By: Gerald Winegrad, Stop Crystal Spring
Traffic, school overcrowding, and environmental degradation linked to city annexations of land from the county and other developments make most residents suffer, especially on the Annapolis Neck Peninsula.
Developers, land speculators and their attorneys exert an undue influence over city elected officials to the detriment of the common good, as is evident in the recent evisceration of ordinances designed to prevent school overcrowding and protect forests.
For decades the city has thumbed its nose at the county and allowed new residential development to add more students to overcapacity schools. Developers have blocked all attempts to pass a law parallel to the county’s that would prevent such developments from being approved for six years or until the school overcrowding is resolved.
The result: Tyler Heights Elementary has 13 trailers for classrooms; Hillsmere has six and Annapolis High has eight. In the county, any new developments are prohibited that would add students to these schools — but not in the city.
In July 2015, an ordinance was introduced to adopt the county approach. It was blocked by developers. A work group was appointed to examine the issue while the city allowed a bad situation to get worse, threatening the quality of our children’s education.
Now, the ordinance has the votes to pass, but only because the proposal has been rendered all but meaningless. Instead of stopping development when schools are over capacity, the city would require elementary schools to reach 110 percent of capacity and Annapolis High to be at 120 percent of capacity. This conveniently allows city developments to proceed unimpeded, as only Tyler Heights would be covered, and then only until 2020, when a planned addition or new school is completed.
Massive developments like Crystal Spring could be built sending more kids to trailers at county schools. The appointed work group rejected such an increase in capacity.
The loss of forest cover to development leads to the poisoning of our creeks from polluted stormwater, degraded air quality and wildlife habitat loss. The Crystal Spring development would destroy about 40 acres of contiguous priority forest; the development next to Quiet Waters Park would strip 12 acres and Rocky Gorge has cleared 8 acres.
The city failed for 23 years to adopt the requisite ordinance to implement the state Forest Conservation Act that I worked for two years to pass. Attempts to adopt sound city legislation failed to move because of the objections of the development community.
The latest ordinance is a weak approach to forest conservation. Leaders in the conservation community — including the Sierra Club, the South River Federation, the Severn Riverkeeper and the Annapolis Neck Peninsula Federation, as well as Jim Urban, an expert in urban forestry and a former chairman of the planning commission — have strongly opposed the measure.
All of us offered constructive changes that would draw our support for the legislation, many of them recommended by the city planning commission and included in a previous version. But none of these important changes will be adopted, because of the opposition by the development community
The city attorney found a violation of the annexation agreement with the owner of Crystal Spring and Mas Que Farm in that all existing habitable structures were to be connected to city water and sewer within 10 years, but were not. Such violations result in higher fire insurance for all city homeowners and businesses due to the ISO rating 2. Collectively, this has cost city residents and businesses hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Instead of acting to revoke the annexation, a resolution was introduced to “reform” the agreement on terms mutually agreeable to the owner and the city. Now, even this feeble plan is being delayed again, as developers object to any such reformation.
Citizens should not be fooled by these feckless actions.
Gerald Winegrad is a former state senator from Annapolis who now leads a citizen’s coalition against the development plans for Crystal Spring. Reach him at email@example.com.