Businesses complain city scrutiny is harassment

September 18, 1994|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,Sun Staff Writer

Businesses in Annapolis' historic district have had problems with City Hall in the past, but nothing quite like a recent spate of disputes.

One irate merchant recently placed a sign on an alderman's car pointing out that the alderman was parking for free. Another businessman is videotaping city officials.

Meanwhile, the mayor and local business leaders have been trying to quell the controversies that have erupted just four months before downtown faces the yearlong closure of Main Street.

"This is a critical time for the business community," said Penny Chandler, director of the Greater Annapolis Chamber of Commerce.

Chick Leavitt, owner of Chick & Ruth's Deli, complains that the city's capricious decisions have hurt business while doing nothing to help them. A pending ordinance would require him to take down his neon lights by the turn of the century.

Harvey and Michael Blonder, who own several downtown businesses, including Buddy's Crabs & Ribs and A. L. Goodies, are angry that the city has yet to approve their garbage disposal plan and that police have been warning them to keep the door to their restaurant closed.

Some business owners blame Ward 1 Alderman Louise Hammond for the recent flurry of citations and warnings. City officials confirm that Mrs. Hammond, who claimed the office in a special election in January, has been determined to root out code violators.

"She's got all these little spies in the neighborhood," complained Bob Rice, owner of Downtown Cycle, a bicycle shop. He was recently notified that he was flying the Maryland flag upside down. "Only someone who spent time looking at my shop would have noticed my flag," he said.

He believes his shop has been targeted because he supported Mrs. Hammond's opponent, Sharyn Steffey, in the election and because he has been a vocal critic of the city's decision to raise parking meter fees and fines.

He says the city has piled snow in front of his business and allowed participants in boat shows to put tents in front of his store.

Michael Blonder accuses Mrs. Hammond of targeting some of the downtown businesses. "She's had a chip on her shoulder," he said.

When Mrs. Hammond started taking pictures of garbage piled outside Buddy's, Mr. Blonder started videotaping Mrs. Hammond. He also taped police as they went around warning businesses with liquor licenses to keep their doors closed.

Mrs. Hammond said she has tried to clamp down on businesses that violate the city code because residents have complained and because allowing the violators to go unchecked would be unfair to businesses that do obey the rules.

"I've never singled out one particular business," she said. "The simple solution is for these businesses to comply with their conditional use permits."

The Blonders have had numerous disputes with the city.

L The latest have been over garbage collection and open doors.

On July 1, the city dropped its commercial garbage collection program, forcing downtown businesses to hire their own collection services.

Michael Blonder said the city refused a recent request by his rerestaurant and several other businesses to let them put their trash in a compactor behind A. L. Goodies.

Mrs. Hammond said the trash compactor was large and unsightly and the trash truck that must pick up the garbage is too large to drive down the alley behind the store.

Officer James Spearman, who walks the downtown beat, said his supervisors have directed him to warn businesses he finds violating the liquor code's prohibition against open doors. He gave each of the businesses copies of the code, but he says his warnings have had little effect.

Mr. Leavitt is leaving his outer door open. He agrees that a bar that plays music ought to keep its door closed, but doesn't feel that should apply to a deli that sells only half a dozen beers a day.

"They keep doing nonsensical stuff," he said.

He also complains that Mrs. Hammond has devoted herself to looking out for Ward 1 residents, but has ignored the needs of businesses.

Mrs. Hammond said she tries to represent businesses as well as constituents.

"I would hope the businesses would call me if they've got a problem," she said.

One of Mrs. Hammond's projects involves investigating to see if changes need to be made at the city's Market House.

Frank Curran, who runs the Cheese Connection, is upset that the city didn't start the review until just a few months before the leases were to expire.

"Everything changes with the wind," he says. "They're just not dealing in the real world."

But Sharon Russian, president of the Annapolis Business Coalition, said the city appears to be listening to the businesses' concerns as Main Street's reconstruction approaches. She also concedes that some of the businesses are to blame for code violations.

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