A quaint, yet bustling city

City: Annapolis' historic landmarks, lifestyle and location draw thousands to the capital, which has experienced growing pains.

October 21, 2001|By JOHNATHON E. BRIGGS | JOHNATHON E. BRIGGS,SUN STAFF

Nestled on the scenic Chesapeake Bay, the city of Annapolis is a beacon that draws thousands to its historic landmarks, waterfront lifestyle and proximity to the dynamic Baltimore-Washington employment market.

But being popular has its downsides.

Congested roads, scarce parking and heavy crowds during tourist season tax the patience of residents. The Maryland General Assembly invades for 90 days each year, adding to the pressure. With property at a premium in the coveted city core, anyone looking for real estate in downtown Annapolis can expect to pay top prices.

That leaves local leaders struggling with how to preserve the unique attributes of their city without hurting its strong business climate.

"The beauty is its balance as a residential and as a commercial community;' said Annapolis Mayor Dean L. Johnson, whose term ends in December. "But there's not a balance ... unless someone is willing to say, 'No more growth.' And no one has been willingto say that."

It's a challenge that extends well beyond the borders of Annapolis, home to 35,838 in an area of 6.3 square miles.

Historically the heart of commerce and employment in the region, the 352-year-old waterfront city long ago reached the limits of its expansion. But its charm continues to spur development in surrounding areas, often referred to by planners and community leaders as "greater Annapolis."

Viewed from above, planners say, that area would appear as a densely built, urbanized core encircled by growth in suburban areas such as Edgewater, Riva, Parole and Crownsvllle. Signs of sprawl are evident in Broadneck Peninsula communities such as Arnold and as far as Severna Park.

Those who flock to the area are drawn, in large part, by life-style.

"Annapolis is quaint," said Annapolis Neck Federation President Scott Mobley, whose 30-year-old organization represents residents along the boundaries of the South and Severn rivers. "You've got the closeness to the big cities, but you can live in a nice Colonial town that has a really nice atmosphere."

Dubbed "America's Sailing Capital," Annapolis is a major maritime and tourist center with a boating industry that attracts enthusiasts the world over. The annual United States Sailboat and powerboat shows draw more than 100,000 visitors, pumping an estimated $20 million into the local economy, according to Annapolis Boat Shows Inc., which presents them.

The area abounds in distinctive neighborhoods and bustling businesses. Its increasingly diverse population includes a growing Hispanic population and a large African-American community that dates to Colonial days.

The downtown Annapolis corridor is a National Historic Landmark boasting more than 60 structures dating to the 18th century with chimneys, church spires and cupolas augmenting scenic streetscapes.

In addition to being Maryland's capital city and the seat or Anne Arundel County government, Annapolis is home to distinguished institutions such as St. John's College and the Naval Academy, which add to its employment base. The academy employs about 2,500, and the annual legislative season brings droves of lawmakers and lobbyists to town.

"We're very fortunate that we have people who want to visit, that make their home here and businesses that want to set up shop here," Bob Burdon, president and chief executive officer of the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce, said of the region. "The one thing we have going for us is the quality of life. As we develop into the future, it's one we have to make sure we maintain.:

Among the biggest challenges is finding space for growth in an area where available land has long been scarce.

Annapolis has not experienced a major expansion since the period from 1951 to 1961 when it more than quadrupled in size, surging into the surrounding countryside. Since 1990, the city has expanded slightly by annexing parcels along Forest Drive.

"There's not a lot of room," Dana Hardin, chief of long-range planning for Annapolis, said of the city's projected lack of residential growth. "We're bounded by water on many sides, and the whole peninsula is only so big."

With nowhere left to go, development pressure continues to spill onto the Annapolis Neck peninsula, between the Severn and South rivers. In 1998, that area had a population of 59,293. By 2020, the population is expected to increase to more than 63,000.

That growth is particularly evident in the community of Parole, which has a population of 14,000 and borders Annapolis. It grew 39 percent from 1990 to last year - more than twice the pace of growth in Anne Arundel County as a whole, according to census figures.

Improved transportation

Adding to the growth stress is an improved transportation network in recent years. The widening of U.S. 50/301 and construction of Interstate 97-both completed in 1997 - have made the area more accessible, along with improvements to local thoroughfares.

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