The Capital: “Crystal Spring rally crashes City Council meeting”

Capital Gazette: April 11, 2016

By: Chase Cook, Capital Gazette reporter

A rally against Crystal Spring flowed into City Council chambers Monday, the participants holding signs, their mission emblazoned on each sheet: “Stop Crystal Spring. Help save the Annapolis we love.”

About 150 people rallied in front of City Hall and filled the council chamber during Monday’s meeting, where they continued opposition to the $200 million development off Forest Drive. A petition was submitted to the city with 2,202 signatures, a combination of 1,346 city residents and 856 from the county.

Opposition to Crystal Spring isn’t a new idea, but Monday’s rally focused on showing solidarity between city and county residents, organizers said.

“Today, we have shown that the opposition to this development is much deeper and broader, and includes a huge number of city residents — we are a diverse group of residents from the city and county who oppose this project for many different reasons,” said former senator and environmental activist Gerald Winegrad in a statement.

“Most importantly, we have shown we will stand together and take action to stand up for our way of life and the Annapolis we all love.”

The Crystal Spring project would bring apartments, continuing care for seniors, retail space, a hotel and townhomes to the Forest Drive corridor. The project is the largest development in Annapolis history, spanning about 111 acres.

This project, which has languished in development for more than five years, has caused concern among city and county residents. To them, it would bring too much traffic, harm the environment and overcrowd nearby schools.

Kathleen Peddigree, holding her “Stop Crystal Spring” sign, had concerns about emergency vehicle access, especially during heavy traffic or major events.

“What do we do in an event that we have to evacuate?” she said.

The opposition to Crystal Spring goes back years, even as the footprint of the project has shrunk. Developers have decreased the size of the project, cutting some townhomes, moving away from Crab Creek and made other concessions that have not sated those who oppose it.

Roxanna Rodriguez, who owns Caliente Grill in the Annapolis Neck neighborhood, told members of the rally that the project was too big and would negatively impact her business.

Rodriguez and others leaned on the recent fuel truck accident that shut down Forest Drive corridor travel for hours as crews cleaned up the mess. Those events would be worse with Crystal Spring around, she said.

“Our business is really effected by traffic,” she said, holding a small microphone that was hung on a light outside City Hall. “The project is really going to hurt our business.”

The developers of Crystal Spring have defended themselves from these discussions before, saying they haven’t finalized a plan yet and are working with the community throughout the development process.

Those developers are in discussions with the city to finalize a forest conservation plan. This details the environmental impact the project would have, such as cutting down trees.

Once that plan is completed, the developers would begin the process of crafting more detailed site plans, although the forest conservation plan will be an indicator of the size and scope of the project.

The council meeting was dominated by public hearing discussion. Several rally members spoke directly to the council in opposition to Crystal Spring.

After each person spoke, the rally would cheer and applaud, sometimes chanting “Stop Crystal Spring.”

Monday’s meeting while raucous, was the most intense when Annapolis activist Robert Eades rose to speak. Eades, who attends many of the council meetings, returned to discuss his concerns that Mayor Mike Pantelides was trying to eliminate public housing.

Pantelides said the city is not removing public housing. He listed off several programs planned with public housing officials such as free or cheap Internet for those communities and improving maintenance.

Their exchange got heated with both men throwing accusations at each other. It ended with Eades, who went over his allotted time, walking away from the podium.

“All I’ve gotten from you is BS,” Eades said.

“That’s what I get from you,” Pantelides said.

In other business, the council began holding public hearings and voting on legislation by about 9:30 p.m., after a short break. They moved through the several public hearings scheduled, with the rallies and public comments taking up most of the time.

Council approved Severna Park resident Chris Flynn as a new Housing Authority of the City of Annapolis Board of Commissioners member. The assistant state’s attorney was approached by the mayor to serve on the board. He was approved after his vote was delayed last week.

Only one bill was voted on at the meeting. It allows the city to collect a .25 cent fee per ride of ride-sharing services like Uber. This was enabled by state legislation passed last year to regulate services like Uber and Lyft.

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