Making Waves

What’s in store for the maritime zones of Annapolis?

By Cheryl Costello

The iconic buildings and businesses around the Annapolis waterfront are the source of a growing controversy. After more than three decades, a task force will attempt to rewrite the city’s maritime zones—areas where landlords must fill their office spaces with maritime businesses.

The rules were put in place to retain Annapolis’s identity as a working waterfront. But after 30-plus years, local leaders are taking a fresh look at what’s best for the city.

Decades ago, condos and hotels were trying to build in maritime areas, threatening to “wall in” Eastport from the waterfront, longtime residents say. So in 1987, four zones were drawn around downtown, Spa Creek, Back Creek and Edgewood Road, preserving existing maritime spaces from redevelopment.

Over time, the maritime industry changed from a mix of commercial and recreational to almost exclusively recreational. Shifting trends mean that today’s property owners face vacancies and say it’s getting harder to find maritime tenants.

Longtime chair of the Maritime Advisory Board Tarry Lomax says Annapolis needs business owners to stay and new ones to move in.

“The per-square-foot cost to a landlord was going up, and that’s being passed on to tenants,” Lomax tells CBM Bay Weekly. “A lot of maritime tenants said, ‘I can’t afford that. I don’t need to be in a maritime zone. I’m going to move, I’m going to work out of my truck.’”

A maritime task force was formed, made up of more than 30 industry tenants, property owners, and people lucky enough to call the city home. They came up with ideas that the public can weigh in on and the City Council will vote on.

“The goal is that Annapolis grows as a hub for maritime services in the Mid-Atlantic region,” says task force chair Eileen Fogarty.

Another task force member, Patrick Shaughnessy, president of Farr Yacht Design in Eastport, says Annapolis should do more to attract and keep maritime businesses.

“Businesses like ours are actively recruited to move to other venues all the time. Annapolis just isn’t doing that type of work to recruit complementary businesses here,” Shaughnessy points out.

Farr Yacht Design, which designs racing sailboats for an international audience, is headquartered at the bottom of 100 Severn Avenue, below condos.

“The part of the plan that isn’t working is actively seeking maritime industry and helping them place themselves in maritime zones,” Shaughnessy says.

The task force has drawn up a report proposing changes that will go before the Annapolis City Council. Under the plan, 15 percent of a property’s building space could fill in with non-maritime business. A subsidy for large, industrial properties would incentivize land use.

“The goal is to get people to keep their boatyard, keep their on-land boat storage, provide a fuel dock. So they have to do that in order to get the subsidy,” Fogarty says. “It’s become clear that the standard maritime brick-and-mortar usage, there are fewer and fewer of them. So the idea is to reward and incentivize keeping those big open sites.”

Fogarty says these large sites, like Bert Jabin Yacht Yard on Edgewood Road, would be able to welcome a certain amount of non-maritime business.

The task force also recommends any business allowed to have non-maritime use pay into an Annapolis Maritime Industry Fund to help recruit and retain new maritime companies.

Finally, there would be an incentive for owners to offer public water access for the community and a reporting system to keep track of tenants.

“What this does is try and keep for the next period of years—whether it’s 10 or 20—these large, open working boatyards,” Fogarty says. That helps Annapolis keep its rich maritime history while trying to go with the flow of changing times.

Shaughnessy puts it simply: “The symptom is vacancy. The problem is the health of the industry and how we locate it here.”

The public will have a chance to weigh in on the strategy at the Annapolis City Council special meeting Sept. 27 (7pm, 160 Duke of Gloucester St.).