Annapolis mayor to reintroduce City Dock zoning legislation

Danielle Ohl
Contact Reporterdohl@capgaznews.com

Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley, undeterred after his initial legislation wasn’t seconded and couldn’t be introduced, plans to reintroduce a measure to rezone City Dock in hopes of ushering in a revitalized downtown — and a controversial hotel.

The legislation, shot down during the May 21 City Council meeting, would have rezoned City Dock and other downtown areas identified in the 2013 City Dock Master Plan for redevelopment. To do it, the Buckley legislation draws on the designation — called mixed zoning — that helped West Street grow into the business and arts hub it is today.

Mixed zoning provides for a number of residential, retail and office uses within the Historic District.

Buckley, in a meeting Friday with The Capital, chalked his unsuccessful first attempt up to a rookie mistake.

“Next time it comes, up there will be plenty of sponsors on it,” he said.

The legislation will be the subject of a Tuesday City Council work session. Buckley is counting on the support of at least four City Council members, despite Alderwoman Elly Tierney’s strong opposition to the initial draft.

Alderman Rob Savidge said he will not attend the work session because “we need to focus our work sessions on the most important issue we face,” the fiscal 2019 budget. He said he also wanted to show solidarity with Tierney.

“We need the cultural landscape plan first,” Savidge wrote in a message. “I’m worried (the legislation) … will open (Pandora’s) box with a lot of unintended consequences … and something like this should be done with the buy-in of the alderperson whose ward is most affected — Elly’s.”

Tierney will not be available to attend the work session. She said Buckley has not assuaged her concerns that the legislation is too deferential to one developer.

The legislation calls for a visual impact assessment of any project in order to mitigate “negative visual impacts,” although that term is not defined.

But residents railed against the measure during a public hearing for a provision that would waive the Historic District height and bulk restrictions if the project adheres to visual “performance controls” outlined in the not-yet-complete Cultural Landscape Report.

Instead, the legislation allows bulk regulations to be “determined through the site design plan review and/or planned development processes.”

Buckley said the upcoming legislation would be similar if not the same as the failed legislation.

“Obviously (people who spoke against it) are scared of any change in the town and they’re well within their right to fear change,” he said. “I’m not saying I’m right and they’re wrong. But we can do better and I’m trying to make that happen through this process.”

If it passes first reader, the bill would have a final vote by late September at the earliest. Simultaneously, the Planning and Zoning Department is working to finish the Cultural Landscape Report by July.

Despite calls to slow things down until the study is complete, Buckley is pressing on, looking to move sooner rather than later on plans to get the current parking lot off City Dock.

“I’m trying to leverage private public money to make this plaza … into things like you’ve seen at the Wharf (in Washington, D.C.),” he said.

City officials have been meeting with businessman Harvey Blonder, who owns the building proposed as a site for a hotel, to discuss the plans.

Architect Peter Fillat, who has been collaborating with Blonder, drew up new plans for how City Dock could change alongside the hotel development.

The updated drawings show a spray park, a beach, a lawn with a performance area and a fountain. The pump house for the flood mitigation controls goes behind the hotel in this new version, instead of on the Newman Street park as previously proposed.

The plans also remove the Harbormaster’s office and move the Capt. William Burtis House to the corner of Randall and Dock streets.

Buckley repeated that he does not support a 70-foot hotel, only a four-story one with a fifth-floor setback from the street. The city would deny anything taller in the site plan review process, Buckley said.

The proposed underground parking lot is still up for debate, he said.

Buckley defended the need for a fourth floor. After factoring in the Harbormaster’s Office, hotel services, a visitors center and the pump house, the plan “takes up a fair bit of real estate,” he said. He suggested the project could expand the city’s tax base by several million dollars and add at least 200 jobs.

Any actual development is far off. If the legislation passes, it would need to go before the Historic Preservation Commission and the Planning Commission as well as City Council subcommittee before final approval.

“All of this is ideas,” Buckley said, “but what will be really frustrating for me is (if) in four years we’re all still looking at the same 150 parking spaces on the best real estate that the city has.”

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