April 24, 2024
Annapolis, US 60 F

Real Housewives Rich Guys Of Annapolis

The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills has nothing on Annapolis. In fact, the theatrics that happened over the course of 8 hours last night, likely would win an Oscar or two.  If you want to read a recap of the the latest Annapolis City Council meeting, please read Elisha Sauers’ article in The Capital or Pam Wood’s piece in The Baltimore Sun.

2013-07-25 18.54.53If you want my semi-filtered thoughts on the circus that started at 7pm last night and did not conclude until 3am this morning, read on. A lot transpired. A lot of cards were played and to be honest, trying to get a grasp on it is difficult. Below, are my ramblings and thoughts (in no particular order) after spending 8 hours listening to testimony from Annapolis employees, high priced lawyers and their flunkies, and close to a hundred members of the public who wanted to voice their opinion on the redevelopment of City Dock and the potential development and re-zoning of 110 Compromise Street, also knows as the Fawcett’s property. OK, in the middle when everyone was saying the exact same thing I admit to a few rounds of Words With Friends with others in the audience–could not entice any of the Aldermen or the Mayor to play.

WARNING:  This is long–just like the meeting last night. It’s like 4400 words long!  But I welcome you into my thoughts and more importantly I welcome you to leave yours in the comment section. I think with a combination of your thoughts and mine, we might be able to come up with a workable solution. So, if you are ready, pull up a chair, grab a beer and here we go!

The Crowd

The meeting started on time at 7pm and the Council Chambers were packed with several hundred people. Mayor Josh Cohen explained

2013-07-26 02.07.04how the evening would work–as he is the one that alone gets to set the agenda. The City Dock Master Plan would be considered first and the zoning ordinance second. The City and the proponents of the plan and project would speak first, followed by the opponents, and finally followed by the public wishing to speak.  An audible groan was heard from the crowd as more than 70 had signed up to speak (at 3 minutes each)–do the math. This tactic by the Mayor was a favorite of former Mayor Ellen Moyer who used it to dissuade the crowd and hopefully convince them to leave before speaking.  Well played Mayor Cohen.

The crowd was overwhelmingly aligned with Save Annapolis with many wearing stickers to show their support. They all would clap in unison when a point was made for their side, and quietly snicker when they disagreed with a point made from someone not aligned with them.

The Circus

Save Annapolis came prepared. They had charts, easels, scale wooden replicas, an attorney, a pair of paralegals, an architect, a stenographer (in case the audio and visual recordings were not enough), and a gaggle of assistants carting around boxes and crates labeled “evidence.” Without a doubt they were loaded for bear and it became very apparent very quickly that Ed Hartman, the owner of United States Yacht Shows was the driving force behind Save Annapolis. As I watched at least a dozen people flitter about, I had to wonder what was really driving this opposition–surely it couldn’t be the use of 2 tiny parking lots for 8 days a year.  Another thought that crept into my head was why two publicity/advertising/marketing firms turned Save Annapolis down, before they landed with The Ford Group–not exactly sure where they are based.

The Confrontation

2013-07-26 01.32.45When it was time for Save Annapolis to present against the ordinance, the group’s attorney , Daniel Ward, did most of the talking. He asked permission to cross examine Jon Arason on the decisions he made while developing the new ordinance. At times, the chambers seemed more like the inside of a courtroom than a City council chamber. While the Save Annapolis group was pleased with the line of questioning and the vague answers (Arason was so not prepared for this), the Council as a whole seemed to be taken aback by the behavior of the attorney who seemed to be taking over the chambers.

Their attorney moved that Mayor Cohen recuse himself from the vote because he was biased. That motion was denied.

Several times, Mayor Cohen seemed to lose complete control of the Chamber. At one point, he interrupted the cross examination of Arason and Ward snapped, “you seem to want to help him a lot (Arason), so you just want to talk to me?”

When he was finished, Mayor Cohen had a few questions and tried to ascertain exactly whom the attorney represented. The Mayor wanted to know if he represented just Ed Hartman or all of the members of the coalition. The response was vague at best. And I commented on it.


My final tweet to Ward was never returned.

The Mayor also questioned Ed Hartman directly about some quotes Hartman attributed to Cohen in The Baltimore Sun. Cohen denied making them and seemed to be alluding that the mis-quotes may have been defamatory.

Throughout this process, it became very evident that Ed Hartman is calling the shots and is the puppet master in this circus. He has his fingers in much of what happens at City Dock.  Aside from his boat shows, his daughter owns Watermark Cruises and Annapolis Tours. Jane Campbell-Chambliss’ husband Pete (who testified) is an employee of Watermark as a Captain.

What Are We Fixing?

One question that kept being asked by some Aldermen and the public was “what needs fixing?”  Annapolis Director of Planning and Zoning, Jon Arason  explained that some visitors see Annapolis as rundown and the waterfront not nearly as appealing as it could be.  He said that we cannot keep ignoring Annapolis Towne Centre which offers convenience, as well as shopping. To support the assertion that Annapolis is not broken, former Mayor, Ellen Moyer testified that Annapolis sees 4 million visitors per year. This is incorrect. According to the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Conference and Visitor’s Bureau, Anne Arundel County saw 5.6 million in 2011 and the USNA saw 1.5 million. While mathematically possible, it is improbably that the City saw anywhere close to 4 million visitors when you consider that Arundel Mills Mall has been the top tourist draw for years. And with the addition of Maryland Live! Casino, visitors to Annapolis (as a percentage) is likely to drop. Being generous, Annapolis may have seen 2 to 2.5 million visitors in a recent year.

Screen Shot 2013-07-26 at 3.50.33 PMIf Annapolis is not broken, it is very close. We have three of the largest buildings in the core of our historic community sitting vacant. One for nearly a decade, one for nearly 4 years, and one for 7 months. Despite the sound bytes provided to the media, the City’s business climate is in trouble. Mayor Moyer said all was well when she left office. Mayor Cohen said it was a financial train wreck. They have been trading barbs ever since. But look at the vacancies downtown. The Annapolis Economic Development Corporation (funded by the City) has a locator on their website. It is not really easy to find, so here is the link. Type in “Main St”–there are 60 vacancies.  6 on Dock Street. 6 on Market Space. 1 on Compromise (but we already know that). 7 on Francis Street. And 19 on Duke of Gloucester Street.  Just on those 6 streets, there are 99 vacant commercial properties. And this likely does not include Horse that just moved to Annapolis Towne Center or Casa Nova that just closed up shop. Yes, some of this is due to greedy landlords that would rather take the loss write off, but we cannot keep our heads in the sand–Annapolis has a problem and something needs to be done! We can’t compete on dining or shopping, so it has to be on the experience, the ambiance, and the location–or location, location, location for all the realtors.

Penis Envy or Pocket Envy

I am also not entirely sure this whole charade is about re-zoning or re-development. In a figurative sense, it may be about penis envy.  On one side there is a guy who made an offer to buy a property which was turned down. On the other side, you have a guy who made an offer and it was accepted. Both have deep pockets and are engaged in a battle of who’s bigger–the pockets! It is reminiscent of high school to a degree. The scorned teen vows that if she can’t have him, then no one can. Ed Hartman has been the BMOC for many years. Now all of a sudden, there may be someone trying to take over.

The arguments have gone very personal and threats have been brandied about from all corners. Hartman says the Mayor threatened to re-bid the boat shows. The Mayor denies it.

We have heard that an individual’s pending membership to the Annapolis Yacht Club was blackballed when the sponsor mysteriously backed out and would not say why. One vocal supporter of Save Annapolis was told to back off by his employer.

Ed Hartman last night threatened in testimony that he’s take the boat shows away.

And on that note, it’s a bluff–and not a very good one. The boat shows have been run very successfully by Ed Hartman for years–he is a master. However, they are not the “Ed Hartman Boat Shows.”  Despite the legal name, they are the “Annapolis Boat Shows.” They have been here for years (thanks to Mr. Hartman) and the thousands of visitors that come here for them expect the show to be here. It is far easier for Annapolis to find another promoter (perhaps even one living in town that already has experience running the shows) to run the ANNAPOLIS boat shows, than it is for Mr. Hartman to take the Annapolis boat shows and put them on in Charleston or some other city.

Campaign of Confusion

Screen Shot 2013-07-26 at 3.34.36 PMFrom the start, Save Annapolis has mounted a campaign of confusion.

When Save Annapolis first popped up, I was asked to help promote their Facebook page via our Facebook page. I was more than happy as the focus of the group was to make sure the Mayor and Council were being up front, thorough and doing the right thing. I was all for that–still am. But there was a point that they lost focus of that and became, a vigilante group set out to destroy a project. And now it seems to have changed again into a group that claims to want to have a seat at a collaborative table.  For a group trying to “save” they seem to embrace “change” pretty well.

Many of their main talking points are valid–the need to understand the heights; and how will any changes impact parking in the area and beyond,are VERY legitimate. However, when the former Mayor distorts visitor numbers it causes confusion. When the Campaign Manager posts to Facebook that the new building will be the size of a Wal-Mart it creates confusion. That post also says it will be larger than 60,000sf. Testimony last night said under 40,000sf. Confusing, isn’t it? The City will lose two parking lots–one of my favorites is blatantly wrong. Part of the proposed ordinance contains provisions for a land swap. Save Annapolis has been saying that the City will lose two parking lots in the deal.  The City will lose ONE. The Donner lot remains–what the City decides to do with it in 5,10, or 100 years is not on the table. The lot they do lose is the Newman Street Lot which holds about 30 cars. But this will be replaced with an underground garage housing 70+ cars. Some have said an underground garage will never work. It may not, but it seems to be doing OK for the townhomes across the street; and this is not the point at which suitability is determined.

What the City gets in return for the parking lot is a 50′ setback from the water to create a promenade that could extend from the fenced-off Fleet Reserve Club around Ego Alley to the pedestrian gate at the USNA.  Additionally, the City gains riparian rights from the Fleet Reserve Club all the way up to the Donner lot–currently they do not have the right to use this waterfront and the current owners could indeed block it off as the Fleet Reserve Club has chosen to do. Incidentally, regarding the height–as it sits now, the owners of Fawcett’s could add a second story to the building–the zoning is there.

Another example of confusion. Jane Campbell-Chambliss testified that one of her tenants (a store) is opposed to the re-design of City Dock. In fact, I was in the store on Wednesday and spoke to the owner who was very excited at the proposition of the re-development.  Another store I visited had a Save Annapolis sign in the window and I inquired about it and they could not tell me about the issue. I asked why they had the sign up, and they said someone came in and asked if they could hang it in the window. There is dissension in the ranks of the Ward One Residents Association and the Annapolis Business Association.  Both are lead organizations in the coalition, yet the decision to take that lead role (and any potential legal or financial liability) was made by a select few on the board. I have spoken with a few Ward One residents and several ABA businesses who all disagree with the position their organizations have taken.

FawcettFromMemorialRemember, Save Annapolis formed their opinion on this ordinance and the Ordan project without having the benefit of asking any questions. They did not want to attend any public open houses to quell their questions. They wanted to march in the Independence Day parade and protest the project. All without the benefit of knowing exactly what was going on.  People have a pack mentality. A bully picks on a kid and you can be sure someone else will be there to throw in an errant kick. People also tend to believe much of what is told to them without any research on their own. I cannot fault the supporters because that’s human nature. But I can fault them for not asking any questions.  If someone told me they started an organization to prevent building a Wal-Mart sized building at City Dock that was going to eliminate all parking and take away two city lots–you can bet I would join.  And sadly, I think many of the supporters of Save Annapolis simply are confused and do not understand the scope of the project.

Here is a map I created with my understanding of how this project was to evolve. The various lots and properties are highlighted and outlined. Disclaimer: I am not a cartographer (although I suspect one might be hired for the next meeting to keep the stenographer company), and the lines are not exact–especially the purple line denoting the City’s new waterfront, but it is close!

View 110 Compromise in a larger map

But What About Fawcett’s

While everyone is fighting about the re-design, or the proposed drawings; we seem to have forgotten about the current owners of the vacant building. As Historic Annapolis will tell you, things have changed in Annapolis over the past couple of centuries. We are no longer throwing shit into the gutter to run into Spa Creek. Watermen no longer sell their catches at the Market House. You can no longer buy fried chicken at the Market House. Rams Head Tavern and the Shiplap House are no longer brothels.  And sadly, Fawcett’s Marine Supply is no longer a chandlery that can be operated on City Dock. The zoning ordinance and request has been in the works for three years. The City has been sitting on it in hopes that something else comes along–like the Ordan project–where they are able to realize the vision for City Dock that has been developed over the past three years. The owners have tried to sell and lease the building to a maritime interest, but in the past three years, only one deal was brought to the table before Ordan’;s and that fell apart when the investors did. Meanwhile, they continue to accrue legal bills, insure the business, pay taxes, and spend good money after bad marketing a property that is arguably an eyesore, and un-rentable as it is. The City, by not allowing the zoning changes has now prevented the owners from making a living. Is there another lawsuit down the road?  Yes, it was zoned maritime and they knew it. However, they did not buy it to flip it with the intention of changing the zoning. Times have changed in Annapolis and it is time we realized it.  Or maybe this is the best solution…..

Ditch The Committees

Very little good has ever come from a committee. The Mayor has said it is time to move on and begin to implement this plan and I tend to agree. But if the Mayor really wanted to move this (or any project) on, he needs to lead the way. Our Mayor is so fond of management by committee. Sometimes I wonder if there is a committee at City Hall to decide if the toilet paper hangs on the front or back of the roll. Yes, surround yourself with advisors Mayor Cohen, but for crying out loud–make the decision! It can only be good or bad.  And you always have the Council to blame if it turns out bad!  We have committeed this to death. We had a group of vested parties on the committee and in the end, the consensus did not sit well with some of them–the nature of the beast!  And from that springs Save Annapolis.  Honestly, did the Mayor expect anything less? Without discussing the merits of the Iraq War, President Bush (for better or worse) made a decision, he pitched it to Congress and the rest is history. And now Save Annapolis is calling for more committees and more studies because they weren’t appeased the first time around.

Save Annapolis’ Message

The message from Save Annapolis is not only confusing, it is changing. On July 5th, I sat down with 4 members of Save Annapolis. One was a relative of Ed Hartman, the other was an employee of the relative of Ed Hartman, another was a contractor employed by Ed Hartman and one was asked to represent the ABA. Was the deck stacked? You tell me!

We chatted about their issues with the re-zoning and the re-development and some of them are very valid. One major concern is the parking and the fact that a firm study has not been done recently. The concern was what happens when parking is scarce in the commercial area–will it overflow to residential? Great point and it needs to be studied. But the Ordan plan actually called for an increase in parking; and the elimination of all that parking was a separate section of the City Dock Master Plan that has no planned implementation date. They were concerned that the zoning change for the Fawcett property would impact every other maritime zoning property in the City. Despite that the zoning was specific to that parcel, they felt it would set a precedent–maybe it would, but that is for a judge to decide down the road. They were concerned with the allowable height of the buildings. Again, this is a valid point and there might have been some room for negotiations. Absent any willingness to speak to the proposed developer, we will never know.  Perhaps the most valid point they brought up is that they do not trust the Mayor (my words, not theirs) because if you look at his track record, there is no indication that this will not turn into a boondoggle like the Market House.  Hey, I can buy that. But we elected him, and maybe we need to give him a chance–and remember the Market House was not entirely his doing.

As I always do when I interview someone, I send a draft for them to review or correct prior to publishing. I sent it to Save Annapolis, and upon receiving their response,  I decided to not publish it at all. Typically there are some minor additions, corrections in word choice, spelling errors and typos but the response back included three additional attachments and the finished product would not have reflected the conversation we had–sort of like the guy last night who was adamant he did not want the steeple of St. Mary’s blocked by the high rises planned for City Dock. I did tell them to please continue sending their letters to the editor and press releases and I am more than happy to run them, but I could not reconcile the hour spent with them to what they wanted the finished product to be.

There Are Problems

Don’t get me wrong, there are problems with the City Dock Re-Development and the Ordinance for the Fawcett Property. I have been skeptical from day one and remain so. But I remain open minded and willing to listen.

On the Ordan project, the rendering looks like a big building. I am not sure it physically fits, although the partners in the project have assured me it does.

Courtesy of Annapolis Chatter, Facebook
Courtesy of Annapolis Chatter, Facebook

Yes, the Fleet Reserve Club has a right to bitch–they are going to lose their view and that sucks. But, if they want the view (and expand their already overcrowded deck as they testified last night), I can put them in touch with the owner and they can buy it.  They will also lose the use of the 2 or 3 parking spaces that are currently occupied by their dumpster. I wonder if they need to go out and feed the meters or if Officer Friendly cuts them a break?

The conversion of the circle to a T is just stupid. Alderman Sheila Finlayson said it best to Jon Arason…”We just took out an intersection (Westgate Circle) and it is working great. So why do we want to rip out a circle and replace it with a traffic light?”

The height restriction and the possibility of new buildings being built between those on Dock Street and the water is an issue. I suspect there can be some compromise on specific spots, but why they are considering new multi-story buildings on the water is beyond me.

Parking needs to be addressed before any bulldozers roll. The City is working on a wayfinding program, HIllman is scheduled to be replaced, and we have a Circulator that is increasing gin popularity. Together, these will (or should) be able to cure the parking woes, but we need to look into it. In the short term, the Ordan project has a positive impact on parking.

Money. Let’s be honest, a few years ago, the City didn’t have a pot to piss in. Now they have a pot, but there is a hole in the bottom. I do not see the City having the money to undertake a project of this size in the near or distant future.   The Master Plan can, and should, be a guiding document for the long haul-not a specific construction drawing as the Save Annapolis attorney alleges. The separate components can have the  more detailed blueprints which can be drawn up and modified at the time of construction. Doing an economic impact study or traffic study today for a project to be built in 2025 is ludicrous. During the meeting, their lawyer slammed down a stack of papers about 12″ high claiming it was a “Master Plan” and declaring that the City’s was not valid. Who died and made him the definer of Master Plans?   But we are not Bethesda or Rockville so please don’t insist that we follow their plans. A comprehensive plan is not a permanent document. It can be changed and rewritten over time. There is no reason this Master Plan cannot be implemented in stages–Fawcett property, boardwalk, Donner lot, seawall, Dock Street Parking, etc. as the funds become reasonably available.  If the parking removal is planned  for 2023, we can look into it and develop specific plans (in accordance with the Master Plan) to accomplish it with current data.With the Ordan plan, we are striking while the iron is hot. The deal may be dead–maybe not. But if it is dead, how long will it take for another one to come around? Or will the current owners do a long term lease (or sale) to tie up the property indefinitely.  We has a similar situation last year with the garage. There was an opportunity and we needed to move fast. We blew it and now, in hindsight, I think most regret not moving forward.  It makes no sense to start over just because you didn’t get the answer you wanted.

Politics and timing are in play here. When the council changes seats all pending ordinances are dead! Back to square one.  So you can be sure this will be voted upon in September. Mayor Cohen is vulnerable in this election with Bevin Buchheister in the race (officially still undeclared). But she too may not have the backing of as many Ward One residents as she thinks because of the affiliation with Save Annapolis. Will there be a third candidate to enter the democratic race to muddle it up? Mayor Cohen is an ambitious guy and told me once that if he could remain Mayor of Annapolis for life, it would be his dream job. He is term limited so he needs to think ahead. Politics has been his life and to successfully move on from here, he needs to leave a legacy–preferably a good one. Certainly the Market House is not gonna cut it. Yes, he worked on a tough budget through a recession, but so has every other politician and person in the Country. But this Master Plan…to leave a vision behind for Annapolis to develop over the next 20+ years might just be the legacy he needs. And his legacy could very well begin in December if a new Mayor is elected.

In The End

In the end, I am very confused. The level of disdain and ire demonstrated by Ed Hartman seems very disproportionate to the loss of 2 small parking lots for 8 days a year–Ordan even offered to rent the garage to him in perpetuity for the shows. Why does someone go to the expense of creating a legal team to thwart a business transaction. Is there another story in play here?  And have all the supporters of Save Annapolis merely been swept up in the wake of wrath Hartman is leaving behind?  I am not sure we will ever know, but I can tell you the next few months will be very interesting on a number of fronts.  If the zoning and Master Plan passes (which I predict it will…Cohen, Kirby, Littmann, Finlayson, Hoyle with a possible for Paone), will Hartman make good on his threat and try to pull out the boat shows? Will this gamble work out for Cohen politically? Will Ordan return to the table? Stay tuned…

To Voice Your Opinion Officially

At the end of the meeting, the council closed the verbal public testimony on both the City Dock Master Plan and the Ordinance. However, they will accept written comments until August 30, 2013 at 5:00pm. Be sure to include your name and your address. You do NOT need to be a City resident to comment.

What I Learned

However, after 8 hours and 51 minutes in a City garage, I learned that the residential parking coupons don’t do squat beyond 5 hours!

2013-07-26 08.56.06

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