.
Gay and Schandelmeier see it that way. The council’s youngest members are on one side of an existential divide on the future of Annapolis. Will the city encourage diversity in terms of age, race and income? Will Annapolis be a vibrant city where new ideas pop up? Or will it follow its current trajectory, which is becoming more and more like a nice place to slow down for people who make their fortunes and social contributions somewhere else?
Savidge and Alderwoman Karma O’Neill don’t see it that way and won’t vote for the bill. Why change life for the people already in Annapolis to benefit newcomers eager to enjoy its water access, historic charm and unique identity? Why, they ask, does Annapolis need to solve this problem on its own? Is it even a problem?
O’Neill looks across the city line and sees 500 new apartments rising on Riva Road. She wonders about the future redevelopment of vacant space at Westfield Annapolis mall out there, too.
“Why are we trying to push this in the city when greater Annapolis is bigger than the seven square miles of the city?” she said. “Why are we trying to squeeze this all in?”
Then there are Alderwomen Sheila Finlayson and Rhonda Pindell Charles. Even if they both agree on a need for more affordable places to live, they don’t want it jammed into already densely developed parts of the city.
This disunity has Alderman Ross Arnett confused about what Annapolis wants, let alone what the bill would do. He won’t vote for the legislation either.
“I’m at a loss as to what we’re really doing here. ... We need to get our priorities straight before we go off and do legislation,” he said.
At the recent council public hearing, Trudy McFall walked to the microphone near the end of the virtue-signaling slugfest.
Dressed in a bright yellow sweater and speaking softly, the retired nonprofit housing executive talked about what the city can do now. Focus, she said, on properties such as the old WNAV radio station site; land proposed for a complex called The Willows; and the city’s old maintenance center on Spa Road — and push.
Days later in a West Annapolis coffee shop, this former head of an affordable housing coalition said that if the Gay-Schandelmeier legislation passes, it will kick off never-ending neighborhood feuds every time someone wants to build workforce housing in a single-family neighborhood.
“Why fight the battle of putting a few places in the middle of West Annapolis?” she asked. “What does that accomplish?”
There has to be a better way.