Many of Annapolis' established downtown interests seem to reflexively resist change. Annapolitans even have a name for it: the Downtown "No" Club.
The latest version of this "No" Club is the self-described Coalition to Save Annapolis, an unusual alliance of United States Yacht Shows, the Ward One Residents Association, the Annapolis Business Association, Historic Annapolis Inc. and others. These groups are united by their opposition to a rezoning ordinance I introduced to implement Phase One of a City Dock Master Plan that has been more than two years in the making.
Ordinance 7-13 will facilitate two wonderful objectives of the City Dock plan: first, open up a panoramic vista of our historic lower Main Street; and second, establish a wide public open space along Annapolis' fabled "Ego Alley" waterfront. Although the concept is beautiful, most of the property involved is privately owned. The only way to achieve these public benefits is by working with a willing property owner.
The ordinance will establish a new mixed-use zone for three properties along Ego Alley that include the former Fawcett Boat Supplies building, a vacant cinderblock eyesore. The ordinance also will enable a land swap in which the city will give up a small area of landlocked property in return for a publicly owned waterfront promenade — a good deal for our community.
The old Fawcett property has sat vacant for years, due in part to the high cost of renovating the building, which sits in the flood plain. Fortunately, a group of investors led by Mark Ordan, CEO of Sunrise Senior Living, signed a purchase agreement with the owners in April. Mr. Ordan was enthusiastic about the plan. Our community could not ask for a better scenario than to have an interested buyer who shares the community's vision to establish public waterfront access and enhance our historic views — and who has the resources to make it happen.
One would have expected community leaders to reach out to Mr. Ordan and work with him to shape the project in a positive way. Instead, members of the Coalition to Save Annapolis staged a press conference to oppose the plans. They called on me to withdraw the ordinance and embark upon two more years of new studies. They proclaimed "Annapolis is not for sale!" even though the old Fawcett site is private property. They staged their protest before even seeing the proposed plans, a day before Mr. Ordan had scheduled an open house to receive public input.
One might wonder — as Mark Ordan did — how community leaders could so cavalierly risk losing such an outstanding opportunity. The president of one of the Save Annapolis groups explained to me that she would be fine if the building remained vacant for 10 more years if that's what it took to figure out how to do it "right." Such is the mindset of the "No" Club.
"Save Annapolis" was successful — not in saving our town but in hijacking the process. It prompted Mr. Ordan's team to cancel additional open houses and withdraw from the project. The coalition had no alternative solutions to offer.
Despite this setback, I and others in the community are continuing to pursue the plan's vision of expanding public access to the water and enhancing the historic views of Main Street. Many of us are disappointed in the coalition's obstructionist tactics and have been encouraging Mr. Ordan's team to give it another try. Some preliminary discussions have been promising, but we remain a long way from resuscitating the project.
A recent Susan Reimer column, while correct about many things, missed the mark in characterizing my actions as "yielding" to the coalition. The tactics of the "No" Club have strengthened my resolve to pursue this project even more.
What we need now is dialogue, not obstruction. Any project of this significance raises legitimate questions and concerns. The building's appearance, height and zoning are all key issues that need to be carefully considered. I believe that more time and dialogue will produce positive results. This is why I postponed a recent public hearing — not because I "folded," but because holding the public hearing while the two sides were so far apart would have been counterproductive.
I remain fully committed to the revitalization of City Dock and call on those with concerns to choose the more challenging path of dialogue and compromise instead of obstruction. City Dock — our town's crown jewel — is worth it.
Joshua J. Cohen is the mayor of Annapolis. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.