Capital Guest Column: “Crystal Spring plan isn’t smart growth”

Capital Gazette: April 20, 2016

By: John W. Frece, Capital Guest Columnist

The Crystal Spring developers have said their project represents smart growth, but it fails to meet at least eight of the 10 smart growth principles used nationally by communities to develop wisely:

1. Mix land uses. This encourages walking, shorter commutes and community interaction. Crystal Spring does mix residential and commercial uses, but those uses would be separated the same way a suburban strip mall is separated from nearby housing. This project fails this test by offering only three uses: a hotel, a strip mall and housing for the rich.

2. Use compact building design. This principle encourages higher densities, where appropriate. The high densities and six-story building called for are at Crystal Spring are inappropriate and far exceed the level approved in the city Comprehensive Plan.

3. Create a range of housing opportunities and choices. Communities should offer a range of housing, for people across the income spectrum and for families at all stages of life, including seniors looking for an affordable place to downsize. Crystal Spring would offer housing for only the wealthy.

4. Create walkable neighborhoods. Crystal Spring residents may walk to the strip mall on Forest Drive, but given the dearth of safe sidewalks, bike lanes or connecting trails in Annapolis, where could they walk or bicycle from there?

5. Foster distinctive, attractive communities with a strong sense of place. This principle urges quality design — creating places visitors will remember or easily identify. Crystal Spring is likely to look like any other strip mall and sprawl housing development.

6. Preserve open space, farmland, natural beauty and critical environmental areas. This is the biggest failure of the Crystal Spring plan and by itself is reason for disapproval. This project will destroy 40 acres of a rare mature city forest that provides natural beauty, wildlife habitat and critical runoff protection.

7. Strengthen and direct development toward existing communities. This is Crystal Spring’s only other possible claim to be smart growth. The city designated the land a Priority Funding Area intended for development under Maryland’s Smart Growth Law. But that designation completely reversed the county’s Annapolis Neck Small Area Plan, approved just prior to annexation, which said the site should be to be preserved as a greenway.

8. Provide a variety of transportation choices. This project is almost exclusively car-oriented. City buses traveling Forest Drive could enter the development, but the site is not transit-friendly. Traffic generated by stores, a hotel and 492 new housing units will worsen already-congested roads and failing intersections.

9. Make decisions predictable, fair and cost-effective. This project is contrary to the county Small Area Plan and exceeds the Comprehensive Plan housing limits. The city’s failure to adopt an acceptable forest conservation ordinance has caused uncertainty. The city has failed to nail down the developer’s “equitable contribution” for the cost of a relief road, estimated at $10 million or more. The required conservation easement for 75 acres of Mas-Que Farm is in limbo. Potential impacts on schools, infrastructure costs and the environment are not adequately addressed.

10. Encourage community-stakeholder collaboration in decisions. Rather than encourage community and stakeholder collaboration, public input has been stifled or disregarded. Rather than pulling together a coalition of interested parties to discuss every aspect of this proposed project, the city has worked unilaterally with the developers, who have refused to meet with opponents.

The proposed development should be rejected and a collaborative process meeting smart growth principles should be initiated.

John W. Frece directed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s smart growth program for five years before retiring in 2014. He also worked on smart growth issues for former Gov. Parris Glendening and for the University of Maryland’s smart growth research center. He was State House bureau chief for The Baltimore Sun and UPI for 17 years. He lives near the Crystal Spring site.

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