A commercial shift for a downtown maritime property got a nod from the city's planning commission on Thursday.
The former location of Fawcett Boating Supplies at 110 Compromise St. was requested by the owner to be changed from a maritime zoning to commercial, specifically a conservation business district.
Though the vote on Thursday night was only for one property, the way planning and zoning officials spoke of it, they were charting a course for a new era for downtown Annapolis.
Local planning advisors working with the property owner indicated downtown Annapolis has changed over time, becoming less of a working maritime industry and more of a destination sailing capital.
“Maybe this was a place where the oystermen came in in 1987, but it is not anymore. It is a very different economy,” said Sarah Woodworth. “To be economically strong and compete in the 21st century, our downtown has to be strong.”
City Alderman Ross Arnett (D-8th Ward) characterized the change as a significant step toward shifting the tone in downtown Annapolis, but advised the commissioners consider options before voting.
“Once we make this change, there’s no going back,” Arnett said. “I think we have a way to go before we understand the full comprehensive picture here.”
The alderman compared the rezoning to what happens when you swap a single square on a Rubik’s Cube —the puzzle changes. Arnett said he was concerned about this shift setting the tone for future property changes.
He said the property may have other uses independent of commercial space. Arnett suggested that some of the smaller properties around the City Dock could be consolidated and used for larger ventures. He also suggested it could be a public space owned by the city.
Commissioner Wilford Scott asked Arnett if he was proposing the city purchase the property.
“I’m not proposing it, but that seemed to me what the mayor was talking about,” Arnett said, indicating an earlier meeting the City Council held with the City Dock Commission.
Though Arnett was articulate in his defense of spending more time considering the use of the property, the vast majority of residents who spoke during the public hearing portion of the meeting were in support of converting the property to commercial and ushering in a new era.
Carrie Mock of Eastport said letting the former Fawcett building sit unused was an eyesore for downtown Annapolis.
Rod Jabin said times have changed in downtown, and this was an opportunity to make the property viable again.
Before voting, Commissioner Scott said that the property owner was seeking the C2 zoning to correct a zoning error from years ago, and as proposed, they may be obligated by law to fix the mistake, putting other considerations aside.
Ultimately the commission approved the rezoning unanimously.