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New docks raise issues for some

Condo owners say floating docks could attract a bad element to downtown Annapolis

Cruisers arriving in Annapolis this year will have six times as many places to land their dinghies on Spa Creek than they had at the beginning of last season. The city has installed large floating docks at the ends of four streets upstream from the Spa Creek drawbridge and another at the end of Prince George’s Street, which borders the United States Naval Academy.

Until midway through the 2004 season, the only easy place to land a dinghy in Annapolis was at the end of Ego Alley, the narrow thoroughfare that juts deep into the busy downtown from Spa Creek.

“It’s kind of a no-brainer,” says Harbormaster Ulrich Dahlgren IV, who oversaw the two-year process that resulted in the new docks. “You have an alternative [without the docks] of climbing up concrete with sharp edges, abrasive surfaces and slime, or a nice dock with sixteen inches of freeboard.” An aluminum ladder climbs to the street end from each dock.

Some city property owners are still waiting to see if Dahlgren’s assessment is accurate.

“We were not opposed to the floating docks,” says George-Anne Fay, whose $1 million condominium on Market Street overlooks her private dock and one of the city’s new floating docks. “Anything that would give our neighbors easier access to the water we were for.”

But Fay, whose trawler is docked outside her condominium, says she and several other residents in the end hired a lawyer to try to put restrictions on the new docks. The lawyer was needed, she says, because the process by which the city created the docks “was very flawed.” And whether, in the end, the new docks will be acceptable to property owners is still in question, she says.

Fay says the issues that concerned property owners included the potential for scattered trash at the street ends and partying on the docks. They were also worried about parking on their narrow streets, the length of time that dinghies would be allowed to dock and the density of those dinghies at the docks, Fay says. Underlying the residents’ concerns, Fay says, is the belief that the docks are part of a larger movement to commercialize Spa Creek, the banks of which are now lined with homes and condominiums overlooking the peaceful scene of boats swinging gently at their protected moorings.

Dahlgren says the floating docks at the ends of Market, Prince George’s, Taney and Shipwright streets and Southgate Avenue are “just a better method of landing dinghies.” He says boaters were always allowed to bring their dinghies to the ends of the city streets. But in addition to the “slime-covered bulkheads with bolts poking out,” those landings were particularly inhospitable to older boaters, he says. “All of us boaters are getting older,” Dahlgren says.

“When we went with the project to actually start putting the floating docks in, we ran into some of the local residents claiming those street ends should only be used by residents and that boaters would bring a criminal element,” the Harbormaster says. “But we already had the permit.”

“Access to the water is ... historically sacrosanct,” the harbormaster says. “The earliest laws of Congress dealt with no one being able to interfere with access to the water.” Dahlgren says that his job is to reach a balance between the rights of residents and boaters. “It can be a tightrope walk at times, and I’m the guy walking that tightrope.”

Fay says that through their attorney, the residents managed to get some concessions from the city, including a limit on the number of dinghies that could moor at a dock at one time, and a promise to limit docking to one-night stays. She says there was also an agreement on the wording of signs at the street ends spelling out those rules. Fay emphasizes that she and her neighbors were not against boating, noting that some, like she and her husband, have boats and many others have friends who bring their boats to Annapolis and need places to come ashore. She says she appreciates the “diversity” of the city.

But Fay says that the agreed-upon wording of the signs was changed when the city finally erected signs at the street ends. On the issue of the length of stays, the permanent sign at the end of Market Street says only that boats left more than 48 hours will be removed. (Temporary paper signs at the end of Prince George’s Street limit overnight stays to one day.) Fay says that seeing the permanent signs, the residents ceased their legal challenges “because it just was not going to matter.” Dahlgren says the wording was changed “to conform to the law.”

The docks were in place for only part of the 2004 boating season, Fay says, and most boaters were unaware they existed. The $10,000 docks “look good,” she says. “Will they become party docks? We’ll see.”