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On the (Annapolis) waterfront, downtown redesign sparks debate

In November 2012, the Annapolis City Council heard the recommendations of a specially-appointed committee on the best way to revitalize the downtown harbor area. The committee had worked with a consultant for two years to come up with a plan that would make the area more pedestrian-friendly and more attractive to retail, commercial and residential development. This week, neighborhood groups will have a chance to respond to the plan in a formal hearing hosted by the city's planning commission.

There seem to be few complaints about the overall goals, and most stakeholders approve of some basic aspects of the proposal. For example, the commission has heard few objections to plans for wider sidewalks, more outdoor cafes and more green space. As one supporter put it, the plans offer residents and visitors "more ways to experience the water."

Still, several groups have already voiced their concerns over other key elements. The plan is built around a change to the zoning code that would allow, among other things, taller buildings on Dock Street. A group of downtown residents says the taller buildings and planned changes to traffic flow will have the opposite of the desired effect: Rather than opening the harbor up, the changes will block the view and damage one of the harbor's key assets, its historic character.

Most of all, the objections center on changes to parking lots in the area. The residents' group says that reducing the number of parking places will hurt businesses and will send visitors onto residential streets for parking. A representative from the group said the neighborhood wants the commission to come up with a comprehensive parking management plan before any changes occur.

Parking is a fairly touchy subject in any city redevelopment plan, and Annapolis will be no exception. While parking is critical to merchants, the plan also addresses an age-old complaint that parking lots hog the best views of the harbor. The plan, one proponent explained, does not do away with parking places. Rather, it opens up the harbor and opens up opportunities for better marketing of other existing parking facilities.

Source: Capital Gazette, "Annapolitans to sound off on waterfront proposal," Elisha Sauers, March 20, 2013

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