Costly recommendations to install fire safety devices in all historic district buildings got little reaction at an Annapolis city council meeting last night, but a proposed city bicycle trail brought out about 100 residents who testified on the controversial plan.
No resident commented on the 11-member Commission to Study Fire Safety's proposed regulations, which could cost up to $50,000 for commercial property owners and $15,000 for residents to install sprinkler systems.
The recommendations come after a Dec. 8 fire that destroyed a 98-year-old historic building on Main Street.
But about 100 residents packed the council chambers to support or oppose a resolution that suggests seeking an alternative plan to building a 0.7-mile bicycle trail through Poplar Park in the Germantown-Homewood communities.
"The people who want to stop this plan will do anything to portray this project in a false light," said Adam Schulman, a Poplar Avenue resident who supports the project. "They exaggerate the extent of the paving and play on the people's fear of street crime."
Some residents have petitioned the council to build sidewalks instead of the 6-foot-wide path between Windell and Taylor avenues because they fear the path would harm the environment and increase traffic and crime in the area.
The controversy over the proposed path through wooded area bordering the communities has been brewing since Annapolis won a state grant in 1995 to build the path, which is part of the city's master plan to create almost 40 miles of interconnecting hiking and biking trails.
Opposition to the bicycle path has escalated with the approach of the scheduled October construction start.
But the city's chief engineer, Joseph A. Baker Jr., told opponents: "It is a small link of citywide trails. We are doing it in bits and pieces as we can and when we can."
Testimony on the Poplar Park trail lasted well into the evening.
Meanwhile, the report by the fire safety panel could cost property owners several thousand dollars and prove to be an obstacle in the way of efforts to safeguard the historic buildings from fire, according to the city's fire chief.
The five-month fire study says it would cost more than $20,000 for commercial property owners to connect to the city's water lines to install a sprinkler system and residents would pay more than $10,000.
Those estimates do not include the cost of installing sprinkler systems, according to the study.
"I'm really pleased with the recommendations of the commission," said Fire Chief Edward P. Sherlock Jr. "But the economics could be a deterrent or an obstacle for a lot of people.
"Some people are going to need some type of incentive or loan to do this."
In addition to recommending that all buildings have sprinkler systems or computerized fire detection systems, the commission said the city should study the idea of limiting parking on narrow streets to allow emergency vehicles access to buildings. The panel also recommended altering the city building code to allow the use of alternative fire retardant materials.
Other recommendations include hiring a licensed fire protection engineer to review building plans for fire safety and ensuring that the Fire Department has the staff to conduct building inspections.
Pub Date: 7/28/98