Developers are proposing a museum space at the former headquarters of the Naval Academy Alumni Association
If at first you don’t succeed with the social club, try, try again with the museum.
That’s the municipal approval path taken by a group of Virginia real estate investors who purchased Ogle Hall, an Annapolis mansion dating back to 1742, from the U.S. Naval Academy Alumni Association for $4.65 million in 2021.
In May, the city Board of Appeals granted investors a special exception to convert the upper floors of Ogle Hall, its carriage house and the adjacent Victorian house into a 20-room inn. However, the board unanimously denied the second special exception sought by Fair Winds Capital Investments to convert the outdoor courtyard and first floor of the auditorium into a Navy-related “social club.”
City Code stipulates that motels (defined as hotels with up to 20 rooms) only allow food and beverages to be served to guests, noted Bob Gallagher, board president. Adding a social club to the complex violates the spirit of that law, Gallagher said at the meeting.
Over the summer, developers submitted a new proposal to the city for the mansion, named after Maryland Gov. Samuel Ogle, that combines the planned inn with a “historic house museum,” with Ogle Hall’s first-floor rooms still classified as event. space.
Neighbors and Ward 1 Elly Tierney fear the museum plan represents a backdoor attempt by developers to finesse their initial proposal, arguing that their neighborhood doesn’t have the parking capacity to support the project, especially with the addition of a motel.
“This is a pathetic attempt to circumvent the law after a failed attempt (to set up) an event venue,” Tierney said. “The lawyer representing them should be ashamed of himself. We are smarter than this, and I cannot support this approach specifically in the historic district.”
“I don’t think it’s justified,” Phil Dills, an attorney representing Fair Winds Capital Investments, said in response to the criticism.
The Annapolis Planning and Zoning Department is accepting written comments on the museum proposal through Friday. Historic house museums are permitted in the historic district, so, as presented, the plan is only for staff review, not a public hearing.
In a statement issued Wednesday, Christopher Jakubiak, Annapolis’ newly appointed planning and zoning director, indicated that the review process may extend beyond this week.
“A competent evaluation of this application indicates that it requires more than a simple revision of the site design,” Jakubiak wrote. “We are currently working to determine whether the use is, in substance, similar to the use rejected by the Board of Appeals.”
He refused to answer any additional questions.
Dills denied accusations that his clients were looking for a workaround so his clients could host events in Ogle Hall, as the Alumni Association has done from time to time.
“I don’t think there’s anything in the application or reviews that suggests that,” he said.
Fair Winds wrote to the city saying the museum would display “a collection of objects including photographs, paintings, furniture and writings – both historic and newly created – as well as the objects that comprise the historic Ogle Hall building itself such as the Flemish brickwork, a symmetrical street facade and a window brachialis.
However, other historic house museums in Annapolis, such as the Hammond-Harwood House, house collections of artwork and objects related to former residents, including slaves. So far, the only things the new owners of Ogle Hall have are furniture purchased from the Alumni Association, Dills said.
Moving furnishings include rugs, mirrors, lamps, sofas and side tables, said John Schofield, the association’s director of communications. Some date back to the 19th century, but not to the colonial era. The artwork and artifacts either moved with the association to the new Fluegal Alumni Center or were returned to classrooms or to its donors, Schofield said.
Fair Winds’ plans for a museum should be accepted regardless of whether they have a collection ready to display, Dills said. The situation is similar to building a public restaurant space without knowing the end operator.
“There is nothing illegal about building on spec,” he said.
Neighbors disagree. Robin Elliott noted that good museums seek accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums, an organization that many other historic houses have successfully joined. Key evaluation questions include how well the museum has achieved its “stated mission and goals,” something the new owners of Ogle Hall appear not to have done, said Elliott, a lobbyist for Public Policy Partners in Maryland. What they could do, she fears, is create a nonprofit and take advantage of city regulations that allow nonprofits to obtain temporary liquor licenses and host events at the museum.
Dills responded to City Planner Kim Burke’s questions with a few details about the museum’s mission and goals. He said Fair Winds intends to include Ogle Hall as a stop on more historic home tours in Annapolis.
“The applicant believes that including the Museum District on such tours would be a welcome addition and would only deepen the richness of the historic Annapolis experience,” Dills wrote to the city.
Burke questioned Fair Winds’ plans for the 2,716-square-foot basement, which includes a catering kitchen and a large sports bar, which the Alumni Association uses for game day parties.
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Dales responded that the area “will be used as storage for the museum.”
In her comments, Burke noted that if the area were to function as anything other than storage, Fair Winds would need to create additional parking spaces on the site. Dills said his clients don’t want to do that.
Naval Academy graduate John Yeager, who has lived on College Avenue since 1996, watched Navy games on TV in the basement of Ogle Hall and was particularly skeptical that the new owners would stick to their commitment to never use the elaborate sports bar.
“There will be multiple social events,” Yeager said. “The museum proposal is just a veiled attempt to create their own social club.”
Yeager found out about the museum only after he noticed, around Labor Day, that the public notice sign in front of Ogle Hall had changed from “Proposed Lodge and Social Club” to “Proposed Lodge and Museum.”
Yeager said he and other neighbors received no notification from Fair Winds or the city.
“My biggest concern is the lack of transparency and honesty throughout the process,” Yeager said.