Two decades of change have left some of Annapolis' historic streets at risk of being overwhelmed by commercial traffic, a consultant has found.
Frances Phipps, president of The Phipps Group, told residents of the historic district Wednesday night that the downtown now has at least four residential streets "under stress." She also said trees and flowers should replace the parking meters at City Dock to ease traffic congestion and upgrade the waterfront.
The consultant has been working for six months with an ad-hoc committee studying the city's Ward 1. She and Eileen Fogarty, director of Planning and Zoning, briefed residents on the group's findings Wednesday night.
Earlier in the evening, Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins gave a brief speech on the state of the city. He emphasized accomplishments of his administration, ranging from starting curbside recycling to negotiating $70,000 from the county to subsidize the public bus service.
The mayor also promised to continue cost-cutting measures during the recession, keeping a hiring freeze except in public safety. His proposed $37.5 million budget for the upcoming year calls for adding an ambulance to Eastport and hiring seven paramedics to staff it.
The committee studying the downtown area struggled to find a balance between keeping the city's "vitality" and "protecting the neighborhoods," Fogarty said. While residents pushed for extending street parking hours, merchants worried about providing enough spaces for tourists and shoppers to visit.
The group's solution was to recommend detouring some of the traffic by setting up a visitors kiosk outside the downtown and running a shuttle service. Other recommendations include: dramatically raising residential parking fees, reducing the rates in the city's parking garages on nights and weekends and creating a valet parking program for businesses.
A parking trade-off was proposed -- extending curbside parking hours in exchange for a 150 percent increase in the fees. Fogarty told the 50 residents at the meeting that the parking crunch has been exacerbated by 1,271 permits being issued for just 830 spaces. Many families own more than one car, she noted, and the number of renters in downtown Annapolis has increased sharply.
In 1970, 50 percent of residents living in the historic homes reported they had no car. By 1990, only 21 percent of the residents had no car, while those with three or more cars almost quadrupled.
The committee also bemoaned the "substantial decline in the number of single-family homes and declining owner occupancy." Phipps told the Ward 1 Residents Association that there's been a "disturbing decrease in owner-occupied buildings" and corresponding growth in renters.
She suggested "aggressive neighborhood conservation" tactics to keep the residential character of the streets. But she did not explain what steps could be taken to prevent people from renting out their homes.
Several members of the civic association complained that they were not informed of the progress of this report and had little input. Fogarty responded that residents would now have a chance to share their concerns.