Distaste for dining on the rooftop

Residents protest Historic District proposal by Jerry's Seafood

February 11, 2007|By Dan Lamothe | Dan Lamothe,[Special to The Sun]

With a soft breeze rolling in, a plate of crab bisque beckoning and a view of sailboats skimming across Spa Creek, dinner on the rooftop of the future Jerry's Seafood on City Dock might sound inviting.

But for Bryan Miller, president of the Ward One Residents Association, it means traffic. Noise. Light pollution. The further decay of Annapolis' proud downtown, home to some of the nation's oldest buildings.

"We just don't feel like rooftop dining belongs in the Historic District," Miller said. "When those buildings were designed, nobody ever planned them with rooftop dining in mind."

Miller's association is waging a legal battle to halt Jerry's Seafood's project, which the city's Board of Appeals unanimously approved in October.

The group, which spoke out against the plan at hearings last fall, filed an appeal in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court last month. No hearing date has been set.

The fate of rooftop dining in the Historic District might hinge on a technicality in the city's code that says all dining in the C-2 zone, which includes the Historic District, must be "within completely enclosed buildings."

Mayor Ellen O. Moyer, who supports rooftop dining in the Historic District, filed a proposed ordinance in September that would add an exemption in the city's code to allow for rooftop dining downtown. She said the code is "silent" on the issue.

"When you have a code that is general and silent, generally it is permissive of things like that," Moyer said, noting that sidewalk dining is permitted.

City officials are reviewing her proposal, leading some to ask how the Board of Appeals could have approved the plans.

"In the absence of such an exception, it stands to reason [rooftop dining] would not be allowed now," said Alderman Dick Israel, who represents Ward 1. "If it is to be permitted, the city council would need to rule on that."

Moyer said rooftop dining in the Historic District would give the city a new way to attract visitors, playing off the city's access to the shoreline and scenic landscapes.

"We are in competition with a lot of new development all around us, and we have to use what we have to our advantage," Moyer said. "Rooftop dining would give us a very special niche and allow us to build on those two factors. Not every place can do that."

The fight over rooftop dining downtown would not affect the only other restaurant in the city that has it, the Metropolitan on West Street, city officials said. That restaurant is in a mixed-use zoning district, which allows rooftop dining.

Jason Lee, co-owner of Seabrook-based Jerry's Seafood, said he is confident that the Circuit Court will uphold the exemption it needs to proceed with the restaurant as planned at 4 Dock St. Nevertheless, he said he understands the concerns of residents and will proceed even if the rooftop portion of the plan needs to be scrapped.

"Rooftop dining would have been a nice addition, but our main goal is to open up a Jerry's Seafood in Annapolis," Lee said.

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