Waterfront future debated in Annapolis Proposal for office fuels zoning dispute

March 09, 1997|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

All the Chesapeake Bay Foundation wanted was a new home in Annapolis.

So when the bay foundation found what seemed like the perfect spot in a little Eastport boating enclave, the owners of the property were happy to oblige. Talk of converting an old warehouse -- once part of the boatyard of famous yacht designer John Trumpy -- into a 33,000-square-foot office building soon spread.

Little did the foundation know it had landed smack in the middle of a clash between landowners eager to find tenants for lucrative, waterfront property and a community battling to preserve its historic maritime industry.

"It's not a debate about whether we love or hate the Chesapeake Bay Foundation -- they're a highly respected organization," said Robert McWilliams, secretary of the Eastport Civic Association. "It's about whether or not the proposed plans for an office building at 222 Severn [Ave.] would violate the maritime zoning laws.

"If that zoning weren't there, you can be sure that in the blink of an eye, this whole waterfront would change from riggers, boat builders and marinas to wall-to-wall office space and condominiums," McWilliams said. "That's precisely what we don't want to have happen."

It is an argument that has gone on for years.

In the mid-1980s, the city adopted the Maritime Zoning and VTC Economic Strategy that created four zoning districts to protect views of the water and support maritime uses in the community. The plan encouraged expansion of boatyards, marinas and boat-related businesses while basically keeping out condominiums, hotels and restaurants.

The boating community embraced the plan, but landlords weren't so thrilled. In 1992, several shoreline landlords tried but failed to persuade the city to relax the laws requiring them to lease the bulk of their space -- in some areas 70 percent -- to maritime businesses.

A 1996 report by Eileen P. Fogarty, then-city planning and zoning director, reinforced the city's position: "The retention and protection of Annapolis' maritime industry has been of paramount importance not only to the seafaring economy but also to the hospitality industry as well."

Some maritime businesses say it's hard to stay in the area because of high rent and the inability to negotiate a lease with their landlords, said Larry Belkov, an Eastport boat shop owner.

"It really threatens our livelihood because our landlords want to fill out their space with the best use," said Belkov, whose shop, attached to the warehouse, has survived since 1980 despite boating industry slumps. "Boat businesses aren't always considered the best. Landlords think they can get higher rent from other restaurants and retail businesses. So a lot of maritime industry businesses feel like they're being forced out."

Belkov says turning the warehouse site, which is known as the Severn complex, into an office building could force his business and others like Backyard Boats, which is located in the warehouse, to move out. Maritime Plastics left weeks ago because it had only a month-to-month lease.

Critics also point out that to have nonmaritime tenants, the Severn complex landlord would be required by zoning laws to have at least one of the following: a working boatyard with a 30-ton travel lift; a 9,000-square-foot seafood processing plant; a yacht club; or at least 25,000 square feet of on-land boat storage.

The proposed office building would fall short of the boat storage requirements and require more parking spaces than are available on the property, opponents of the project say.

James P. Nolan, attorney for the estate of James E. Templeton, which owns the property, dismissed the criticism.

"Much of the information about the project is simply inaccurate," Nolan said. "We have submitted a plan that the city has reviewed in the most general sense. Any improvements made to the site would comply with all city laws."

The community of Eastport, including people such as Ted Ruegg, will watch the development closely. Ruegg is president of the Anne Arundel Marine Trades Association, which has not taken a position on the project.

"I know some people think the maritime zoning law should be re-examined," Ruegg said. "But I think it's working out just fine. If the property owners bought the land with the intention of getting the zoning changed, then it's the wrong way to go about things. They knew what they were getting into.

"The law is tough because it's meant to keep the doctors' offices, dentists' offices and real estate companies out of here," Ruegg said. "We don't want the boatyards to disappear."

The city's record on maritime business speaks for itself, said Alderman Ellen O. Moyer, who says she believes anger directed at the project is premature.

"I think there's a lot of false information going around," said Moyer, a Ward 8 Democrat who represents Eastport and has fought to preserve the maritime industry. "We're working with professional planners in the city. They're not going to allow something to be built that is illegal. Everything will be done according to the code."

As for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, it might not move to the Severn complex. The organization -- now scattered in four offices in the city -- is studying several sites in the area, spokesman Michael L. Shultz said.

"We're not set in stone in that location," Shultz said. "We're interested in finding a home. We'd love to be in Eastport. It would be a great location. But we have no intention of moving in if it creates a problem for the community."

Pub Date: 3/09/97

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