Anne Arundel residents redefine what is sacred

January 15, 1995|By Jonathan Bor | Jonathan Bor,Sun Staff Writer

If the phrase "sacred places" usually implies sites of religious worship, then the crowd at yesterday's Annapolis summit on land use wanted to expand the concept. How about adding tree-lined streets, historic buildings and cozy inlets?

The property owners, environmentalists and preservationists who turned out for the meeting at the Annapolis Marriott Waterfront didn't always agree on what constitutes the places in Anne Arundel County that are most worth preserving.

But they agreed that suburban sprawl could consume that which remains green, historic or beautiful unless communities draw up inventories of natural and man-made places that are "sacred" and pressure local governments to protect them.

Paul Pearson, general partner of the Historic Inns of Annapolis, said he gets an eerie sense of history when he looks at four windows of the State House. Through the windows is the room where George Washington resigned his commission in the Continental Army.

But he said the historical flavor of Annapolis has been sullied by the town's choking traffic. What's needed, he said, is a monorail to carry motorists from the Naval Academy stadium to a landing downtown, and a tram to usher pedestrians through a few of the busiest streets.

"Would you think there's any bigger challenge or opportunity than getting half of the cars in our town out of the way?" he asked.

John Alt, an Annapolis architect, has been sketching plans for a tram that would be a moving platform running alongside and level with the sidewalk. This way, for instance, people in wheelchairs could roll on board, and no one would have to step onto the street to catch a ride.

No one has ever built a system quite like it, he said, so he's looking for a manufacturer that wants to try.

Anne Pearson, the inn owner's sister, runs the Alliance for Sustainable Communities, the preservationist group that organized the conference. In the 1970s, she ran the Maryland Inn before moving to Maine and then back to Maryland. Now, she lives on an old farm estate in Bowie.

She said the conference, along with an earlier one in October, was designed to get people thinking about the places in their communities that are truly precious. She hoped residents would then work with government to make sure that roads, parking lots and developments don't swallow those places whole.

Bertina Nick, an Annapolis resident, reflected on how Clay Street was once the thriving center of the city's African-American community -- home to scores of black-owned businesses including grocery stores, hotels, funeral parlors and a movie theater where one could spend an entire day for 25 cents.

Crime, drugs and development sent the community into decay. And now, a coin-operated laundry and a liquor store are the businesses owned by blacks. "That's the extent of the economic development in our own neighborhood, folks," she said.

Now she is working with a mayoral committee that is trying to return the old pride to Clay Street.

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