Historic Annapolis Foundation held its candlelight tour of Annapolis homes again this year, and the city couldn't have looked lovelier for the occasion.
When the first visitors arrived at the houses on Market and Shipwright Streets, the sun was just setting and casting purple shadows on Spa Creek. Glowing paper lanterns marked the entrances to the 15 houses on the tour, which ranged from the magnificent 18th-century Scott mansion to a wooden contemporary.
I paid my $25 entry fee, took a brochure and started the tour. In most houses, the visitors entered through the front door, passed through a hallway into the living room, then the dining room and onto the kitchen before leaving out the back door. Average viewing time: five minutes, unless the hosts were particularly chatty.
I was a little disappointed that most tours didn't include the upstairs. I wanted to know whether the owners of these elegant homes had left their beds unmade or had mold growing on the bathroom tile.
But even without a view of the upstairs, the houses were something. Rooms were ablaze in candlelight. Hosts greeted the guests and pointed out interesting features. They showed off hand-painted fire screens, 19th-century furniture handed down from long-dead relatives, and artifacts they had found. The visitors murmured appropriate comments about lovely chandeliers and fine wooden floors before moving on to the next home.
At about the same time these home owners were pressing candles into holders in preparation for the tour, the Annapolis City Council was meeting to discuss the future of the long-awaited Main Street reconstruction
City leaders have been talking about this project for years, but just as it seemed everything was on track to start construction in January, the plan suddenly hit a snag.
Some residents and business owners who like the small-town atmosphere of Annapolis criticized the plans to widen the
sidewalks in certain places. Although they said the wider walks would not be in keeping with the city's historic character, everyone suspected the real reason for the opposition was that the residents feared the wider walks would lead to sidewalk cafes. The business owners complained the wider sidewalks would eliminate much-needed parking spaces.
The Historic District Commission was supposed to review the project before work began, but the mayor, sensing trouble in the ranks, withdrew the proposal from the commission and called a meeting of the council to discuss the project.
I found a seat in the crowded council chamber to watch. With television cameras running and a newspaper photographer snapping pictures, Emory Harrison, the city's director of central services, outlined the problem. He noted that if the city delayed the project, a new governor might withdraw the state's share of the funding. Mayor Hopkins cut him off before he could continue his analysis of the state's gubernatorial race.
Then Donna Ware, the chairwoman of the Historic District Commission, gave her side of the story. Although Ms. Ware is normally calm and dispassionate, this time her voice was trembling as she defended her commission and promised to work with the council.
Next the aldermen spoke.
Louise Hammond from Ward 1 started by asking why the council was meeting at all.
Dean Johnson of Ward 2 followed with a rambling monologue on the need for everyone to work together.
Ward 3 Alderman Sam Gilmer repeated Mrs. Hammond's question about what they were doing there.
Shep Tullier of Ward 4 decried the unneighborly behavior of the downtown residents.
Ward 5's Carl Snowden used his time to criticize Mrs. Hammond's leadership abilities. Mrs. Hammond tried to respond, but the mayor wouldn't let her speak, telling her she had already had her turn.
Ward 7 Alderman Terri DeGraff was next -- I guess Ward 6 Alderman Wayne Turner had the sense to stay home -- complaining that the Historic District Commission was becoming pawn of the residents' association. The mayor tried to interrupt her and members of the audience hissed at her remarks. She called them "rude."
Ward 8 Alderman Ellen Moyer wondered why the city's preservationists had supported the reconstruction in June, then changed their minds.
The audience grumbled and the mayor adjourned the meeting. No votes were taken. No decisions were made.
The meeting had done nothing to dispel the worries of the residents. If anything, it seemed only to increase the hostility on the council. It's amazing how a city which looks so charming on a candlelight house tour could look so tawdry inside the council chambers.
Liz Atwood is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Anne Arundel County.