Council weighs bill to curb historic panel's power in wake of Main Street clash

January 09, 1995|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,Sun Staff Writer

The Annapolis City Council will start 1995 where it left off last year, trying to curb the power of the Historic District Commission, pave the way for sidewalk cafes on Main Street and decide whether to finance a study of a proposed conference center.

The conference center issue is the only one likely to be decided when the council meets at 7:30 p.m. today in city hall. The council is to vote on whether to approve a $140,000 study for the development of the center at West Street and Taylor Avenue.

At the same time, the council has scheduled hearings on a bill to change membership requirements for the Historic District Commission, increase the size of the panel and rewrite some of its guidelines. Commission approval is required for all projects in the city's Historic District.

The council will also take up a bill to establish permit procedures for sidewalk cafes.

Those measures stem from the city's battle with the historic panel over plans to rebuild Main Street.

Last spring, the city administration unveiled an ambitious plan to widen sidewalks, create pedestrian gathering areas at certain corners, bury overhead utility lines and re-brick Main Street from the City Dock to Church Circle.

But the Historic District Commission balked at the plan, which would have allowed sidewalk cafes, and eventually forced the council to pass a stripped-down plan after a series of bitter hearings and wrangling.

Local merchants wanted the larger sidewalks as a way to attract business to their stores, but preservationists argued the design would give the street a fake, Disney World look.

While the commission got the concessions it wanted, some City Council members say they want the last word.

"I'm going to bring it up again because it seems to have fallen into some big black hole," said Ward 7 Alderman M. Theresa DeGraff, who proposed the Historic District Commission bill.

"I think we need to focus on some of the issues in state legislation such as an enhancing of the local economy," Ms. DeGraff said. "I think they've gotten away from that."

Donna Ware, the Historic District Commission chairwoman, argues that with such logic there would be no point in having a preservation board. And while she says the five-member commission agrees with adding new members to handle the workload, she contends Ms. DeGraff's bill has more hostile motives.

"It's not a positive gesture on the part of these council people," Ms. Ware said. Council members will not vote on the Historic District Commission bill or the sidewalk cafe legislation. Both measures are likely to be sent to committee for review and probably won't be voted on for several weeks.

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