A Thorny Question for Annapolis

July 13th, 2015

As an Annapolis newbie – I moved here last September – I have a question:

Why do certain things seem to take so painfully long in Annapolis?

I’m talking about important things that influence the look and feel and character of this beautiful city, especially around City Dock.

Things like the city-owned Marketplace, that long-running soap opera that dragged on for years; like the city’s Rec Center, shuttered since 2010; like the former Fawcett Boat Supply location that has sat vacant and neglected for five years; like the former Stevens Hardware store, empty since 2012.

Things like City Dock itself, which cries out for a serious makeover that would convert it from a scenic parking lot to what it should be: Annapolis’s face to the world.

Things like Ego Alley and the historic downtown, which urgently need protection from the looming threat of sea level rise.

Why the long stalemate over these issues? What is it about Annapolis that generates gridlock? Explain it to me, please. If Baltimore can remake its inner harbor, if Charleston can revive its battery, if Miami can transform its waterfront, why can’t Annapolis?

I realize all these things cost money, and that the city has budget problems and zoning issues and, most important, that different people have different ideas about what should be done, but none of that is unique to Annapolis.

Seeking an answer, I asked around. Since I live in Eastport, I started with my local Alderman, Ross Arnett. I caught him on his cell phone while he waited to extricate his car from the clutches of Jiffy Lube, and, did he vent!

“There is no shared vision in this city, and no leadership,” he said, his voice rising. “There is no reward for getting things done!”

“Tell me what you really think, Ross,” I said, but I don’t think he heard me over the Jiffy Lube roar.

“The city is in paralysis and the Mayor’s motto is ‘don’t make waves,’” he went on. “What is his vision for City Dock? Don’t lose a single parking space?“

“Forgive my rant,” he said, ranting. “But the city is in decline, we’re headed for bankruptcy, people have given up.”

When I interrupted long enough to say that he sounded like a candidate for Mayor in 2017, Mr. Arnett raised it a notch. “I AM running for Mayor!” he said, “I’m fit to be tied, and so are the other council members!”

After that outburst, it seemed only fair to call Mayor Mike Pantelides and let him respond. We met at the long table in his conference room in City Hall.

“Ross hasn’t been here that long and doesn’t really know what it takes to get things done,” the Mayor said coolly, leaning back in his high-backed chair. “The truth is that there is a strong sense of ownership among the people of Annapolis and everybody has to have their say. It is hard to build a consensus.”

The Mayor conceded that he doesn’t want to lose a single parking space when the City Dock is re-designed, but, he said, “those spaces don’t have to be on City Dock itself, they can be nearby.”

Finally, the Mayor said that his biggest lesson in office so far was — wait for it — “how long it takes to get things done.”

This past Tuesday, there was a hint of movement when developers presented a new plan to renovate and finally reopen the old Fawcett’s site. The artist’s rendering depicting rooftop and dockside dining was well received at a meeting of the Ward One Resident’s Association, but wait, don’t make your dinner reservations just yet. They will need an exception to the zoning regulations, and in Annapolis, that takes time.

Seeking another explanation why things move at a glacial pace around here, I called Kitty Higgins, former chair of the Annapolis Democratic Central Committee and a member of the commission that was charged with re-imagining the City Dock area. Keep it simple for me, Kitty, I said, why so slow?

“Entrenched interests, a lack of leadership and a reluctance to change anything,” she said.

Succinctly put, Kitty. Thanks.


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