Residents and business owners in the historic district gathered at City Hall last night to plot an attack against two bills that would bring more late-night bars to downtown Annapolis.
But after only a few minutes of talking strategy, some members of this uneasy coalition were fighting each other instead.
"How can we stand here side by side?" restaurateur Mike Riordan asked the residents. "You may pull the rug out from under us."
The City Council's rules committee, which called the meeting, heard from 18 members of the Ward One Sector Study group, which in 1993 brokered a delicate compromise limiting downtown development. That study, which limited 2 a.m. closing times to 12 historic district restaurants, became city law last year.
The study group says two bills, sponsored by Democratic Aldermen Carl O. Snowden of Ward 5 and Ellen O. Moyer of Ward 8, violate that compromise. The measures, they argue, would permit at least 12 more nightclubs downtown and allow more bars and restaurants to stay open until 2 a.m.
Preservationists say they will fight to close the historic district by midnight if the council grants more late closings. Aldermen Louise Hammond, a Ward 1 Democrat, and Wayne C. Turner, a Ward 6 Republican, like the idea.
That suggestion angered restaurant owners who now possess 2 a.m. licenses. Although they have a late-night monopoly and would like to stop more bar owners from getting the same privileges, they bristled at the suggestion that their closing times could be sacrificed in the fight.
"That's reneging on our agreement," said Mr. Riordan, owner of Riordan's Saloon.
Mrs. Hammond, who represents the historic district, would not budge. "If [the bills] pass," she said, "you get punished."
Mr. Snowden's bill allows restaurants with midnight closings to receive zoning permits automatically for 2 a.m. liquor licenses and allows those establishments to add live entertainment and dancing. The bill does not require restaurant owners to seek additional permitting or public hearings.
Mr. Snowden said his bill is written narrowly and applies only to two restaurants he believes have been unfairly denied 2 a.m. closing times. He says his opponents are deliberately blowing the measure out of proportion.
Ms. Moyer's bill would allow all restaurants to stay open until 2 a.m. They still would submit to public hearings for permits.