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Could Annapolis lose its historic landmark designation?

Date: Capital Gazette, June 4, 2018, Danielle Ohl

In discussions about City Dock and potential development, a subject comes up over and over.

Annapolis’ Historic Landmark designation and whether it’s in danger.

The Colonial Historic District of Annapolis has been listed in the National Registry of Historic Places as a landmark since June 1965.

The application describes the city’s unique radial design, inspired by baroque planners in pre-Revolution France, as well as its significance for hosting the Constitutional Congress of 1783. The Annapolis Historic District is a national landmark because of its late Victorian, colonial and Georgian architectural styles, as well as because of historic events that took place here.

A hotel proposed for the temporary home of the Annapolis Yacht Club — and rezoning attempts to accommodate it — have drawn criticism from historic preservation advocates. A common concern is that the city might lose the designation, or that it could be threatened, by a hotel that flouts the Historic District’s height restrictions.

So, is the landmark designation actually in jeopardy?

Not really.

“The chances are so slim,” said Bonnie Halda. Halda is a program manager for preservation assistance with the National Parks Service’s Northeast Regional Office, which oversees landmarks in Maryland and the northeastern United States.

Registered places enjoy great pride in their communities, said Halda. Owners of historic properties can receive tax credits, and the federal government can offer landmarks grants for preservation, when available. But losing those perks in Annapolis is likely unrealistic.

For a landmark to be delisted, Halda said, it would have to be destroyed or degraded beyond recovery — which is nearly impossible for an Annapolis-size district.

Halda, a multi-year veteran of the NPS, could think of de-designations in cases where only the resource was lost completely.

The NPS, once it designates a historic landmark, serves mainly in an advisory role. NPS officials give advice if a government or non-profit ask for it, but do not set guidelines for how to maintain a landmark designation. Those decisions are up to the local jurisdiction, Halda said.

Very rarely, the NPS will volunteer an opinion unsolicited — there was one development in New Jersey the organization advised against. But even then, its role is solely advisory.

Halda said she was aware of the proposal to develop a hotel on Dock Street, but not the specifics of the rezoning Mayor Gavin Buckley has proposed for the area. Annapolis has a “strong ethic,” she said, and the NPS likely would not interject as it did in New Jersey.

Here, the destruction of the Historic District would have to be “pretty egregious” she said, and involve “significant demolition” for the designation to be yanked.

Despite these assurances, concerns go beyond the national designation, one historic advocate said.

“This town has evolved nicely over a 300-year period by everybody playing by the rules...,” said Robert Clark, president and CEO of Historic Annapolis.

Loss of the designation “would be a bad thing,” Clark said, but Historic Annapolis is more interested in preserving the historic character of the town.

“We’re just anxious to have the whole idea withdrawn,” Clark said of the proposed rezoning.

To view the article on the Capital Gazette's website, please click here


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