Frank Guaragna comes to Annapolis not for crabs, but for cannelloni.
His favorite place to eat at the harbor is Maria's Italian Ristorante, where he finds the home-cooked meals and friendly service worth the wait.
The proprietor of Maria's, Maria Priola, greeted him and a dozen other regular customers with her usual smile Monday night. But in a different setting. The group was waiting in City Hall to testify on behalf of her expansion plans, not crowded around the bar waiting for a table.
Ms. Priola's proposal to double the size of her popular restaurant touched off an emotional debate over downtown development.
City Council members, residents and business leaders argued for several hours over Annapolis' future and the difficulty of encouraging development without infringing on residential neighborhoods. While some said restaurants and tourist shops are key to an economic revival, others voiced fears that the carefully preserved historic district would soon resemble a boardwalk.
"We just don't believe it's in the long-term interest of the city, or the residents, to have wall-to-wall restaurants," said Mike Langrehr, president of the Ward One Residents Association. The group opposed Ms. Priola's request, as well as an application for a frozen yogurt shop.
Both proposals prompted an outcry from downtown residents, who are fed-up with the noise and litter created by the tourist industry, said Sarah Filkens, head of the Historic Annapolis Foundation.
No action was taken on either proposal. The public hearing on the application by The Frozen Orchard to open a shop at 41 Randall St. was continued until next Monday. The council will vote Aug. 10 on the proposed expansion of Maria's into the next-door building.
The Priolas have leased the adjacent two-story building on Market Place to double the restaurant from 77 seats to 149.
The expansion was heartily supported by faithful customers and even competitors of Maria's, who praised the food and hospitality but decried the wait. Mr. Guaragna, who drove from
ville home to support the application, said, "Every time I come, I have to wait in line."
Tom Vorhees of Riva summed up the customers' feelings. "I like eating at Maria's, and I don't like waiting for a table."
Opponents said they believe the application should be tabled until a committee that has been studying the downtown area for the last 2 1/2 years completes its report. But they expressed reservations about the "boardwalking" effect of bigger restaurants and another frozen yogurt shop, which would be the fourth ice-cream/yogurt place in the downtown area.
Alderman Samuel Gilmer, D-Ward 3, pointed out that the city contributes to the "boardwalk" atmosphere by leasing the downtown market to a dozen different food vendors.