Annapolis City v. Paint Trial Wraps Up: Enlightening Testimony

Gavin Buckley (center), Annapolis restauranteur and co-defendant in the City lawsuit against a mural on his West St. establishment, shows supporters a time-lapse video of the mural being painted in 2015.
Gavin Buckley (center), Annapolis restauranteur and co-defendant in the City lawsuit against a mural on his West St. establishment, shows supporters (Janice Fisher and Hank Lobe) a time-lapse video of the mural in question at a break during the trial.

A riveting court case gripping downtown residents rolled into its second day yesterday in District Court on Rowe Blvd. The trial pits the City of Annapolis against successful restaurant owners Gavin Buckley and Jody Danek, over a paint job on their Tsunami restaurant.

Defense Attorney, Joseph Gormley, called co-defendant Gavin Buckley to testify. We learned that Buckley (now running for mayor), who sailed into City Dock a quarter-century ago, isn’t really the rebellious restaurateur that Assistant City Attorney Gary Elson painted him during last week’s arguments.

Buckley, it turns out, has a history of being a stand-up citizen and big-time rule follower as far as city code goes. He even received a Preservation Award for saving five historic buildings on West St. from a developer wanting to demolish them and build a parking garage right up to the sidewalk.

Buckley said when the city sent him a citation for peeling paint in April of 2015, he had a creative idea to rid his façade of paint peels. As one of a team of Annapolis art-lovers turning upper West St. into a lively area, Buckley enlisted the help of local artist Jeff Huntington to paint the building with something more interesting than gunmetal gray. But first, Buckley said, he checked the city preservation code, which reads, “The Commission does not review paint color.” (It’s on page eight if you’re checking.)

The paint job in question on the Tsunami restaurant on West St. Photo: Arundel Patriot Staff

Buckley said that he and Danek, who have painted the building several times since they’ve owned it, filed and received the appropriate permits to close the sidewalk to protect passersby. Huntington went to work in full view of city residents and officials during the First Sunday Arts Festival. City Manager Bob Agee posed for a photo in front of the work site and made no objections.

The defense’s second witness was Huntington, for whom the term “world class” isn’t an appropriate enough a description. His list of art exhibits and murals spans two decades and the globe, and he’s a professor of fine arts at Corcoran School of the Arts & Design, The George Washington University.

Elson seemed most upset that Buckley didn’t ask for the city’s permission and instead took it upon himself to interpret what “The Commission does not review paint color,” actually meant. Elson said that the city was suing to force the restaurant owners to retroactively apply for the permit they should have applied for in the first place. Once that happens, Buckley and Danek will be subject to the Historical Commission deciding the mural’s fate (over however long something like that takes).

The APat had to duck out before closing arguments for the defense, but other Annapolis supporters of the mural said Gormley made a strong argument. Gormley said that Lisa Craig, the city preservation specialist who slapped the team with the citation for the mural, shouldn’t be the gatekeeper of deciding who does what with paint. The defense rested, and Judge John P. McKenna Jr. said that he’d make his final decision May 10. Now all there is to do is wait.

The APat applauds Buckley and Danek for, at no small cost or hand-wringing to themselves, dragging the City kicking and screaming into the 21st century, while still being excellent stewards of our equally important history.


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