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Mayor Gavin Buckley Ousts Longtime Historic Preservation Chairwoman

Date: Capital Gazette, May 21, 2018, Danielle Ohl

Mayor Gavin Buckley, ahead of a City Council meeting dealing with controversial Historic District rezoning, announced on Monday he will replace the longtime chairwoman of the Annapolis Historic Preservation Commission.

Sharon Kennedy, who has held the position since 2003, butted heads with Buckley during the fight over a mural painted without permits on his West Street restaurant, Tsunami. Buckley and his partners, did not seek retroactive permission for the mural. The city took his restaurant group to court over whether the HPC could govern aesthetics. A judge sided with the city.

Buckley said the mural did not influence his decision, rather he sought to bring change to the “ruling class.” He praised Kennedy as a “steady leader” and a wealth of knowledge. He will not reappoint Kennedy’s colleague, Kim Finch, whose term has expired.

“I think it is unfortunate the mayor has chosen to politicize the Historic Preservation Commission,” Kennedy said. “I find these actions hypocritical for a man who touts that he wants one Annapolis and then to my face calls me a member of the ruling class. I was offended.”

The announcement came hours before Buckley introduced legislation scaling back height and bulk restrictions on City Dock, a neccessary step to implement the City Dock Master Plan, he said. He said the announcement of Kennedy’s dismissal is unrelated, though the legislation is likely to place Buckley again at the center of a fight with the city’s historic conservation community.

The legislation would make the City Dock area part of the city’s Mixed Zoning designation, which now applies to the inner West Street corridor and surrounding areas. Buckley, its sole sponsor, describes the legislation as in the spirit of the 2013 City Dock Master Plan, which called for a zoning change to enable diverse opportunities on the downtown waterfront.

Buckley said this zoning came at the recommendation of city planning and zoning staff. But the bill has met early and vocal opposition from residents and aldermen, as the CDMP also calls for a comprehensive cultural landscape study before any changes to the Dock Street improvement sites. Opponents see the ordinance as a pre-emptive move to usher in a controversial boutique hotel.

The hotel has alarmed residents and historic preservation advocates, as some renderings put the structure above codified height limits.

The legislation would exempt development in the identified areas from those height and bulk restrictions that govern the rest of the Historic District. It provides for a visual impact assessment but identifies that impact controls must be in line with the not-yet-completed cultural landscape study.

Buckley and the developers have said they will not advocate a development that threatens the city’s designation as a historic landmark, but some residents see the legislation as a renege on that promise. He repeated his intentions Monday night in an interview — “I’m one vote, but I would never allow a 70-foot hotel.”

Alderwoman Elly Tierney expressed her staunch opposition to the legislation, which she called a “travesty” of the City Dock Master Plan.

She said she would try to block the legislation. Tierney has been a longtime advocate of the City Dock plan but said the “urgency” of this rollout sabotages her attempts to implement the plan.

Alderman Rob Savidge, D-Ward 7, said he has concerns that the legislation is putting the “cart … before the horse,” as it would come before the CDMP-mandated cultural landscape study.

Buckley defended his choice to introduce the legislation. “That’s what we do in this city is wait,” he said. He is pushing planning and zoning director Pete Gutwald to finish the cultural landscape study this summer.

Residents, too, have decried the legislation as threatening the city’s historic character in favor of one developer’s plans. At Monday’s City Council meeting, dozens of residents turned up to voice their opposition.

“We implore you to reject it,” said Robert Clark, president and CEO of Historic Annapolis. “It could have irreversible, negative, long-term effects on the (Historic District).”

Several residents expressed concern that the legislation could threaten downtown’s designation as a National Historic Landmark District and worsen traffic.

“If our district is delisted, the effect would be disastrous, cumulative, and long-term,” said Ward 1 resident Larry Clausen. “If a property is not on, or is no longer eligible for, the national register, that property owner loses the ability to secure federal and state historic tax credits.”

The zoning change would not automatically threaten the city’s designation, said city spokeswoman Susan O’Brien. But residents invoked other historic cities, such as Charleston and Savannah, on the U.S. Interior Department’s watch list for threatened historic sites due to unmitigated development.

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