For decades Bert Jabin Yacht Yard, positioned on the eastern rim of Back Creek, has been a mainstay in the Annapolis maritime industry.
Home to specialized boat repairs, storage, slips and other services, the 18-acre marina is zoned for waterfront maritime industrial use, one of the city’s four maritime zoning districts. It’s where heavy maritime activity is concentrated and almost zero non-maritime uses are permitted.
Following an explosion in recreational boating in the 1990s, boaters now expect resort-like amenities in addition to traditional boat services, said Rod Jabin, the yacht yard’s owner and president. Free Wi-Fi, fitness centers, restaurants, meeting rooms and more are the expectation and marina owners get criticized “if you can’t do a 100Mb download for free at the farthest slip from the router,” Jabin said. “That’s the expectation.”
Annapolis City Code, however, prohibits businesses in the industrial zones from offering those non-maritime uses other than small delis of no more than 1,000 square feet.
Now, thanks to a report published by a city-mandated task force, Jabin and other maritime property owners could soon provide some of the services they say will help revitalize and protect the city’s waterfront industry for years to come.
Earlier this year, more than 30 stakeholders — business owners, maritime experts and residents — led by Eileen Fogarty, a former Annapolis planning and zoning director, gathered to begin workshopping how to update the city’s waterfront code for the first time in decades.
The report, published last week, recommends restaurants be allowed in the industrial maritime districts and a portion of the building square footage in two other zones be offered to non-maritime businesses as well. Other recommendations include incentivizing property owners to provide water access, streamlining the city’s permitting process, improving parking equity and proposing the creation of a fund to pay for maritime programs.
The report also suggests the economic health of the maritime districts be reevaluated annually over the next five years, including holding public hearings for residents to share issues or concerns.
While Fogarty and other task force members hailed the final report as a compromise that considers all of the varied points of view in the maritime industry, support for the recommendations is not unanimous.
Last year, Alderman Ross Arnett, D-Ward 8, introduced resolution, R-46-20, that created the task force but in seeing the product of its work, thinks the recommendations are misguided and could upset the delicate balance in the city’s maritime industry.
The report doesn’t offer any statistical analysis of the economic health of the maritime industry beyond some anecdotal evidence, Arnett said. “But even if it were flagging, I don’t understand how taking away maritime operations from the maritime zones, helps the maritime industry.”
“A lot of work was done but I’m sorry I think it is largely superficial,” he said.
Current and specific data on the city’s maritime economy is scant.
A report commissioned by the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corporation last summer found parts of the county’s maritime industry had rapidly expanded from 2011 to 2018 while others have contracted. For example, employment in water transportation has increased by 84% over that span while ship and boat building has shrunk by 28%.
The report did find that marinas in Annapolis generated $200,000 in real property taxes annually. In the county, marinas generate about $8.3 million. Other maritime-related properties likely generate millions more in taxes each year as well, the report found.
In June, the City Council introduced an ordinance O-25-21 that would adopt the changes the task force is recommending. The bill is currently being reviewed by the Planning Commission and Rules and City Government standing committee. Arnett is the only council member who is not a co-sponsor.
Restaurants, water access other non-maritime uses
Under the task force recommendations, businesses in the maritime industrial zones could commit up to 15% of their building square footage to non-maritime uses, such as restaurants, laundromats, gyms and dry goods stores. The Waterfront Maritime Eastport zone would receive similar flexibility.
The Waterfront Mixed Maritime zone already permits 30% non-maritime use, including restaurants. It would be granted an additional 15% of flexibility for a total of 45% non-maritime use.
“In every coastal town from Florida to Maine one of the most basic primary features you find in a successful marina is a restaurant on property,” Jabin said. “We are trying to create a sustainable and viable future.”
Jabin pointed to Chesapeake Harbour Marina just across Edgewood Road from his property. The marina is located in Anne Arundel County and has a thriving restaurant and bar on-site because the county permits restaurants in their maritime properties, he said.
“I can’t match that,” he said. “We are at a competitive disadvantage.”
In order to receive the added non-maritime use flexibility, properties must maintain certain maritime uses called “triggers” that include a working yard of 20,000 square feet, a 30-ton boat lift, on-land boat storage of at least 25,000 square feet and/or a fuel dock.
The additional flexibility is meant to give property owners in those maritime zones the ability to rent to businesses outside of the maritime industry. The idea being if the floor space is filled and the tenants are paying their rent, that business will support heavy maritime businesses on the waterfront.
“We shouldn’t care too much about the tenants, whether they are maritime or not. We do care that they are full and leased so that taxes are paid to the city and everything is economically viable,” Jabin said.
The task force also sought to incentivize property owners to provide public water access by allowing an additional 5% could be used for non-maritime uses across all zones.
Pirate Adventures owner Mike Tomasini, who headed up the task force’s water access subcommittee, said the group wanted to prevent what has occurred in other cities where the water is walled off from the public by private property.
“There is a vocal concern right now that some of the (water access) that we’ve kind of had casually, in the past as a community, might be slipping away, and there’s a desire to hold on to it,” he said.
Maritime industry origins
The four maritime zones were established in 1987 in response to a growing concern over non-maritime businesses — namely hotels, residential properties and office buildings — looking to build on highly lucrative waterfront property.
After several prominent boatyards were swallowed up, the city responded by creating four distinct zones to protect the industry. In the 34 years since their creation, the zones have been left largely unchanged.
After decades of economic changes in the maritime industry, including the ongoing pressure from non-maritime businesses and slackening of demand for soft maritime businesses like boat title companies, it was time to review the maritime zones, said Wilford Scott, a task force member who served on the Planning Commission in the late 1980s.
The Waterfront Mixed Maritime district, located on the Spa Creek side of Eastport, allows for a mix of maritime and businesses like Atlantic Cruising Yachts and Pirate Adventures on the Chesapeake and non-maritime businesses such as Tecumseh Condominiums and Carrol’s Creek Cafe.
Also in Eastport, the Waterfront Maritime Eastport district both sandwiches the mixed maritime district and lines the Back Creek side of the peninsula. In this zone, maritime businesses like Eastport Yacht Center and South Annapolis Yachting Center are positioned right alongside single-family homes and generally have smaller footprints.
The Waterfront Industrial district is confined to the eastern side of Back Creek off of Bembe Beach and Edgewood Road.
The Waterfront Maritime Conservation district is located in the Historic District around City Dock and provides multiple maritime uses including docks, slips, public access and recreational uses.