Controversy brews over rooftop dining proposal

October 10, 1994|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,Sun Staff Writer

Harvey Blonder has tangled with the city of Annapolis over a blue neon crab sign, a 2 a.m. liquor license and a trash bin. But a new fight awaits him tomorrow night.

The Historic District Commission is to review Mr. Blonder's proposal to construct a dining area on the roof of his Buddy's Crabs & Ribs restaurant, 100 Main St.

Architect Craig Purcell said that while the design is preliminary, the project would encompass about 30,000 square feet and cost about $250,000. In addition to the indoor dining area, tables would be set up on the roof outside.

"It would be a spectacular and romantic set-up," said Mr. Blonder, noting that the roof would afford some of the best views possible of the Annapolis Harbor.

He said the addition would be the first step toward connecting the second and third stories of four properties he owns or leases on Main Street.

But the plan is likely to face strong opposition from the commission, which must approve exterior changes to buildings in the Historic District. The commission's advisers have prepared reports that either oppose or question the project.

Donna Hole, a historic preservationist who advises the commission, is recommending against the project because she believes the third-floor addition is incompatible with the building's design and would threaten its historic character.

The two-story building, known as the Aaron Goodman building, was built between 1908 and 1913 as a department store and later used as a dime store. It now houses the Gap and Banana Republic clothing stores on the first floor and Buddy's upstairs.

"This is the best example we have of early 20th century commercial architecture," Ms. Hole said.

The building's copper parapet is vital to its architectural character, she said, maintaining that almost any roof-top addition would interfere with that design.

Richard Bierce, the commission's architectural adviser, criticized the proposed addition for violating "virtually all" the principles of the historic district's design guidelines.

He said the addition would be too large and that a round corner pavilion should be eliminated.

The architects with the Chesapeake Bay Chapter of the American Institute of Architects did not oppose adding a third floor. But they did not like the canvas and plastic window coverings and other design elements.

City planners questioned whether the roof of the building could support the weight of the addition and asked for further proof of fire safety.

Mr. Purcell was not disturbed by the criticisms. "You have to get something out there for people to react to," he said.

While the final design might be changed, Mr. Purcell said, the overall concept is valid. "We want to start looking at utilizing the upper levels of the buildings," he said.

The upper floors of most downtown buildings are either vacant or under-used, and the Ward One Sector Study -- the downtown's blueprint for development -- suggests the city look for ways to use the space.

"Were interested in seeing more second-story uses," said Mary Burkholder, the city's economic development coordinator.

Most owners have been reluctant to develop second floors because of the expense of installing sprinklers and fire escapes, she said. And while the city would like some of the upper floors converted to apartments, she said, parking for tenants is a problem.

Mr. Blonder's run-ins with the city have been legendary. The city has tried to force him to remove a blue neon crab sign in his window. He is suing the city to obtain a 2 a.m. liquor license for Buddy's Crabs and Ribs, and he is embroiled in a dispute with the Public Works Department and Ward 1 Alderman Louise Hammond over his trash collection.

Although the city is hesitant about Mr. Blonder's latest venture, at least one of his neighbors is willing to talk about it. Robert L. Chance Jr., owner of the W. R. Chance Jewelers that sits between two of Mr. Blonder's properties, said he would be willing to work with him to link their upper floors to form a larger commercial space. "I think it would be a good idea," he said.

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