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Annapolis sees Hawkins Cove as ‘top priority’ to expand water access

Hawkins Cove, a secluded and mostly unused stretch of Spa Creek, could soon get a makeover as Annapolis seeks funding to connect some of its most underserved residents to the water.

The city Planning and Zoning Department applied for a $50,000 grant this spring through the Department of Natural Resources to improve trails in Truxtun Park, extend them across city land east of Spa Creek Condominiums and connect to the cove, Planning and Zoning Director Sally Nash said.

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The city has had an easement to use the cove since 1990, according to the Annapolis City website. A small dock there is city-owned, and the most-accessible path is across land owned by the Housing Authority of the City of Annapolis.

“Any step is a great step (that) will open up the door to improve the water access there,” said Alderman DaJuan Gay, whose ward includes Eastport Terrace and Harbour House, the public housing communities that abut Hawkins Cove.

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Gay has recently spoken out about the lack of water access for his constituents in Ward 6 after he and his friends were stopped by police last month on their way back from visiting a dock on private property in Eastport.

Water access has become an issue in the more affluent part of the city, too. In Eastport, where street-end parks and dinghy docks are plentiful, residents are calling on a developer to keep public water access available at a private marina currently under construction. The developer of South Annapolis Yacht Centre has said he won’t consider what access would look like until the project is complete.

Joanna Ogburn, chair of the Annapolis Conservancy Board, said Hawkins Cove is a “top priority” for the all-volunteer board that monitors and preserves green spaces in the city for community and environmental benefit.

The board is working to find an outside land trust to establish an easement on the six-acre property that touches the cove, Ogburn said, and they are optimistic the process will be complete in the coming year.

Mayor Gavin Buckley has floated the idea of dredging the cove, an expensive endeavor that is not formally being considered at this time, city officials said.

The Spa Creek Conservancy, headed by Amy Clements, has applied for another grant to design a living shoreline along Hawkins Cove. The conservancy previously has done work to restore the stream that flows into the cove, Clements said, and this new project is essential to giving all residents — especially those in public housing — an opportunity to experience the water.

“Just the idea that kids would have a place to just go sit — they might never go with a crab net or a fishing rod, I don’t know, but that you could do that or you could just go sit down there and eat lunch or put your toes in the water,” she said.

Developing city-owned property like Hawkins Cove is a better use of time rather than trying to wrest private land access away from property owners, said Dan Mellin, a land-use and waterfront access attorney in Annapolis.

Years of legal battles have made local governments shy away from requiring public access to private waterfront property and instead focus on getting developers to make concessions such as meeting open space requirements and making street improvements, Mellin said.

“The county can require you — where your property fronts on the county road — to make road improvements and install traffic lights and give a road-widening easement and all those kind of things, but they can’t make you turn private waterfront into public waterfront,” he said. “You know, that’s a taking without compensation.”

Waterfront parks

Mellin’s notion is shared by former Annapolis Mayor Ellen Moyer, credited with expanding public water access both during her time as mayor, alderwoman and wife of Mayor Roger “Pip” Moyer. Today, there are 22 street-end parks and dinghy docks in the city, according to the Annapolis Harbormaster.

Because of Moyer’s efforts, places like Barbara Neustadt Park on Monticello Avenue, Amos Garrett Waterfront Park on Spa View Avenue and Lafayette Waterfront Park along Lafayette Avenue have flourished with well-kept lawns, park benches and boat access. Horn Point Park, which has one of the few beaches in the city, even has a plaque commemorating her work.

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“Look, we’re a town of 40,000. We have pretty good access if people want to use it,” Moyer said. She said something to consider is what public housing resident councils see as a priority.

“A lot of it depends on, OK, what do the residents want? How do they want that property used? Do they want to have access to the water and therefore what kind of access?” she said.

Water access isn’t always something public housing residents call for and there aren’t currently any plans to add more access on the housing authority’s property in Eastport, said Melissa Maddox-Evans, executive director.

“We’re open to discussing any ideas,” she said.

More than a decade after Moyer left office, the city is now trying to improve some of the existing parks and add others through grant funding, city spokesperson Mitchelle Stephenson said.

In August, the Harbormaster’s office applied for another federal grant totaling $191,000 to install floating docks at four city street-ends: Third Street, Conduit Street, Amos Garrett Park and Thompson Street.

The city hopes another project to repair and replace a failing bulkhead at Cheston Avenue and install a public dinghy dock will be completed over the next two years, Stephenson said.

One of the water access points that has not yet found funding is College Creek Park.

The city-owned land across the street from the Morris H. Blum public housing property has a ramp to the water that has not been in use for years, said Alderman Fred Paone, R-Ward 2, who represents the area.

“The city should be ashamed of itself for that particular property,” Paone said.

City officials said the land is on their list of priorities.

Expanding water access will also feature heavily in the Annapolis 2020 Comprehensive Plan, Ogburn said. The board is working to create a greenway map that would plot out natural areas suited for both protection and public access.

“And one of the (benefits) we’re really looking at is, recreation,” she said. “So if it’s access to water, even if it’s just access to be able to see the water, to have a picnic there, but also places that could connect walking trails or sidewalks, any place that has natural benefit of courses is definitely high on the list.”

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