March 8, 2010

$1.3 million goes to make visitor parking more green

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By Nick DiMarco
Nick@MarylandReporter.com

The city of Annapolis is spending an estimated $1.3 million in mostly federal stimulus funds to make eco-friendly improvements to its Gotts Court Garage and surface parking lot, though the improvements will actually eliminate one space in parking-strapped downtown.

Additions to the garage include replacing asphalt with a more porous surface, implementing rain gardens and planting vegetation on the roof of the structure. The changes are designed to curtail storm water runoff into the nearby Chesapeake Bay.  More than $700,000 in federal stimulus cash will go toward the project, while the city is spending $200,000 left over from another project on Hanover Street.

“The big picture in Maryland is to reduce our nitrogen pollution,” said Dawn Stoltzfus, spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of the Environment.

Thirty-four spots have been temporarily eliminated from the structure at a time when parking is at a premium during the General Assembly session. All but one surface parking space will return when the project is done, but they will be converted from all-day to short-term parking.

The 15 to 30 minute metered spaces are intended to draw more traffic to the nearby visitor’s center, officials say.

“We’re looking at a long-term solution,” said Connie Del Signore, president of the Annapolis Conference and Visitors Bureau. “It was either do it now, or do it during the peak tourism seasons. It was the better of two evils.”

Many local business operators along West Street say they have not felt any affect from the project, though they complain about an unrelated increase in parking rates. But Del. Ron George, R-Anne Arundel County, says “constant” construction in Annapolis is affecting businesses.

“It’s just endless down here,” said George, who owns Ron George Jewelers on Main Street. He says eliminating spaces at Gotts doesn’t necessarily impact his business, despite fielding complaints from customers unable to find parking in Annapolis. The city says it did its best to reach out to the business community and held public events about the process.

George says businesses should be more involved in the process of deciding on construction projects in the city.  “These projects needed to be better thought out. But the powers that be were too anxious to meet a deadline,” he said of the ARRA funding. “Part of this problem is that it needs to be acted on right away.”

The surface areas of the Gotts Court Garage are closed until April 15 with only the Calvert Street entrance remaining accessible.