In rapidly changing Eastport, where expensive modern homes have sprung up alongside older homes and businesses, the inevitable conflict between old and new may be to blame for a dispute involving late-night music wafting from the Peerless Rens Club.
Some residents who live behind the non-profit, all-black club, which has called the Annapolis waterfront community home for four decades, say noise from its dances has been a problem for several years. Recently, they've begun to take action, writing letters to the city Alcoholic Beverages Control Board and meeting with club and city officials.
"Nobody wants to shut the club down," said John Rice, a former Eastport Civic Association president and a six-year resident of the neighborhood.
"It's a very nice club and they serve an important need in the community.
But I don't know why the music has to be so loud.
"It's tough when you're lying in your bedroom at night and you can't sleep because of the noise," he said. "That's unacceptable behavior on the part of any establishment."
But club president Ronald Booth and Alderman Ellen O. Moyer, D-Ward 8, said residents who live on either side of the club haven't complained. They see the issue as newcomers to Eastport coming into conflict with longtime residents and establishments.
"It's about old Annapolis vs. new Annapolis, and it's about different lifestyles," Moyer said.
"Just because you buy a $300,000 to $400,000 house doesn't mean you can come here and try to change the community," Booth said.
Rice said the problem is music coming out the back door of the club, which he said doesn't affect residents next door. In a letter to the liquor board, he said he's heard complaints from residents who live as far as two blocks away.
The city got involved in the issue when resident Valerie Rogers wrote a letter to the liquor board in October complaining about music from the club. That led to a meeting between residents, Booth, Moyer, Civic Association President Ken Kloostra and Emily Green, an aide to Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins.
Those who attended the meeting said it was a good start on addressing the problems and building communication between the club and neighbors.
Another meeting was set for Jan. 10.
"It was the beginning of a dialogue," Kloostra said. "I don't think the meeting solved all the issues, but it was a start."
Rice, who didn't attend the meeting, said he and other residents weren't satisfied by the progress made. He wrote a letter to the liquor board a week later.
Moyer wasn't pleased by the timing of Rice's letter.
"Whenever you have distrust between neighbors, you need time to work things out," Moyer said. "John should have known a good-faith effort had begun. That was very counterproductive."
Liquor board Chairman Charles Grayston said the board doesn't plan to act on Rice's letter because it's not a formal complaint. "I would rather see this handled through other channels," he said.
Grayston said the Police Department could address the issue with a new law that levies fines for excessive noise.
Moyer said she thinks the noise problems can be solved easily. "The only thing you have to do is open the doors and test so you can't hear the noise beyond a certain point, and they appeared to be willing to do that," she said. "We ought to be able to resolve it by summer, when it's a problem."
Residents have other complaints -- such as buses and cars parked along narrow streets -- that Moyer hopes can be worked out too.
In the meantime, Booth said he hopes residents call him with problems before they call the police. Residents have complained that club members have been unresponsive to complaints, so Booth said he is giving out his beeper and home phone numbers.
"If you're having a problem, call me if you're not getting any satisfaction from the club," he said. "We don't want to lose our liquor license. We run a class act here. We don't have any riffraff coming in here."
Kloostra, the civic association president, said the conflict has much to do with growing pains.
"Most of us came to the community because of the diversity and racial mix," he said. "Now it's just a little crowded."