City Dock proposals divide Annapolis

A proposal to reshape City Dock in Annapolis is drawing criticism from traditionalists, who say taller buildings and other ideas to spur economic development could spoil the Colonial-era character and Chesapeake Bay views of the historic waterfront.

The dock is among the most prized pieces of real estate in Annapolis. But as the city considers the draft master plan for the area, the question of how to blend its past with the present-day desire for economic vitality is sparking controversy.

Gesturing at some two acres of parking lots at water's edge, Annapolis Mayor Josh Cohen said, "People park and walk around, while their cars have the best view of the harbor in the city. I could easily see $100 million of private investment."

The draft plan, created for the city by Towson-based Jakubiak & Associates at a cost of about $155,000, is seen by supporters as a way to create a more vibrant City Dock for decades to come.

But critics see an attack on the city's historic district and its picture-postcard views — and, perhaps, even a death blow to the signature fall sailboat show, among the largest in the country.

Among the recommendations, the most controversial has been a proposal to allow taller buildings. The consultants propose allowing heights of up to five stories on some streets, though they acknowledge that large buildings on certain streets could "distract" from nearby architecture.

Current height restrictions in the district top out at 45 feet, or about four stories.

The consultants also propose removing as many as half of the dock's parking spaces and eliminating the traffic circle at the base of Main Street in favor of a T-intersection.

Chris Jakubiak, who led the consulting team, said new, taller structures could frame the existing vista.

"The principal reason for more height is it creates the possibility for more economic activity, and therefore more potential for redevelopment," he said.

But Donna M. Ware, vice president for preservation at Historic Annapolis Inc., credited strict height limits enacted more than a generation ago with "keeping the scale and character of the historic district to this day."

Grant Dehart, a preservation consultant who lives just outside the historic district, said changes in height restrictions would allow for new construction to become "the most visible buildings from Main Street."

"That is going to block many views of the bay," said Dehart, who serves on the board of advisers of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. He and others fear that buildings could wind up being even taller that five stories.

Former Annapolis mayor Ellen Moyer said the consultants "ignored the assets of the city."

The appeal of the historic district, Moyer said, is its small buildings and architectural charm. She said the proposal would turn the waterfront into "Anytown, USA."

"It doesn't make sense when we have an international reputation as a different kind of a town," she said.

The city planning commission is scheduled to review the draft this week and to eventually make recommendations to the city council.

A council vote could come before the year is out. Aldermen could accept some ideas and reject others.

Cohen, meanwhile, said he'll submit zoning legislation to the council in the coming weeks reflecting his own vision for City Dock.

He said his plan would allow new development, but with building heights more in keeping with current standards. He said a zoning measure would have the specific numbers that the master plan draft lacks.