Members of the Ward 1 Residents Association and the Historic Annapolis Foundation are trying to block city approval of a planned expansion of Maria's Restaurant at the City Dock.
The expansion, which the city's Planning and Zoning Commission recommended for approval Thursday, will nearly double the restaurant's seating by adding 72 seats to the existing 80, assistant manager Charlie Priola said.
Michael Langrehr, president of the residents association, said his group objects to the expansion because they fear the dock area may already have too many pubs and restaurants.
The association sent a questionnaire to residents who live within 400 feet of the restaurant.
Five respondents were in favor of the expansion; 13 were opposed.
The planning commission recommended approval of the expansion, saying the city has received no complaints about the restaurant and the expansion would not change the hours of operation.
"It's a continuation of exactly what they have, a family-style Italian restaurant," Planning Director Eileen Fogarty said. "They have no entertainment, and they have the most restrictive liquor license in the City Dock area -- they close at midnight and don't have a bar."
From the commission's standpoint, there was no valid reason to refuse the request, Fogarty added. "We felt the restaurant has been a contribution to the community," she said.
Priola said patrons and managers of the popular Maria's are equally happy. "On weekends, people are having between an hour and an hour and a half of waiting for a table now. This expansion should alleviate that," he said.
The City Council is expected to vote on the expansion in late July.
The association objected that the city approved the expansion before a study examining the Ward 1 Sector, which includes the dock area, is completed.
"We're not happy because we believe the city should have waited until after the sector study was completed," Langrehr said. "We're going to talk to our alderman."
The study is examining what percentage of commercial activity in the historic district should be what -- that is, how many bars, how many restaurants, how many specialty shops, clothing shops or T-shirt shops.
Langrehr said his group isn't opposed to the restaurant itself. "It's a very nice establishment," he said. "Our position is simply that it may very well be that the sector study, once completed, may decide we don't want wall-to-wall restaurants around the City Dock."
The Ward 1 residents also complained that they did not know, when the restaurant's liquor license was expanded a few months ago, that Maria's also planned to enlarge its seating area.
"The absence of this information during those discussions is indicative of a process whereby actions are taken one small step at a time, until eventually one finds a full-blown, open-until-2 a.m. bar in place of what originally started as a small restaurant," Langrehr said.
Maria's has a license to serve alcohol only with meals.
The Historic Annapolis Federation also opposes the expansion because the sector study isn't finished.
Fogarty said the recommended expansion falls within general committee policy for the number of existing restaurant seats. "We look at the number of seats Annapolis restaurants had in 1980 and make sure the existing number does not exceed that," she said.
That amount is about 80,000 square feet of restaurant seating, she said.
But Langrehr and the opponents of the expansion said they've never seen those numbers.
"Our position is that we don't know if they are, in fact, correct," Langrehr said. "Also, to fall back on [a policy] that's 12 years old when you are right now looking at those things [in the Ward 1 study] doesn't make sense."