Restaurant clash flavors mayoral race

May 06, 1991|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Sun Staff Correspondent

HAVRE DE GRACE -- From the doorstep of her house on Market Street, built before the War of 1812, Jane Stevenson Jacksteit commands a majestic view of the point where tidal waters of the Chesapeake Bay merge with the Susquehanna River.

Along the shoreline, within view of her house, stands the historic Concord Point Lighthouse, a beacon to sailors and boaters for 160 years -- and a symbol to Mrs. Jacksteit of her democratic and environmental birthright.

A blue-eyed, mirthful woman of 73, the retired Baptist minister's wife is offended that the city would allow developers to put a restaurant on land adjacent to the lighthouse. They might have succeeded by now but for her vigilant opposition.

The lease proposed for the piece of land next to the proposed restaurant site could leave citizens with an obstructed view of the water and inadequate compensation, she says.

"It sounds like the Dutch, the Indians and Manhattan to me," she says.

To make clear her opposition to the project and to the way it has been promoted, Mrs. Jacksteit is running for mayor against the pro-restaurant incumbent, Dr. Gunther D. Hirsch.

Dr. Hirsch, a physician in Havre de Grace for 36 years and a member of the City Council for six years before he became mayor, says the restaurant is in the city's best interests.

"It was an above-board deal," he says, observing that it was ratified by his predecessor, David R. Craig, now a Republican state delegate from Harford County. "It's a done deal. The only person it's not a done deal for is Jane Jacksteit."

Nevertheless, in a time when growth and commercial development are explosive political issues, what editorial writers have called Mayor Hirsch's "insensitive" style and Mrs. Jacksteit's passionate defense of the shoreline have made the non-partisan race more competitive than it might have been otherwise.

The election is tomorrow. Polls are to be open at Havre de Grace High School from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Citizens also will elect three City Council members.

Mrs. Jacksteit has focused on plans to create a parking lot on the last 170 feet of Concord Street, which dead-ends south of Lafayette Street near the water. Putting a parking lot there would permit construction of the restaurant, which would spoil the view, she says.

The street-end was part of a 2-acre plot sold by a private owner for $365,000 to the restaurant developer. The developer then sold all but a half-acre of the land -- between Concord Street and the lighthouse -- to the state Open Space Program for $385,000. The half acre is the proposed restaurant site.

The state turned most of the remaining 1.5 acres over to the city for a waterfront promenade. The rest of the 2-acre property is the street-end, which the state proposed leasing to the developer for $1 a year.

The City Council later decided it actually controlled the street and proposes leasing the property to the developer for $900 a year.

Mrs. Jacksteit said the developer got about $80,000 for the street-end as part of the total $385,000 sale to the state. Now, she said, he could lease it for $900 a year.

Worse, she said, the complicated land transfers created momentum for the restaurant project by taking land use decisions about the street-end away from the city's 3,647 registered voters. Normally, city land can only be sold by public referendum, she notes.

Mayor Hirsch insists the lease is good for the city because the developer, Conquest Point Limited Partnership, promises to put the parking lot on the street-end.

In any event, he says, the project can only go forward if the board of zoning appeals approves. The developer has not yet sought zoning approval, Mrs. Jacksteit said.

Last February, Mayor Hirsch grew weary of the street-end questions pressed so relentlessly by Mrs. Jacksteit. He left a council meeting briefly and returned with a package.

"Here's a kite," he said, according to his opponent, "Go fly it."

The kite became a campaign platform -- a symbol of what Mrs. Jacksteit called the mayor's arrogance and intimidating style.

Now, kite-shaped lapel pins are being distributed by the candidate and her campaign workers: "Come fly with me," they say.

With $600, a cadre of volunteers and the help of her family, Mrs. Jacksteit has taken her questions about the mayor, the process and the shoreline door-to-door for the last seven weeks.

Dr. Hirsch, who is running for a second two-year term in the $5,200-a-year post, said Mrs. Jacksteit and any other citizens are free to speak as often and for as long as they wish at council meetings.

"Anybody can speak. Our policy is so liberal even if someone wants to speak for an hour, they can. But she came back with the same question and argument, I would say, at least 10 times," he said.

Dr. Hirsch said he believes a restaurant would be good for the area. With the lighthouse, the city's Decoy Museum and a proposed Maritime Museum in the neighborhood, he said, a restaurant is needed.

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