"IT'S TIME to look forward, not backward," Annapolis Alderman Carl O. Snowden said last week, talking about the ongoing conflict between those who want the state capital to be the quiet waterfront town of yore and others who see that its future depends on tourism. The alderman is right; Annapolis has a wonderful past, but -- and this has been true for some time -- the days of its being a down-at-the-heels fishing village are gone.
As the city nears its 300th anniversary, the tourist industry -- restaurants, specialty shops, conventions, festivals -- is its lifeblood. The city needs to capitalize on its appeal to visitors. The City Council's new favorable attitude toward changes Annapolis previously opposed, such as sidewalk cafes and later restaurant closing times, shows it is dealing in economic reality.
That does not mean all change will benefit Annapolis, or that the preservationists are offbase when they warn against destroying the city's unique historic character. Pretty sidewalk cafes won't ruin Annapolis; outdoor kiosks filled with vulgar t-shirts and tacky souvenirs are something else. As the council steers Annapolis toward the future, it should bear in mind what really would mean its ruination:
* Abandoning architectural preservation efforts. Historic homes and buildings have to be preserved and kept looking beautiful. New development should blend with the atmosphere. Yes, the Historic Annapolis Foundation sometimes goes overboard, nitpicking over details, but without its tenacity, Annapolis' historic character would erode.
* Allowing undesirable establishments. Until now, the city's fear of becoming a resort boardwalk has led it to take an absurdly hard line against innocuous businesses like yogurt shops. This is paranoid and counterproductive, as most council members are coming to realize. But as it takes a more reasonable stance, the council must take care not to weaken its stand against establishments that truly would make the city seedy: tattoo parlors, tacky vendors, arcades, loud bars and nightclubs.
* Crime and misbehavior. If the drunks and miscreants take over, it won't just be residents who are unhappy. The kind of visitor Annapolis needs most won't be visiting much longer.