Jerry Hardesty's request to make minor repairs at his Middleton Tavern should have been one of those items the Annapolis City Council dispenses with in minutes. Instead, it's turned into the "Great Kitchen Controversy," an embarrassing example of government at its most inept.
Mr. Hardesty wants to spend $150,000 to expand his upstairs kitchen by 327 square feet while repairing a leaky roof, changes no one opposes. Yet this modest proposal has spawned endless council meetings and divided the city's Ward 1. Why?
Because it's a test case for a ridiculous city policy requiring merchants who want to make minor repairs to meet a slew of conditions that may or may not have anything to do with the minor repairs. If Mr. Hardesty wants to expand his kitchen, the Planning and Zoning Department said, he has to meet 15 conditions, including trash and noise regulations -- even though he doesn't have a trash or noise problem, and even though the expansion won't generate additional trash or noise. The law even requires him to build a brick sidewalk. Unless he's planning to fry crabcakes out there, we fail to see the connection.
Neither did the city's advisory Planning and Zoning Commission, which recommended approval of the expansion, without conditions. This infuriated Ward 1 residents, who say the practice of imposing conditions on business expansions protects them from noise, trash or loitering.
But requests for repairs should be decided on their merits, not on the owner's willingness to provide niceties such as brick sidewalks or to take care of problems that have nothing to do with the project itself. The city can control noise, trash, etc. simply by enforcing laws that already exist.
This policy isn't just unfair; it's bad for Annapolis. It encourages // merchants to let their buildings fall apart. Why bother fixing a roof if you know you're going to have to pony up an expensive brick sidewalk, too?
Council members see the absurdity of this practice, but can't quell their politicking long enough to agree on a bill that would eliminate the conditional use requirement. They should stifle their factionalism for a moment and pass legislation that would spare other business owners the senseless ordeal Mr. Hardesty continues to endure.