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Late-night hearing could spur changes at Annapolis City Council

Local GovernmentJosh Cohen

At least two members of the Annapolis City Council are considering putting an end to late-night meetings, after a public hearing this week stretched until 3 a.m.

The City Council chambers were packed with more than 100 people on Thursday night who wanted to weigh in on a new master plan for City Dock and a rezoning proposal for properties along one side of the dock.

The meeting started shortly after 7 p.m. on Thursday, and the first public hearing on the master plan concluded in the 11 o'clock hour.

Some aldermen suggested delaying the second public hearing on rezoning to a later date and a more reasonable hour, but ultimately they pushed ahead and started the hearing at 11:40 p.m.

When the council finally prepared to adjourn as 3 a.m. approached, Alderman Ross Arnett said the City Council needs to consider legislation to change their procedures. He said he's considering prohibiting testimony past 11 p.m.

Arnett said the late-night meeting was "a disenfranchisement of the ability of people to give public testimony."

Many people who had signed up to testify on rezoning were no longer present when their names were called, he noted.

"I think it is a real disservices to our constituents to do this and I strongly object to it," said Arnett, a Democrat who represents Ward 8.

Alderman Fred Paone, a Republican from Ward 2, echoed Arnett's comments, saying that continuing the hearing so late was "an abuse of discretion."

Rhonda Wardlaw, a spokeswoman for Mayor Josh Cohen, said Friday that the mayor felt obligated to allow people who had waited for several hours to have a chance to testify.

For those who did not stick around until the wee hours of the morning, there's still a chance to weigh in on both the City Dock plan and the rezoning proposal for Compromise Street.

Written comments will be accepted on the City Dock plan through Aug. 5 and on the rezoning through Aug. 31. Comments should be sent to the city clerk at cityclerk@annapolis.gov or 160 Duke of Gloucester St., Annapolis, MD 21401.

The City Dock master plan was developed to guide future development along the downtown waterfront.

While the plan has some supporters who praise the plan's inclusion of more open spaces, more trees, wider sidewalks and improved pedestrian access, many opponents organized as Save Annapolis have spoke against other elements of the plan. They question the plan's inclusion of a taller allowable height for some buildings, changing a key traffic circle into a T-intersection and how a new seawall would be designed.

There's also disagreement in Annapolis over rezoning part of Compromise Street on one side of the dock. 

Cohen, a Democrat, is seeking rezoning for several parcels -- including a vacant building once occupied by Fawcett Boat Supplies -- from a maritime zone into a new mixed use zone. Opponents sy the zoning change would undermine the dock's historic maritime nature and would allow a building that would be too large. Supporters hoe the zoning change will spur redevelopment of the site and allow for a waterfront promenade to be extended.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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