ANNAPOLIS -- After years of quietly cursing the economic forces that have transformed their neighborhood into a regional tourist draw, residents of Annapolis's nationally renowned Historic District have begun calling loudly for controls on visitor traffic.

In response, elected officials and business leaders have taken steps recently to try to tame the large crowds that roam the waterfront in search of entertainment each weekend.

"What we are afraid of is this will become another Georgetown," said John L. Prehn, president of the Ward 1 Residents Association, a civic group that represents the downtown area.

One outgrowth of the residents' concerns is a bill that would allow police officers to issue without warning $50 tickets to motorists whose car stereos can be heard from a distance of 50 feet. The bill, similar to laws in other resort towns and scheduled for a City Council vote early this month, is designed to crack down on the "boom cars" that cruise Main Street at night, according to its sponsor, Alderman John Hammond.

In early September, Hammond, who represents the Historic District, sent tremors through the downtown business community by announcing that he was considering drafting a bill that would require all taverns to close at midnight instead of 2 a.m.

Restaurateurs and other business leaders accused the alderman of not being sufficiently appreciative of the hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in tax revenue their establishments bring to the city. City officials estimate that 4 million people visit Maryland's capital each year, drawn by the U.S. Naval Academy, the city's colonial-era buildings and the Chesapeake Bay.

Once tempers cooled, the merchants proposed establishing a series of weekend patrols with citizens and police to identify the causes behind the disturbances and identify alternative solutions. Hammond agreed to hold off submitting his bill until after the groups submit their findings.

Jerry Hardesty, the owner of Middleton's Tavern, said that after four weeks, the patrols have proven useful, helping to exonerate the bars as the prime culprit. He and others now believe that teenagers who are below drinking age and may not go into the bars are producing much of the noise and litter residents complain about, and that the residents' concerns might be generational.

"In 1968, you could have taken a hand grenade and thrown it from the bottom of Main Street and not hit anyone; it was that quiet at night," Hardesty said. "But that has changed and now this area is like our civic center and we have to find something for the young people to do."

On a recent Friday, groups of young people congregated at the City Dock, occasionally yelling to friends in passing cars, but mostly talking among themselves. Some drank from bottles in paper bags until police officers ordered them to take their drinks out, but most just sat with expressions of studied boredom.

"People come here {from nearby suburbs} to find out where parties are, to look for their friends, until they can find somewhere else to go," said Jason Hill, a junior at Annapolis Senior High.

By midnight, most of the teenagers were gone and the streets were quiet for a time. Just before 2 a.m., however, the tempo picked up again with a brief scuffle between two bar patrons, and small parties of people gathering on the sidewalk to talk until the police urged them along.

While downtown residents have long complained about the proliferation of chain stores and high-price restaurants that have driven the working watermen from the city's public docks, their uneasy relationship with its visitors has reached a critical mass in the last two years as the number of smashed car windows, trampled flower beds and backyards used as bathrooms has increased.

In July and August 1989, police made 13 arrests in the downtown area, mostly for disorderly conduct, assault and theft; during the same period this year, the number jumped to 50.

"You don't want to kill the goose that laid the golden egg," said City Administrator Michael Mallinoff, "but if that egg hatches and it's a vulture, that can be a not particularly good thing."

One downtown institution, Buddy's Crabs and Ribs, recently applied to renegotiate its liquor license to extend its hours from midnight to 2 a.m. and to add a comedy and dancing club. The application is set to be considered by the City Council on the same night as the "boom car" bill. Some observers regard the two votes as a litmus test for the city's willingness to accommodate the residents.

"My constituents like to enjoy the Historic District too, and I don't think they like the idea of a bunch of young punks hanging around, talking tough language. They feel threatened, like it's not their downtown," Hammond said.