Several dozen people gathered Tuesday in Annapolis to announce their intention to block parts of a City Dock master plan and a bill from Annapolis Mayor Josh Cohen that could spark redevelopment of a vacant building.
Gathered outside the Fleet Reserve Club, next door to the vacant former Fawcett Boat Supplies building, members of the Coalition to Save Annapolis said the zoning bill represents a piecemeal approach that's not in the best interest of downtown residents and businesses.
“Very few stakeholders were actually involved in making these plans,” said Sean O'Neill, president of the Annapolis Business Association and a member of the group.
Members said specific concerns include: that buildings would be allowed to be too tall, potentially altering view of the waterfront; that the city’s maritime culture could be diminished; that many parking spaces could be lost; that the fall boat shows could lose exhibition space; and that plans are moving forward too quickly.
The City Dock plan and the rezoning bill are currently before the Annapolis city council. Public hearings on both will be held July 8 at City Hall.
The former Fawcett building, which has been vacant since the boat supply shop moved in 2010, is under contract to be sold. The prospective buyers have a window to close on the sale, during which they expect the zoning changes to be adopted to allow them to tear it down and rebuild on the site.
Mark Ordan, leader of the group buying the Fawcett property, said Thursday that the protest was premature. His group unveiled more details of their plans at an event Wednesday night.
“That rally and those protests were held the day before we even showed people what we were doing. … How would they know if they hadn't seen it?” Ordan said.
Ordan, CEO of Sunrise Senior Living, asserts that the opposition is not as broad as the Coalition to Save Annapolis says it is.
“We think there’s a lot of support for it. Many people realize that a $20 million investment along the water in Annapolis is just what downtown Annapolis needs,” he said.
Ordan’s team plans to demolish the current building and construct a 21/2-story building that will be set back 50 feet from the water. The ground floor would have retail or restaurant space, with offices on the upper floors.
Members of the coalition, however, argue that the building would be too tall. They tied clusters of black balloons around the Fawcett building to demonstrate how tall the new building could be if the mayor's zoning bill is approved.
Former Mayor Ellen O. Moyer said that with a swipe of the pen, Cohen and the city council could significantly alter downtown and wipe out the maritime industry.
“We don't have tall and bulky buildings you can see in Anytown, USA,” she said.
As coalition members spoke, Heather Hurtt watched from the audience. She's with a group called CONNECTAnnapolis that supports a more pedestrian-friendly downtown area. Her group supports many elements of the City Dock plan and she'd like to see the Fawcett building rebuilt rather than continue to sit vacant.
Hurtt said the City Dock plan has been years in the making, with plenty of input from residents and business owners.
“Change is hard, but the process has been well thought out,” she said.
Cohen issued a statement in response to the coalition's concerns.
He said he contacted O'Neill in hopes of scheduling a meeting with coalition leaders to “address their concerns collaboratively.”
“It's not surprising that any proposal to make changes downtown would generate opposition,” Cohen wrote.
But he added that the opportunity to redevelop the Fawcett property will “achieve significant public benefits,” including creating a pedestrian promenade along the water, fixing flooding problems on Compromise Street and improving the view from Main Street down toward the water.