Zoning By Emotion: 110 Compromise Street

| June 28, 2013
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In the last few months, two groups have popped up to protest two specific projects that potentially may be built in Annapolis–the Crystal Spring Farm complex off of Forest Drive and a proposed re-development of the former Fawcett’s building on Compromise St.

These projects are complex and are not simple. There are many facets that come into play including mis-information, emotion, business climate, and hesitancy to converse. Fair warning, this editorial may be rambling and long, but I think there are some valid points to ponder. Today I am focusing on the 110 Compromise Street project–later for Crystal Spring!

You can find out about Save Crystal Spring movement at their website or Facebook page.  You can learn more about Save Annapolis at their website or their Facebook page.

Both projects are being fast-tracked by Annapolis Mayor Josh Cohen, and that alone is of concern. History has shown the City is unable to do anything fast–Market House anyone? So, there very well may be a hidden agenda present in this election year that just recently developed two opponents for the Mayor.

Social media is a great equalizer. It gives the little people a voice and when used correctly, it is a great asset to the cause. Conversely, when used incorrectly, it may not have the desired outcome.

21346_173911652783356_219384703_n110 Compromise Street

Save Annapolis was hastily formed when the City introduced an ordinance to change the zoning of the Fawcett property away from a maritime use to potentially facilitate the sale of the 3 year vacant eyesore. The group is opposed to the spot zoning and feels that it would set a precedent for many other properties in the City looking to develop away from maritime use.  They state they are opposed to the City Dock Master Plan in general and have made 110 Compromise Street their focus.

While the coalition accuses the potential buyer and the City of not being transparent, they are guilty of the same. They have based much of their arguments and reason for support on emotion and false information.

Stop preying on emotion

At a press conference this week, the coalition launched a bunch of balloons surrounding the Fawcett building to demonstrate how tall the proposed building might be. It was a very strong visual and the crowd seemed very offended. What was not disclosed is that the proposed ordinance they oppose has nothing to do with the height of any building. In fact, the height they mentioned, 45′ tall, is already in the zoning regulations! If Fawcett’s was operating there today and needed more space, they legally could add a floor and a half. The Fleet Reserve Club was very much opposed to the height because it would block their view. This is akin to the person who buys an apartment in New York City and afterwards complains about the traffic noise.

Yesterday, Save Annapolis posted a copy of the architect’s rendering along with the comment. “Here is what the developer is proposing. This is the view from Main Street. What do you think? Look historic?”  Of course it doesn’t look historic. It is new construction and looking historic was nothing but a red herring to garner support.

I commented on the post saying that no building on the water side of  Compromise Street is historic looking. I suggested that the building proposed is much more attractive than the existing Fawcett’s building that most closely resembles a very large pile of cinder blocks.

Compromise (not the street)

To my knowledge, the Save Annapolis leaders and the prospective developers have not had a conversation about their concerns. The knee-jerk reaction was to form a coalition and kill it for the sale of killing change in Annapolis. No one likes change; but sometimes is is a necessity. Our downtown area is dying despite the rosy picture painted by the Annapolis Economic Development Corporation. We have dozens of vacancies on Main Street, a Market House that still remains to be seen if it will work, the vacant restaurant that was Hell Point Seafood, and of course Fawcett’s among others.  It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that these vacancies were created due to a lack of business.  So, why are people resisting change that might actually help revitalize parts of downtown?

The Business Climate

Annapolis City does not have a reputation as a business friendly city. You can ask the owners of the dog wash that just opened in the Eastport Shopping Center or the owners of the Fox’s Den that it valiantly trying to open. You can ask any new business about their experience with the City and you will hear a predominantly negative experience. That is one issue that keeps business away–or at least soured, on Annapolis.

The other are the merchants themselves.  Some get it. Most don’t. The fact that you exist and have a sign does not mean that you should be successful! I have asked countless merchants on Main Street and Maryland Avenue why they are not open later in the evening? With few exceptions, they all said that it doesn’t work. Yet those same people had never tried it for a reasonable and measurable period of time. Nine to five is a thing of the past.  I challenge a merchant to monitor the cash register for a year. Open from 9 to 6 for half of the year and tally the sales between 9 and noon. Open from noon to 9 and tally the receipts between 6 and 9pm and see which is more!  For the past three years I have seen more than a thousand people gathered around the City Christmas Tree in November. And I have seen thousands head home because the only thing open were the bars and restaurants.  Businesses are chasing their own market away. In a nutshell, the residents of Annapolis are NOT supporting downtown merchants for a variety of reasons–needed businesses are at the mall and Annapolis Towne Centre, covered and plentiful parking, convenience to a commute, or something else.

Today’s consumer is not Ozzie and Harriet. They are a two income family with kids. In this economy, they are likely working multiple jobs and longer hours. They have homes to maintain and children to raise. So, between the honey-do list, the little league games, the piano recitals and just having some pure down time, when are they expected to shop? Does anyone really think that it is between 9am and 6pm in downtown Annapolis? Why are they flocking to the mall and ATC? Maybe because Target is open late so they can get there after the kids go to bed. There are a myriad of reasons.

The Solution

Who knows. I am not saying I agree with the building or the project. At this point there is too little info out there now.

Residents of Annapolis certainly have an opinion on the matter and it is important. But we also have a commercial district that is (for various reasons) not fully supported by locals. We do depend on tourism to a great degree in this City and we probably ought to ask the tourists how they feel?  Would you eat here, buy a cup of coffee, stroll and visit any of the inside shops, plant your butt on the bench and enjoy a snack from the Market House, etc. We do need to appease our residents for sure, but we also need to cater to the tourist and out of town visitors.

Annapolis is indeed historic, but sometimes, things do ned to change. Last time I checked we were not tossing buckets of human waste into the gutters to run into Spa Creek. Fawcett’s is not only a vacant building, but has become a big grey eyesore and something needs to be done.

Yes, we need more information to make an informed decision. Yes there are a lot of concerns. Yes, they need to be addressed before anything happens. Yes, the Mayor and Council seem to be fast tracking this for some reason. Reportedly, the deal may die if the zoning is not permitted, but that’s OK. There is not (that I am aware) a specific date required; and there is not a long line of buyers waiting to put a bid in on the property. If the buyers are truly serious about being good neighbors and working with residents, they will wait and let the process happen and allow all the questions to be answered.

My Questions

And speaking of questions, here are a few of mine.  Without the benefit of a tape measure, I find it hard to believe that a building of what appears to be a significant size can fit in the spot–especially when you shave 50′  off the waterfront. Is this possible? Or just an architect’s drawing done from some Google map?

The project looks large. Do the investors have enough financing lined up to do this. I have heard the projected cost is $20 million. But to me, admittedly naive in terms of commercial real estate and construction is it enough? They need to acquire the property, obtain permits,demolish the old building (and pray for no leaky hidden tanks or ancient bones), clear the land, build an underwater garage, perform street improvements and streetscaping, and than build the building! Is $20 million enough? The last thing we need is an unfinished, unfunded halfway done project on the waterfront.

Again, I am not saying it is a good project or bad; I am suggesting that there is not enough information available yet to vehemently oppose or feverently cheer.

And, I kind of like the look of the building. The street side looks reminiscent of downtown with varying facades and the end seems to have maritime ties and is not too dissimilar from a cruise ship.

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Category: Editorial, OPINION

About the Author ()

John is the publisher and editor of Eye On Annapolis. As a resident and business owner in Anne Arundel County for more than 15 years, he realized that there was something missing in terms of community news--and Eye On Annapolis was born in late spring 2009.John's background is in the travel industry as a business owner, industry speaker, and travel writer. In terms of blogging and social media, he cut his teeth with MSNBC.com.
  • Gary Reich

    “Annapolis is indeed historic, but sometimes, things do need to change.
    Last time I checked we were not tossing buckets of human waste into the
    gutters to run into Spa Creek. Fawcett’s is not only a vacant building,
    but has become a big grey eyesore and something needs to be done.”

    Yes. This.

    If maritime zoning is so great, and so beneficial (something Save Annapolis is touting as a reason not to rezone) then why has the building sat empty for three years?

    Many people in Save Annapolis are in the maritime industry and are petrified that this one maritime rezoning spells a slippery slope that will cause mass rezoning of the maritime-zoned properties they rely on to do business.

    They don’t give one crap about historic preservation or “saving Annapolis.” They, like almost everyone, are looking after their own special interests, which is why this thing is a complete mess. And hey, I’ve been in the marine industry in this city for 23 years.

    When the people who live here realize that the only way we’ll rejuvenate downtown is to build and do things that attracts businesses and visitors from outside of town–not for people who live here already–then maybe there will be progress.

    Downtown is here to generate revenue for the city, provide jobs, and provide a nice place that residents can also enjoy.

    “Save Annapolis,” indeed.

    • Taylor Michie

      I agree with basically all of your arguments, except for those in the second to last paragraph. I’d argue that things in downtown are already well-suited for tourists; take John’s point about the business hours situation. Having daytime hours like that is great for sightseers, but not for people who are actually at work during the day.

  • Nicholas Zahn

    I reached the same conclusions when I was looking at their website. They were complaining about building heights, then link to the regulations that are already in effect. They aren’t fighting to stop changes, they are fighting to preserve a cinderblock warehouse. Also, has anyone noticed the 7 story marriott waterfront next door?

    Also, preserving historic nature of downtown? The mock-up seems to resemble the AYC building two doors down.

  • http://www.eyeonannapolis.net/ John Frenaye

    We haven’t because the City has spent like a drunken sailor during the boom times. Now, not so much.

    And I do like several aspects of the CDAC plan, I think it might be more doable had they been able to pull off the parking garage at the school.

    But realistically, the cost to redevelop the waterfront according to the plan (and they were not given any budgets or anything) is likely to be close to $100M. And with the City’s unfunded pensions, deteriorating water and sewer system, and bloated payroll, there is no way that will come to fruition in the mid-future. I suspect the quarter million we spent on the study will be shelved and some future Mayor will be the one to create a new study and act upon it.

  • Jessica

    I’m so sick of people complaining about lack of parking. I live in Eastport and drive / park downtown constantly. I’ve literally never had a problem. Ever.

    • http://www.eyeonannapolis.net/ John Frenaye

      Parking downtown at metered spaces can be an issue in my experience if you are looking to stay for an extended period. The garage is a great altermative (especially with resident coupons), but it is not very well marked. I do have to say it is rare that I do not see open spaces on upper Main Street. On New Years Eve this year, I was able to get one right in front of Maryland Inn–and that should have been impossible.

  • Mark G

    Well said!

  • H. Ford

    The Coalition’s goal is to encourage the City of Annapolis to
    create a comprehensive City Dock Master Plan that preserves our 300 year-old tradition of commercial, historic and maritime activity. What we have now is a vision statement and a zoning ordinance.

    The Coalition opposes “spot zoning” and is concerned that this precedent-setting, piecemeal approach will
    destroy Maritime and Historic Zoning laws that have been in place for decades.

    What’s the rush? The current ordinance puts the cart before the
    horse. Its piecemeal approach is counter to a more reasoned well-thought out
    process that that this community deserves.

    • http://www.eyeonannapolis.net/ John Frenaye

      I do not disagree there Heather. There are many unanswered questions and the project may be very bad…or good. But waging an emotional battle of words is not likely to sway many. Just this evening, the “coalition” stated that the proposed design will be the size of a Walmart. Just a slight exaggeration.

  • Robyn

    It is important for any zoning changes – particularly those for a property in a setting like the City Dock – to be thoroughly studied regarding its impact on Annapolis as a whole.

    That is why I am deeply concerned about the current proposal at 110 Compromise. The developers just hosted their first informal meeting to reveal their plans this past Wednesday. The public hearing on this ordinance is just over one week away..

    There is virtually no time for members of the public to ask questions and for the developers to incorporate their feedback before the City Council’s public hearing.

    I agree with the Coalition’s proposal to alter the process so that there is time for real public input of residents and businesses on the entire City Dock Plan. Annapolis is worth the time.

  • Bob Jones

    John,

    How can I find an authoritative reference to support your statement that 110 Compromise is already zoned for a 45 foot building height?

    How might one assess the alleged risks of spot zoning creating an unstoppable chain reaction destroying maritime law vs. providing critical flexibility to let well-conceived projects move forward?

    Your concerns about building costs likely being far greater than $20 mm.

    Gratefully,

    Bob Jones

  • Lets get real

    It would be interesting to hear the concerns and opinions of everyone if they happened to be the owners of this building that have been trying to communicate with Mayor Josh Cohen at an untold personal cost to them and their families. Terry and Greg are freinds of mine so I am perhaps a bit more attuned to the hoops they have been jumping through,

    When asked three years ago to consider rezoning, our mayor first was agreeable then, not so much. From not so much he advanced to absolutley not. He would not act on their requests until the master paln is complete, end of storey!

    Chapter two, a new developer comes in and wants ro make sweeping changes to city Dock (the focal point of our city) including higher, wider and deeper and all of a sudden the mayor decides to fast track the exact spot zoning that he vehemently opposed two months ago. What is going on in City Hall? We should all be asking that question now and when the next election comes around, The mayor is supposed to be the responsible steward of the city, it is not his plaything to do with as he pleases in an effort to gain some political capital to use when campaigning for higher office.

    As someone who has been involved in the marine business in Annapolis for close to forty years, I do believe that to hold one Annapolis property to this zoning requirement (everyone else is grandfathered in or engaged in non profit endeavors like AYC or the Fleet Reserve) is an approach that would not pass the reasonable man test. I wish the marine business was the same as it was when it drew mehere , but it is not and it is doubtful that it ever will be. There is however an alternate path and that is to pursue a direction that honors and perpetuates our marine heritage without demanding that each new business service the industry. If you haven’t been around a boatyard lately, they tend to be noisy and a bit messy, but that is a permitted use under the current zoning. How about if put in a Jet Ski rental and repair facility on this site?

    While this is an emotional issue, it is a practical matter that will require balanced objective input. I hope everyone stays true to their values while remaining open to alternate solutions that may require compromise.

    Without a lot more transparency in how this development surfaced so quickly with the the unbridled support of the mayor, I can’t believe anyone would support it. I do support accountability and I hope the voters of our city keep this issue fresh in their minds regardless of how it is resolved