Vision, like parking, hard to find in Annapolis


October 26, 1997|By BRIAN SULLAM

ANNAPOLIS IS the victim of its own success?

Anyone who visited during the two weekends of boat shows, Naval Academy football games and homecoming was confronted with the reality that this quaint little city can't handle the influx of tens of thousands of people and cars.

Just navigating the streets was difficult. Finding a parking space was all but impossible. And the crowds of visitors seeking food and drink seemed to take up every available table and stool at downtown restaurants and taverns. These two October weekends may have been among the busiest for Maryland's state capital, but they are no longer so extraordinary.

As soon as the cold weather breaks in the spring, hordes of people flock to Annapolis. Until the temperatures drop in late fall, they don't stop coming.

The presence of all these visitors makes life difficult for Annapolitans -- particularly those who live in the historic district. They must put up with traffic congestion, a lack of parking, late-night noise and litter.

Yet without tourism, Annapolis would be struggling economically.

Without the estimated 2 million annual visitors, there wouldn't be any reason to have the dozens of restaurants, taverns and bars packed into the downtown business district.

National stores willing to pay top dollar to locate on Main Street have driven up property values and provided employment for many people.

As word spreads about Annapolis' charms, the volume of visitors is likely to climb. If the city is to preserve its quality of life and benefit from an ever-growing tourism industry, serious strategic planning is long overdue.

Most of Annapolis' visitors come in cars. Developing a method for minimizing the impact of this influx on the city needs immediate attention.

City built for horses

Removing the traffic from downtown Annapolis would return the city to its roots. The city was built to accommodate pedestrians and horses. With its narrow streets and few off-street parking lots, it doesn't take many cars to create congestion.

Residents who live in the historic district should be able to drive into their neighborhoods whenever they wish. The problem is keeping out the cars that visitors drive.

One method is to develop a system of peripheral parking lots outside downtown and use mass transit to bring visitors to Main Street and the City Dock.

M. Theresa DeGraff offered such a vision during her unsuccessful campaign for mayor before the Republican primary last month. A battery-powered trolley system that operated on the streets could be built for several million dollars, she said. Her proposal should be explored.

Another solution to reduce the amount of traffic is to encourage people to stay overnight in Annapolis. At present, most of the visitors are day-trippers. If the numbers of people arriving and leaving each day could be reduced, the congestion might not be quite so bad.

At present, most hotel developers have avoided the city. Instead, they are sprouting up beyond the city line, which does little to alleviate downtown's traffic woes because their guests still have to drive their cars.

Putting hotels within the city is not something that should be done casually. Hotels tend to be big, bulky structures. A skyline of large, corporate looking hotels is the last thing Annapolis needs.

Just as the U.S. Capitol and Washington Monument dominate the D.C. skyline, the dome of the State House should be the tallest structure in the city.

Mistake on the waterfront

If hotels are in Annapolis' future, they should be located away from the historic district. You don't have to be a highly trained urban planner to know that the building that houses the Annapolis Marriott should never have been constructed on the waterfront. It is a blight -- a mistake that should not be repeated.

Annapolis would be wise to prohibit structures taller than two stories along its waterfront. As attractive as large waterfront hotels might be to guests, the damage to the rest of the city outweighs any benefit. Protecting vistas of the water and marinas should be a priority in any development plan.

If hotels are to be built in Annapolis, the logical location is along West Street. With proper planning, generous investments sidewalks, plantings and other amenities, this area could accommodate hotels.

Another issue the city must confront is where to locate more restaurants, taverns and bars. Downtown is reaching the saturation point. Most Ward 1 residents don't want any more liquor licenses granted to bars or taverns. They are tired of the noise, disruption and littering that seem to accompany the patrons of these establishments.

As reasonable as the residents' position may be, people outside the city have interpreted it to mean that Annapolis is anti-business. The city is not so successful that it can afford to be saddled with that kind of reputation.

Brian Sullam is The Sun's editorial writer in Anne Arundel County.

Pub Date: 10/26/97

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