Annapolis moves closer to getting sidewalk cafes


The Annapolis city council came one step closer last night to allowing sidewalk cafes downtown when aldermen killed a bill that would have placed tough restrictions on the establishments.

"It looks a lot more positive tonight than it did yesterday," said local restaurant owner Jerry Hardesty, a supporter of sidewalk cafes.

The council voted overwhelmingly to withdraw a sidewalk cafe bill sponsored last winter by Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins, leaving in its place a simpler two-page measure sponsored by Alderman Ellen O. Moyer and favored by local restaurants.

Leading the charge to withdraw the mayor's bill was Mr. Hopkins himself, who said the measure was nearly identical to Ms. Moyer's and was moot.

"We have two pieces of legislation doing the same thing," Mr. Hopkins said.

Alderman Louise Hammond, a Ward 1 Democrat, was the only alderman to vote to preserve the tougher legislation. She questioned Mr. Hopkins' turnaround.

"I would like to ask you, you had spent a lot of time researching and writing this," she said. "I'm really curious why now you want to drop it."

Many of Mrs. Hammond's historic district residents have lobbied for tough sidewalk cafe legislation, arguing that if unchecked, they could give downtown a cheap, carnival atmosphere.

Originally, Mr. Hopkins had argued that sharp restrictions were necessary to ensure public safety and raised the specter of drunken outdoor diners wandering out of the cafes and into traffic.

His bill would have required restaurant owners to pay up to $4,300 extra for separate liquor licenses and conditional use permits for the outdoor facilities.

The bill also gave restaurant owners only a year to apply for a sidewalk cafe and forbade cafes from using paper and plastic table settings.

Ms. Moyer's bill eliminates the separate liquor license and conditional use permits, the one-year sunset provision, and provisions that she says allow the city to "micromanage" the restaurants.

City Administrator Michael D. Mallinoff said there was no timetable on when the simpler sidewalk cafe bill will come to the full council for a vote.

Even if the council approves sidewalk cafe legislation, individual restaurant owners would be required to secure approval from the Department of Planning and Zoning and the full council before installing any outdoor cafes.

And the city can cancel a sidewalk cafe lease if it finds the owner violated fire, police or alcoholic beverage control regulations.

Mr. Hardesty owns the only outdoor cafe in downtown at the Middleton Tavern but is eager to expand.

If the sidewalk cafe bill is passed, he said he will apply "faster than a speeding bullet" for a permit for his other Main Street establishment, O'Brien's Bar & Oyster Restaurant.

In other action last night, Alderman M. Theresa DeGraff, a Ward 7 Republican, introduced a proposed charter change that would allow residents of the Chesapeake Harbour condominium community on Annapolis' southeastern border to become city residents without having to pay municipal taxes for a decade.

City officials have been negotiating the deal with residents of the 407-unit condominium for two years in hopes of eventually capturing $700,000 a year in taxes from the affluent community.

The city must change its charter because current tax reprieves can last only five years.

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