Annapolis quagmire: Residents and business fight over plans for Fourth Street

Danielle Ohl
Contact Reporterdohl@capgaznews.com

How do you solve a problem like Fourth Street?

A quiet slice of the Eastport neighborhood, the street has become a quagmire of issues facing wider Annapolis: how to develop responsibly, preserve human scale and get parking off the street without clogging tiny streets with traffic.

Of three projects on Fourth Street, one is a residential project four years in the making. The Eastport Sail Loft, now under construction, is a planned development of six houses, five apartments and office space that will house Hammond Wilson Architects.

Another is a new location for Adam’s Ribs. The beloved barbecue restaurant will lose its current location when the Eastport Shopping Center undergoes its own redevelopment.

The third is Forward Brewing, a pint-sized brewery and brainchild of lifelong Eastporter Camden Bowdren.

Bowdren said he and Claire Fitch, his wife, hope to be a model for responsible development, partnering with farms to take spent grain and compost in return for hops, so it won’t have a dumpster. They are exploring what kind of incentives the business can legally allow residents to encourage walking and biking to the brewery.

“We can be a platform for doing things a different way if people just give us that chance and let us be their community business,” he said.

The Bowdrens and Adam’s Ribs applied for variances to allow parking on their split-zoned properties, with a 10-foot buffer along between along the commercial and residential components. The Board of Appeals approved Forward’s variance, while Adam’s Ribs’ is still under review.

But residents have been off-put by the applications and their proposed buffers.

Fifth Street resident John Homick doesn’t want commercial activity so close to his back fence. He appealed the Forward Brewing decision to the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, citing a city code requirement for at least a 40-foot buffer — all but eliminating parking in the narrow lot behind 418 Fourth St.

“From 6 a.m. on, I’m going to have car doors in my backyard in an area, in my mind, was put there specifically to have a buffer between commercial and residential,” Homick said.

A neighborhood divided

There is support for these projects. Several devoted Adam’s customers wrote to the city in support of the move. Forward Brewing has enthusiasts who welcome a resident-owned small business. Buyers already are moving into Sail Loft units.

But those who live closest worry about their quality of life.

Frieda Wildey moved to her 1895 Eastport home about 20 years ago.

There were offices, she said, a couple of art galleries, and Leon’s Barbershop — the unofficial city hall of Eastport. But the area always felt more residential to her.

“It was a great neighborhood,” she said. “Not a business center, but a neighborhood.”

One thing is clear: The three projects on the otherwise quiet street have awakened full-throated citizen activism from neighbors who say they’d rather not spend their time learning the depths of the city’s planning and zoning code.

Parking is one of the biggest concerns. The 2016 Eastport Transportation Study identified Fourth Street at 80- to 100-percent capacity during evening hours and weekends.

Heidi Halleck, a 20-year resident, said on any given evening, customers for the three restaurants are already on the street cruise looking for parking.

The narrow streets often require drivers to do the “Eastport shuffle,” as residents call it. One car pulls over to let the oncoming car pass. But when parking is maxed out, there are few places to pull over and “a face-off and honking” are common.

While the proposed Adam’s Ribs and Forward Brewing properties are split zoned both commercial and residential, city officials have previously approved offices, parking lots and residences. All three of the projects would redevelop dilapidated properties that need parking in the residential zone to meet code.

Adam’s Ribs partners Brian Toomey and Vincent Cerniglia say pending city approval, they intend to address trash concerns, minimize bulk and implement more stormwater management systems on site. Toomey said he has “zero intention” to be a late night place. He’s going to close business at the same time the Eastport Shopping Center location: 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Toomey and Cerniglia said they want to preserve the jobs that would otherwise be lost when the shopping center undergoes redevelopment.

“I’ve had a family, which is my employees as well, who have worked for me for 20-plus years,” Toomey said. “When you work someplace for a long time, you’ve got tenure there, as far as health insurance and your pay constantly increasing, so it's going to be harder for them to get a job somewhere else at the same pay and the same benefits.”

Moving forward

Leo Wilson, whose Hammond Wilson Architects designed the Eastport Sail Loft project, said he’s restricted parking at his project to residential use after hearing from neighbors, despite no code requirements to do so. The Sail Loft benefited from additional height for paying into the city’s moderately priced dwelling unit fund — which some neighbors have criticized as putting the Sail Loft out of scale with the rest of the block.

He doesn’t agree that the three new projects spell doom for the street.

“The disappointing part for me is that Fourth Street was supposed to be a commercial space in this residential community,” said Wilson, who lives in the neighborhood. “A mix of uses is very important to me and many others. To put the responsibility for parking problems in Eastport on the few select businesses that have decided to stay on Fourth Street doesn’t sit well.”

Instead, he said the community should turn toward common sense parking solutions like street permits and posted time limits.

A group of 18 residents and business owners, including Bowdren and Cerniglia, came up with similar solutions during a community-driven parking study this summer. Some of the simplest solutions include adding signage to the Annapolis City Marina lot, which has paid public parking, and installing 48-hour parking signage.

Arnett, D-Ward 8, tried to address some of the issues with a new law that allows owners of split zoned properties in Eastport to apply the use of the majority zone to the entire lot. Residents say he pushed the legislation through without sufficient study, and it has exacerbated the problem. Forward Brewing received a zoning boundary adjustment under the new law; Adam’s Ribs has applied but is awaiting response.

Next, the alderman plans to introduce adequate public facilities legislation that would limit development where parking is insufficient.

Vic Pascoe, president of the Eastport Civic Association, said overall, residents want the city to consider the cumulative effects on increased development on Eastport.

“It seems like there’s a lot going on and it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of looking at the big picture,” he said. “The city tends to look at each property individually. Eastport is a peninsula — there’s only so many exits.”

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