Discontent grows with downtown Annapolis hotel proposal
Date: Capital Gazette, April 7, 2018, Danielle Ohl
Plans for a downtown Annapolis boutique hotel have drawn public concern from the stewards of more than a dozen of the city’s historic buildings.
Representatives for Historic Annapolis, a nonprofit preservation and history group, expressed their worry with how the project, which proposes a hotel and underground parking garage, might affect the historic character of Annapolis.
“We have had a lot of victories over the years, but they’ve all been hard fought,” said Robert Clark, president and CEO of Historic Annapolis. “We’re trying to make sure that we don’t get close to any tipping point where something could get approved that would have ripple effects within the community.”
Clark and his Historic Annapolis colleagues made clear they’re not opposed to downtown development. Clark thinks a boutique hotel in the place of the soon-to-be-vacant property at 12 Dock St. is a “great” idea — but not at the cost of codified restrictions that protect the Historic District’s designation as a National Historic Landmark District.
The Annapolis Yacht Club will soon leave its temporary home at the location, which previously hosted a number of restaurants. In its place, Mayor Gavin Buckley and businessman Harvey Blonder have proposed a hotel that could have up to five floors plus a penthouse. The proposal incorporates the Capt. William H. Burtis House, an underground parking garage with up to 407 spots and a park.
Architect Peter Fillat has presented several options for the hotel at meetings and workshops with the Ward One Residents Association. Design concepts show a hotel at least 45 feet tall, exceeding the Historic District height restrictions. The buildings proposed for development are zoned “District 2,” meaning the highest point of any building cannot exceed 38 feet.
Historic Annapolis fought to implement the height and bulk ordinance in order to preserve the aesthetic and sentiment typical of downtown’s late Victorian and Colonial structures. These architectural styles, as well as significant events in the country’s early history, earned the Historic District its spot on the National Park Service register of historic places in 1965.
People enjoy Annapolis for the human scale and the “feel,” Clark said, which might be lost if suddenly buildings across town are allowed to grow without restriction. Clark and others oppose any changes to the height and bulk ordinance until the city completes two studies called for in the 2013 City Dock Master Plan: a parking management plan and a cultural resources study.
“There’s plenty of parking in Annapolis,” said Clark, who advocated opening parking at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. “It makes no sense to see the disruption at the City Dock by not just the construction, but … raising the height of the parking down there.”
The hotel would likely draw delivery trucks and heavy vehicles that could have effects as well. There hasn’t been a thorough analysis of how vibration would impact the foundations of historic properties, said Karen Theimer Brown, vice president of preservation at Historic Annapolis. Nor has there been an analysis of downtown viewsheds, sightlines that add to the character of the district.
“What a cultural land study would attempt to do is identify what are those prioritization of viewsheds?” Theimer Brown said. “Some of them might be able to be a little bit more compromised, but some of them are really significant and worthy of protection.”
There are no set plans for the hotel or underground garage. Fillat said his firm is continuing to develop the proposal to address resident concerns.
“We understand that everyone’s worried,” he said. “Rest assured we are going to do the right thing. It’s not going to ruin the historic preservation of Annapolis.”
Blonder and Buckley have both indicated they will not move forward with plans unless they are what residents and business owners want. Buckley said he isn’t interested in a 70-foot hotel.
“I believe a 70-foot hotel would destroy the character of the downtown,” he said, “but do I think a four-story hotel with a setback would destroy the character of downtown? No.”
Alderwoman Elly Tierney, D-Ward 1, said she understands the mayor’s passion for revitalizing City Dock, but said the city has to respect the specifications laid out in the height and bulk ordinance. Tierney is one of the city’s most vocal advocates of the City Dock Master Plan — she said she’s working on legislation to codify it.
Tierney thinks flood mitigation should take priority over redevelopment talks. Flood mitigation plans for the Dock Street side of Ego Alley have been postponed until Fillat and others solidify details surrounding the underground parking garage.
“I don’t think that should be held up,” Tierney said. “I don’t think we should plan the flood mitigation around this hotel and the underground parking. That’s a tangible project.”
Residents from Annapolis and the communities beyond will have more chances to weigh in on development downtown.
Buckley will be inviting renowned “placemaker” Fred Kent to host a discussion at St. John’s College about how to maximize the city’s potential. A few days later, Kent will run a workshop for residents and surrounding community members to contribute their ideas for City Dock, Buckley said.
“We’re going to take those ideas and try to translate them into something, a way we program that space,” Buckley said. “And that programming doesn’t include it being (a 150-spot) parking lot so if that means putting the cars underground, that’s what I’m going to try to do.”
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