The Annapolis City Council approved a new vision plan for downtown's City Dock shortly after midnight Tuesday, the culmination of a process that stretched over three years and became a top issue for next week's city election.
Starting with the creation of a citizen's advisory committee and ending with an 8-1 vote in the wee hours of the morning in the nearly-empty council chambers, the City Dock process has been fraught with disagreements over parking, traffic and how the historic area could be allowed to be redeveloped in the future without ruining its maritime charm.
Mayor Josh Cohen made approving the plan one of his top priorities heading into next week's election. The council meeting that began Monday night and stretched into Tuesday was the last chance for the mayor and aldermen to approve the plan, as no more meetings are scheduled until the new mayor and council are seated in December.
The City Dock plan will be used to guide development as well as city public works projects — including rebuilding the bulkhead and repairing or replacing a parking garage — at the waterfront tourist attraction.
The mayor and ladermen added a slew of changes to the City Dock plan after the citzen's committee proposed their draft. They ordered several studies before many parts of the plan can move forward.
"This mostly spawns more studies, which may or may not end up accomplishing the purpose of the plan," said Alderman Fred Paone, who cast the lone "no" vote.
Paone said he liked parts of the plan, but said much of it did not fit with his vision for City Dock.
He said the City Dock area already is vibrant and while it could use some tweaks, not all the changes suggested in the plan are warranted.
Cohen said he remembered the excitement when the City Dock committee was appointed three years ago because many downtown issues would finally be examined. The mayor said the plan approved by the council is a step toward "developing solutions."
The committee's first meeting was held almost exactly three years ago, on Nov. 3, 2010.
Annapolis residents have been split on the plan. At the beginning of this week's council meeting, several residents used the open comment period to weigh in on the proposal.
"More time is needed for this plan to receive full vetting by the residents," said resident Nancy Williamson.
She said projects such as flood control can move forward even without a City Dock plan in place.
"The world will not end if the master plan does not pass tonight," she said.
Heather Hurtt, founder of a group called CONNECTAnnapolis, said there's been "unprecedented" public input into the plan and urged the mayor and aldermen to move it forward.
In July, a City Council meeting that included a public hearing on the City Dock plan and a rezoning proposal for the Compromise Street side of the dock drew more than 100 people and lasted for eight hours.
The Compromise rezoning was intended to facilitate a rebuilding of the former Fawcett Boat Supplies building and ultimately died.
The City Dock plan was also part of the inspiration behind a new group, Save Annapolis, that spent much of the summer lobbying against the plan and the Compromise rezoning.
Cohen's push for the City Dock plan and the rezoning drew him a challenger in the Democratic primary. Cohen ultimately beat his primary opponent, Bevin Buchheister, and faces Republican Mike Pantelides in the general election on Nov. 5.