Bills allowing late-night bars in downtown Annapolis formed the backdrop last night for an emotional public debate on future development in the city's historic district.
More than 100 residents and business owners crammed City Hall to argue the merits of two bills allowing more 2 a.m. closing times and nightclubs in the historic district. But instead, they debated whether the city should rewrite the Ward One Sector Study, a development plan long considered sacrosanct that limits night life and tourist-friendly expansion of the historic district.
"The Ward One Sector Study is prejudicial and divisive," said Rene Cunningham, a resident who also owns a bed and breakfast in the historic district.
The sector study allows the 12 late-night bars that existed in 1993 to keep their 2 a.m. licenses and favors certain city business people while stifling downtown business at large, she said.
On the other side were residents and preservationists who said that if the city so much as tinkered with the sector study, it would jeopardize the city's historic integrity. "Please, let's not throw out the sector study just because of the pressures of the moment," said Gilbert Renaut, the president of the Ward One Residents Association, whose members all live in the historic district.
The sector study became law 15 months ago and was drafted by more than 20 diverse downtown interests over 3 1/2 years. It was considered the final word in downtown development.
Last night, residents questioned why the city would allow a handful of downtown restaurants to enjoy a 2 a.m. monopoly while their competitors turned off the lights at midnight.
Some downtown residents said they struggled with the sector study be cause it limited downtown competition.
But others said historic cities need to limit development.
"The key word is balance," said Charles Lamb, who heads Plan Annapolis, a pro-preservation group. "Fairness is desirable but fairness by itself cannot always be the sole criteria."
Meanwhile, residents remained deeply divided over two bills that would allow more 2 a.m. liquor licenses downtown and permit more nightclubs in the historic district.
Ann Fligsten, president of Historic Annapolis Foundation, said the legislation would create "an adult entertainment zone in the heart of our historic area." Ms. Fligsten has threatened to lobby against all 2 a.m. closing times downtown if the legislation passes.
But the legislation's supporters leaped to its defense.
"Only the chosen may join the 2 o'clock club," said Bob Rice, a downtown business owner. "The spot zoning should be stopped immediately."
The council will vote on the late-night bills Oct. 9.