Historic District panel gets ultimatum

November 03, 1994|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,Sun Staff Writer

When members of the Annapolis Historic District Commission (HDC) failed to approve a plan to reconstruct Main Street, they thought they would be handed a new blueprint or a revised sketch. Instead, they were given an ultimatum.

City Council members say they will try to change the shape and scope of the historic preservation board if it does not move fast to approve the Main Street project. If that happens, historic preservationists who have opposed the city's development plans would see their power diminish, some council members warn.

At the heart of the fight is a $5 million plan to rebrick and redesign Main Street, a project that has been in the works for the past year. Construction was set to begin in January, but could be delayed for months if the HDC doesn't sign off on the project.

City officials say half of the money for the project could be pulled when the new governor enters office, so the city must approve the project by the middle of this month. But the HDC says that it was never allowed a formal review of the reconstruction plan, and adds that the project must be scrutinized more closely because of the cost and its effect on the city's historic character.

Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins doesn't want any more talk, and has scheduled a City Council meeting Friday to deal with the matter. The HDC also has been invited.

Several council members are suggesting new ways to get the project started on time -- all of which would lessen the power NTC that staunch preservationists have on the commission.

One possibility is to enlarge the panel from five to seven members, allowing Mr. Hopkins to select the new representatives.

"I think if we had a couple of members who didn't reside in the historic district on the commission, it would be in the interest of the city at large as well as the historic district," said Ward 4 Alderman Shep Tullier, a Democrat.

But preservationists say the council is trying to stack the commission in its favor on Main Street.

"The possibility of expanding the commission was brought up last year and the City Council didn't want to deal with it," said Ward 1 Alderman Louise Hammond, a Democrat who represents residents in the historic district.

Unhappy council members have another suggestion to curb the HDC's power: limit its input to aesthetic matters instead of all aspects of development in the historic district.

"There is concern about what the role of the Historic District Commission should be as we approach the 20th century," said Ward 5 Alderman Carl O. Snowden, a Democrat. "Every year, every committee should re-examine its direction. The role the HDC played in the 20th century may not be the role it plays in

the 21st century."

HDC Chairwoman Donna Ware said the City Council was launching an attack without cause. No matter who sits on the commission or what issues it studies, it must follow the proper review procedures -- in this case, a formal public hearing on all aspects of the Main Street plan, she said.

"What you're seeing is a gross overreaction to a situation that I don't see any problem with," she said. "We're not asking the city to do anything more than we would ask any other occupant. We have, as per our ordinance, a very specific way in which we can act."

Several council members say they're fed up with the current commission. Some even are exploring whether individual commission members can be pulled and replaced with representatives from outside the historic district.

"My question [to City Attorney Paul Goetzke] was, can the mayor replace all the members or does he have to wait until their terms expire," said Ward 7 Alderman M. Theresa DeGraff, a Republican. "I'm not saying Ward 1 residents aren't entitled to their opinion, but I don't think the HDC should be collecting taxpayer money to represent the Ward 1 Residents Association."

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