Zoning changes in city debated

Businesses, residents at odds over possible building restrictions

September 28, 2005|By PHILLIP MCGOWAN | PHILLIP MCGOWAN,SUN REPORTER

Few would argue that economic development along lower West Street, at least two decades in the making, is flourishing along this increasingly inhabited stretch of Annapolis.

But the scale of new development - and its location - has residents worried about newcomers putting additional strain on traffic and parking. They also are concerned that the height of new buildings - such as at the $300 million Park Place complex under construction - will detract from the historic look of some communities.

Proposed zoning changes that address those concerns attracted broad support from nearby community leaders Monday night at a public hearing of the Annapolis city council.

"The city cannot ignore the collective view of its residents," said John Birchfield, president of the President's Hill Community Association, after listening to testimony at the crowded session from members of the Murray Hill community and the Ward One Residents Association.

But several business owners and developers and their lawyers expressed their opposition to proposed changes that would, among other things, restrict the height and size of new buildings, limit the distribution of liquor licenses that are effective until 2 a.m. and regulate building demolition.

The council listened to more than two hours of sometimes-heated testimony, with opposing speakers drawing applause.

The city approved zoning changes in the 1980s to encourage mixed-use growth along West Street between Church Circle and Westgate Circle. Residents want to limit that growth, in part, by applying new zoning restrictions to development introduced since February.

Wilson Phipps, a business owner, has held property at 240 West St. for generations. He spoke of the risk that some property owners took in staying in desolate, drug-afflicted areas - as well as that taken by investors who relocated there. This created a movement that pushed out crime and spurred residential growth.

Now that these business owners' labors are bearing fruit, the city should not curtail their efforts to continue revitalizing the corridor, he said.

"I saw West Street when it was pretty bare," Phipps said. With the efforts of business owners, he said, "it's working now."

The new rules, if enacted, also would require property owners to provide first-floor retail space on all newly constructed buildings. Several residents who want to renovate residential properties and developers said that that change would stifle residential growth, which business owners said is key to ensuring the viability of West Street retail.

"There's not a lot of major development left on West Street," said Phil Dunn, a developer. "It's totally inappropriate to require the sites to have total retail on the first floor.

"My God, don't hamstring everyone," he said.

Some residents equated the zoning rules to the levees in New Orleans that were broken by Hurricane Katrina. If the rules aren't reinforced now, development could flood the area, they said.

Business owners argued that communities are already involved in determining the size and scope of developments. They said that all proposals must go through a rigorous evaluation by city zoning officers, a process they deem to be more than adequate.

Another criticism among business owners: Many projects in the pipeline to be developed would not be grandfathered in under existing regulations.

City resident Tony Evans referred to the legislation as a "junkyard dog." He said the bill, which grew out of the work of a community task force, has sections that have infuriated residents and business owners alike. "That's a good thing."

In another matter, Mayor Ellen O. Moyer agreed to hold a session of the city council at an unspecified date on the unoccupied Market House, and the failed effort to bring upscale New York-based grocer Dean & DeLuca to the building.

Alderwoman Louise Hammond, a Democrat, asked for the meeting.

phill.mcgowan@baltsun.com

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