Capital Editorial: “Plan changes but controversy will go on”

Capital Gazette: January 19, 2017

By: Capital Gazette Editorial Board

We were once told by the would-be developers of the mixed-use project on Forest Drive that the name “Crystal Spring” was essentially arbitrary, as there is no identifiable water source on the property with that designation.

But while the spring might not physically exist, for about six years it has been gushing ink, much of it splashed on this page. Crystal Spring is not just an issue in its own right but a focal point for larger concerns about Annapolis’ attitude toward development.

The arguments will no doubt continue even after a major shift in the plan that can only be construed as a win for the opponents — the area residents who formed Concerned Citizens for Proper Land Use and put more than $100,000 into a legal defense fund, according to one of the group’s leaders, former state Sen. Gerald Winegrad.

Even before any formal documents were filed, the developers started whittling down the plan. The change announced on Tuesday is the most dramatic yet: The Rockville-based National Lutheran Communities and Services will go ahead with its planned retirement community, but the mixed-use commercial development — the flash point for much of the criticism — will be dropped. Connecticut-based Hillspoint LLC is out of the project.

Yet Concerned Citizens is not declaring victory, since Winegrad and his colleagues are wary of what might be called a “subdivide and conquer” strategy. Since National Lutheran doesn’t plan to acquire all of the land, what, they ask, prevents the owner from later submitting plans for intensive development of the other 66 acres?

The presentation Winegrad and others made to us on Tuesday incorporated other concerns: the development footprint for National Lutheran’s 48-acre site, reforestation, stormwater control and more. But the central point, to quote their position paper, is that the remainder of the land “should be put under a strict conservation easement extinguishing all development rights so the owner or other developers do not come in for more development after approval of the 400 units of senior housing.”

A high-handed demand about someone else’s property? Perhaps, but the opponents believe they are fighting not just for the environment, but to keep Forest Drive from being totally clogged by traffic — and to set rules and precedents for other local development proposals. They have shown they are willing to keep fighting and fighting — possibly not just through city government channels, but in court. The upcoming city election certainly won’t reduce their clout. It makes sense for them to keep pressing the issue.

National Lutheran may eventually get its retirement community. It’s certainly in a stronger position with its pared-down proposal. But the fight will continue, and the Forest Drive ink gusher will keep erupting. Everyone else may call it Crystal Spring; for us here at The Capital, it’s “Old Faithful.”

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