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Historic Annapolis: No City Dock development without more study and respect for historic landscape

Date: Capital Gazette, April 6, 2018, Robert C. Clark

Historic Annapolis supports re-development along the waterfront, but not if it sacrifices the historic context and setting that defines City Dock.

Recent proposals for a new hotel and parking garage at City Dock have the potential to negatively impact the characteristic views that so strongly appeal to residents and visitors, on and off the water. Thankfully, the City of Annapolis has a very effective tool for protecting the viewshed and overdevelopment of City Dock — the Height and Bulk Ordinance.

At the urging and support of Historic Annapolis, this ordinance was passed in 1978 as the means to regulate the size of buildings in the Historic District. Under the oversight of the city Historic Preservation Commission, this ordinance has preserved the downtown and continued to maintain its National Park Service designation as a National Historic Landmark District and its listing as a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

HA implores the city to adhere to the existing Height and Bulk Ordinance in considering proposals for development at City Dock. Altering it could have catastrophic consequences on the City’s character and these national designations.

In addition to the Height and Bulk Ordinance, the City Dock Master Plan, adopted in 2013, provides guidance on how to carefully balance the need for a new look at City Dock with the understanding that actions must ensure no lasting or significant damage to our historic resources and viewsheds.

The plan called for a Comprehensive Parking Study to measure vehicular impacts on the fragile built environment, and a Cultural Resources Survey and Report to identify historic viewsheds and re-development impacts. Currently one of those studies is underway and the other needs to be funded in the upcoming budget cycle.

Until that information is available, HA objects to any action, such as that proposed by a new hotel, to modify the height limitations and carve parcels out of the Historic District to avoid the height limitations and oversight by the HPC.

Fifty-three years ago, Stewart Udall, then secretary of the interior, came to Annapolis and walked Main Street with HA founder, Anne St. Clair Wright. Udall noted, “an historic setting, while retaining the forms and values of its earlier tradition, can be filled with the variety and activity of contemporary life.”

He also noted that “fine buildings are not complete in themselves (but) must have an appropriate setting.” The ordinance and proposed City Dock parking and resource studies reflect the community’s desire to preserve and protect that setting, and are designed to maintain the human scale, massing, and rhythm that is experienced as one walks the streets of Annapolis.

Any new development must carefully consider how it will impact this surrounding historic landscape that is laid out just as it was over 300 years ago.

HA shares Udall’s vision of a setting filled with the variety of contemporary life, complete with active spaces for engagement and perhaps even alternative modes of transportation, including removing parked cars from the city center, a goal contained in the City Dock Master Plan.

HA is concerned about any re-development that would increase vehicular traffic thru the city’s narrow streets, potentially imposing stress upon vulnerable historic resources and bottlenecking the end of Main Street. HA is the steward of 13 buildings, 11 of which are owned by the State of Maryland, and most are only one block from City Dock.

HA urges the city to think critically about these issues before acting on the proposed hotel and parking garage.

In the 40 years since its inception, the Height and Bulk Ordinance has served the Historic District well. HA is advocating for its continued use in protecting our City’s unique heritage.

Mayor Gavin Buckley and City Council members have a responsibility to honor the existing ordinance and follow the stipulations of the community-endorsed City Dock Master Plan. If they don’t, what will Annapolis look like in another 40 years?

Robert Clark has served as the President and CEO of Historic of Annapolis since September 2012. He currently serves on the Boards of The Friends of St. John’s College and Visit Annapolis, and is a member of the City of Annapolis Heritage Commission.

Please click here to view the article on the Capital Gazette's website. 


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