Historic panel's powers weighed One bill would allow nonresident members

April 08, 1996|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

The Annapolis city council is trying again to define the role of the city's powerful Historic District Commission. And this time, there are competing definitions of that role.

A bill to be introduced tonight would increase the size of the commission, set limits on members' terms, require academic credentials of more than one member and allow nonresidents to serve.

Eighth Ward Alderman Ellen O. Moyer, one of the sponsors, said the bill would "modify and strengthen the commission, as well as benefit the city and its citizens."

But Alderman Louise Hammond, who represents the historic district, said that several things about the bill bother her, particularly the provision to allow nonresidents to become members of the commission.

"That's the most ludicrous thing that someone has come up with in a long time," she said. "I think it's absolutely ridiculous that we would allow people outside of the city to decide matters for downtown residents."

Ms. Hammond, of the 1st Ward, is one of the sponsors of a measure already before the council that would leave the number of members at five and extend the commission's power to review exterior alterations that are hidden from public view and the designs of signs and other displays visible from the street, even if they are inside buildings.

The version that she drafted with Alderman Dean L. Johnson of the 2nd Ward and Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins follows the state's requirements and preserves the commission's integrity, she said.

Ms. Moyer said the bill she and four others are sponsoring "extends the concept of historic districts,"

"Our bill does have new language, but it's exciting language," she said.

In addition to adding members, the bill would limit terms to three years, but allow the mayor to re-appoint members.

The current language calls for members to show "a demonstrated interest" in history and historic preservation for nomination, but only requires that one member be a professional preservationist.

The new bill would require that at least two members have a professional or academic background in historic preservation. It also would allow the commission to recognize "little sacred sites outside of the district that could be deemed as historic," Ms. Moyer said. And it contains the provision allowing as a member a nonresident with an "extraordinary amount of knowledge in historic preservation."

The efforts to clarify the board's powers come after more than a year of fighting over the renovation of Main Street, sidewalk cafes and fast-food restaurants.

"I think it's time, once and for all, to clearly define their authority," said Alderman Carl O. Snowden of the 5th Ward, one of Ms. Moyer's co-sponsors.

Critics of the panel say it wields too much power when it can force the city administration to scrap plans for a $5 million reconstruction project on Main Street and submit something more to the commissioners' taste.

They also accuse the commission of delaying the opening of sidewalk cafes, of imposing limitations on the type of furniture that could be used outside and of demanding that fences surround each cafe.

But commission advocates say the members are only doing their jobs.

"It's a very detailed process that they go through," Ms. Hammond said. "Anything less wouldn't be enough."

Joan Kaplan, a commission member, said she agreed with Ms. Hammond and "would support the administration's [Ms. Hammond's] bill," which makes few changes to the existing law.

"We were very conservative with our bill by only adding a word here, or a word there," Ms. Hammond said.

"It's not giving any more powers to anyone or taking away any. We're just trying to clarify the language."

Pub Date: 4/08/96

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