The company has sought to open a delicatessen at the former site of Stevens Hardware at 142 Dock St., but city planners say it's a convenience store, not a deli — and thus is not allowed under current zoning.
The Annapolis Board of Appeals will hold a hearing on the issue March 4.
Royal Farms applied for a special zoning exception to allow a delicatessen last year. The property's zoning allows for delicatessens if an exception is approved by the Board of Appeals.
But acting Planning Director Sally Nash said she determined Royal Farms is a convenience store, so her office won't forward the exception request to the Board of Appeals. Convenience stores are not allowed under the commercial zoning designation given to the downtown historic district.
"It's, in our minds, not a deli. It's a convenience store," Nash said.
In a letter to Royal Farms' attorney, Nash said planners visited two other Royal Farms locations that the company pointed them to as examples, but deemed them to be convenience stores as well. In Annapolis, a deli must have fewer than 10 seats and must sell most foods made-to-order, rather than prepackaged foods.
If the Board of Appeals disagrees and decides to consider the special exception request for a deli, another public hearing will be planned, Nash said.
Alan J. Hyatt, an Annapolis-based attorney representing Royal Farms, said the proposal "in all respects is a delicatessen." It would have a few seats for customers and fresh-made food including fried chicken and sandwiches.
Royal Farms is headquartered in Baltimore's Hampden neighborhood and has 155 stores in Maryland, Delaware, Virginia and Pennsylvania, including one over the Spa Creek bridge from downtown Annapolis in the Eastport neighborhood.
Hyatt said the downtown Royal Farms would be different from the Eastport Royal Farms, which is a traditional convenience store. "This one is going to be a sandwich shop," he said.
The Stevens family, which still owns the building, closed the hardware store in December 2012 after a 53-year-run at the corner of Dock and Randall streets, across from the Annapolis waterfront.
The Maryland Historical Trust describes the Stevens building as "Victorian commercial," and said it was built about 1880. The building is assessed for tax purposes at $1.42 million.