Capital Op-Ed: “What exactly is responsible development?”

Capital Gazette: November 29, 2016

By: Greg Walker

Annapolitans for Responsible Development was recently formed. Its website asks you to sign a petition to “encourage our elected officials to promote responsible development.” Unfortunately, there is no further clarification. The implication is that if it generates jobs and taxes, it’s responsible.

The organization should include a threshold requirement that elected officials and city staff do what the law requires as they approve development. That would start to address concerns regarding growth found in many letters to the editor. For example:

•Safety. Annapolis’ ordinances require that certain developments get a sign-off from certain departments, including the police, before a Certificate of Adequate Public Facilities can be issued to allow the project. The requirement for getting this certificate is that the “ratio of police officers authorized in the current city budget to city residents shall not be less than 3.2 officers per every 1,000 city residents,” with “no exemptions … allowed for any projects.”

This ratio has not been met for years, yet projects keep getting approved. With approximately 39,000 residents, Annapolis is required to have 124 police officers (i.e., people who wear guns to work, not city managers, fire chiefs, etc.). There are currently 114 budgeted officers and 110 on payroll. Forget about the city’s liability for ignoring this ordinance — what about the consciences of city officials after every shooting?

•The environment. The 2009 Annapolis Comprehensive Plan has the force of law, according to the city’s lawyers. It mandated that the city create a Site Design Manual to replace the outdated 1986 Parking and Landscaping Manual and provide guidance on such subjects as landscape design, rainwater management, tree preservation, soil management and handling development.

We’re heading into 2017 and no such manual exists. Because creation of the new manual was a formal policy set by the comprehensive plan, state law mandates that Annapolis’ planned development ordinances and regulations must be consistent with this policy. They are not.

•Traffic. The comprehensive plan warns that “without a decisive course correction in transportation policy, by 2030 traffic congestion will impede the flow of goods and services, choke the quality of life in the city and its environs, and dim the ambience that attracts millions of yearly visitors.”

It also says, “by 2030 all major radial and cross-town routes will experience severe congestion, including significant sections of Forest Drive, Hilltop Lane, Bay Ridge Road, Spa Road, Taylor Avenue, West Street and Rowe Boulevard.” This appears accurate. In 2011, county traffic engineers advised Annapolis that the Forest Drive corridor “is on the edge of capacity, and we would hope that approval of new developments wouldn’t be given if it is likely that they will force Forest Drive into overcapacity operations.”

To help avoid predicted traffic problems, the comprehensive plan requires the city to develop new regulations to replace conventional methods for evaluating a development’s traffic impact. The plan set these new traffic assessment regulations as a priority item, to be in place within three years. Seven years later, they don’t exist. Again, state law mandates Annapolis’ planned development ordinances and regulations be consistent with this policy.

There are dozens of additional examples of city leadership and staff simply ignoring the requirements for approving growth. I hope signers of the new petition don’t find this to be “responsible development.”

Largely because of irresponsible development, Mayor Josh Cohen and some of his senior staff got caught in the “sweep Annapolis clean” movement. The current administration is doing much better, but the ongoing problems I’ve cited — and there are numerous other examples — are topics sure to be raised by voters in next year’s mayoral campaign.

Greg Walker is a retired attorney with an Eastport-based consulting business and has made presentations at Annapolis Planning Commission work sessions on traffic issues. He can be reached at

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