Annapolis at a crossroads City's economic plans for downtown collide with preservationists

September 21, 1995|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,SUN STAFF

The past is no longer sacred in Annapolis.

After decades of deferring to preservationists who fought every development downtown -- even opposing a new yogurt shop because it might "boardwalk" the historic district -- the city powers are on the verge of opening historic Annapolis to change.

Already, sidewalk cafes have been allowed to open on Main Street on a trial basis. In the next few weeks, the Annapolis City Council will decide whether to let restaurants with 2 a.m. closing times add bars, entertainment and dancing, and whether to let restaurants with midnight closing times get 2 a.m. liquor licenses and become nightclubs.

Momentum is building behind all these proposals, and some already have the council majority behind them.

Those whom some council members call the "No Club" -- preservationists who fight development proposals -- are not happy.

"This is a defining moment for the city of Annapolis," said Ann Fligsten, president of the Historic Annapolis Foundation, the preservationists' principal lobbying group. "What is happening now is very frightening to us.

"What they don't realize is that you can really use up the cachet and the special features of Annapolis in a short-term way."

On the other side are a growing number of council members, including Alderman Carl O. Snowden.

"It's time to look forward, not backward," he said. "This is a referendum on whether Annapolis wants to become a viable urban city or whether it wants to continue to be a quaint little town."

The historic district's advocates are mobilizing against both the late hours and permanent sidewalk cafes, which they say would create a free-for-all that could leave downtown with at least 18 additional nightclubs and many more late-night restaurants by the end of the year.

The creation of such "entertainment districts" is the urban economic development strategy of the 1990s, said Robert A. Beauregard, a professor in the graduate school of management and urban policy at the New School for Social Research in Manhattan. But the pursuit of tourists, conventioneers and casino-goers is bringing with it new concerns about rising crime, falling property values and lost history, he said.

"People in these communities are saying, 'We had a different image of ourselves. We saw ourselves as quieter and more sedate and civilized,' " he said.

"There's a growing tension between the 'been here's' and the 'come here's.' The neighbors just aren't happy anymore."

Annapolis Alderman Louise Hammond, who represents the historic district area, is rallying the support of business people and downtown residents to fight the changes.

She has assembled a 70-page packet of documents called "A Deal's a Deal" that argues the changes would violate a carefully brokered plan for downtown development known as the Ward One Sector Study.

Ms. Hammond called the temporary approval of sidewalk cafes in the historic district strong-arm tactics. The bill allowing them was approved the night it was introduced without a public hearing or a committee review.

The restaurant owners call it responsive government.

"The majority of the council is very, very sympathetic," said Jerry Hardesty, who owns O'Brien's Oyster Bar and Restaurant on Main Street and opened an outdoor cafe roughly 12 hours after the legislation passed. "I think the council has a great understanding and I think a very strong vision on where they'd like to see the city in the year 2000."

Mr. Snowden says that the late-hours bill is written so narrowly that only two restaurants could apply to become nightclubs -- businesses that he contends were unfairly denied the late-night hours.

City Council members who favor the changes say they are tired of being bullied by the preservationists and that the historic district forces are increasingly isolated.

They cite the fight over putting the yogurt shop downtown.

"It's a little yogurt shop, and it didn't do anyone any harm," said Alderman M. Theresa DeGraff, who represents neighborhoods along Back Creek and the southern tip of the city. "After that you could really see the attitudes beginning to change, and a lot of people said we really needed to weigh both sides."

Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins says Annapolis residents must understand their city is not a sleepy small town anymore and must adapt to modern times.

"I wish I could still ride the trolley up Main Street, but I can't, because now there are cars," he said.

"Who would not like to return to those days? But you can't resist modernization."

Ms. Hammond, the council member who represents the historic district, resents what she calls the council's campaign of hostile acts against her ward.

"We've got a bunch of people passing laws, and they don't give a hoot about downtown," Ms. Hammond said.

"I don't understand what their mission is. They are driving the residents out."

Not so, says the mayor.

"I don't think the residents will ever move out," he said. "It's just such a great place to live."

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