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Historic preservation, brick by brick: City's sidewalk repairs need fix

Historic preservation, brick by brick: City's sidewalk repairs need fix
A major project along Duke of Gloucester Street was recently completed with replacement of existing deteriorated curbs and restoration of the brick sidewalk on both sides of the street. The work started near St Mary's church, beginning at the historic wall, and progressed down to just before the bridge. Work on the other side started at St. Mary's Street and progressed down to the driveway at 80 Duke of Gloucester Street. In all 880 feet of curb (0.17 miles) and 850 feet of sidewalk (0.17 miles) was replaced on the two sides of the street. (Courtesy Photo / HANDOUT)

Frank Morales crossed Cathedral Street barefoot Friday to the sidewalk opposite his house.

"You can see the old bricks here and new bricks there," he said, pointing to each side of the street.

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In the city's ongoing effort to repair the worst sidewalks, it hit a brick wall — or, in this case, sidewalk — with the Historic Preservation Commission.

The commission asked the city's Department of Public Works to stop replacing old brick with new halfway through a project to fix the caved-in and uneven sidewalks in the block of Cathedral Street closest to Conduit Street, Morales said.

And now, after three weeks of construction, the public walkways are level and safe but the city may have to start over, said Lisa Craig, city chief of historic preservation. The commission will hold a public hearing on the use and pattern of the bricks in October or November.

Public Works "put the old brick back just because (of) the fact they realized this was going to be a strong deviation from what the commission expects to do administratively," Craig said. "They'll eventually figure it out. It's just an issue of ensuring that we're doing it for the best regard for the history."

The Department of Public Works began replacing the public walkways in Annapolis a few years ago, budgeting about $600,000 a year for it, said the agency's director, David Jarrell.

Craig said the city goes through the same process as any building owner who wants to make a change to a home in the Historic District.

Morales said he would rather the sidewalk be left as it is, half and half, so that he wouldn't have to deal with limited parking from construction again.

He said he hopes that, in the future, the city and the preservation commission will do more planning before action is taken.

"The bottom line is, there was no communication at all," Morales said. "What is done is done … I would prefer the old, but don't touch it."

The city planned to use the original bricks for replacement depending on how many were in good shape, Jarrell said. There were enough for the sidewalk on just one side of the block.

"Ideally, it would all look the same, so we try to work out the best solution," Jarrell said. "A lot of the old bricks are broken and need to be replaced. Trying to mix them doesn't look very good."

The sidewalk issue comes just weeks after the commission held a public hearing on the first draft of preservation code revisions, which would further restrict what homeowners in the Historic District will be able to do. The proposal garnered opposition.

While using the original bricks does save on costs for material, it's more expensive, Jarrell said. "It takes a lot longer to put the old bricks down …The old bricks are much more difficult to lay down and get them to look as good as we want them to."

Craig said the bricks, which could be as old as 200 years, will last for a long time because the problems are caused by what's under the brick — and right now that's concrete.

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"Brick's a pretty resilient material; we have a lot of historic buildings made of brick," she said.

Jarrell estimated the old bricks still have at least 25 years of life left in them. The new bricks, he said, will last at least 50 to 60 years.

"But in a community like Annapolis you want to maintain the historic fabric of the community and part of that is the streets and sidewalks," he said.

Craig said the newer brick looks similar to the old brick but doesn't have the same dimensions, and so the same pattern can't be used and the two types can't be mixed. "I anticipate we'll end up working out a solution," she said.

Craig said Annapolis is a pedestrian-oriented town. "The sidewalks are the roadways for the feet and people notice them all the time."

Most residents prefer the original bricks.

"I love the old brick," said Jill Gann, who has lived on Cathedral Street for 45 years. She lives on the side of the street where the original materials were placed temporarily. The character of the old paving, she said, "draws people to Annapolis."

Gann said that before the work the sidewalk was "wavy gravy"— uneven and with dips. "It's a great improvement."

Sam Wagner, who lives a few houses down from Gann, said the spot in front of his house used to be like a "ravine," caving in from each side. It was impossible for him and his wife to use their child's stroller on the sidewalk.

"I'm just happy it's flat," Wagner said. "We were OK with the inconvenience, but to do it again …"

Morales walked to different parts of the sidewalk and pointed out crooked lines, inconsistencies, multiple patterns and spaces.

City workers had to construct brick steps because the sidewalk had been lowered, creating large gaps.

Morales said the homeowners live in the neighborhood because of its character and historic charm and try to keep it up.

He said it's upsetting when he can't do things to spruce up the neighborhood because of the commission's rules, but when the city has a responsibility to make the area look nice, the work gets messed up. "We take pride in these houses."

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