Capital Op-Ed: “New Crystal Spring plan unacceptable”

Capital Gazette: March 8, 2017

By: John Frece

At the behest of Annapolis officials, Crystal Spring’s developers have changed the name of their development, but have not eliminated any of the major problems that made the original proposal so unacceptable.

The new development, a senior living project called The Village at Providence Point, is still too large, would still cut down far too many trees, would still worsen already-serious traffic congestion and — most disturbingly — would do nothing to prevent far more extensive development on the original property later. Providence Point could simply turn out to be the first piece of the massive Crystal Spring development as it is implemented piecemeal over years.

The city needs to know that this revised plan — no matter what it is named — is not acceptable to city or nearby county residents, because:

•The development proposed by National Lutheran Communities and Services would include nearly 400 senior homes and 48 assisted living units, plus auxiliary buildings, new roads and more than 500 parking spaces. Such dense development would destroy about 30 acres of priority forest, which by law is supposed to be protected. The developer originally pledged to reforest on a one-to-one basis for every tree cut, but now plans to reforest only at the minimum level the city requires.

•The new proposal is on 48 acres, leaving 66 acres from the original Crystal Spring development wide open to further development. Under current zoning, more than 200 non-age-restricted homes could be built on those 66 acres. Within National Lutheran’s 48 acres, 10 acres are zoned for commercial development; this land, too, could later be developed with a strip mall and food store, as previously proposed.

•Polluted stormwater could significantly increase pollutants in the already-impaired Crab Creek and the South River. Pledges to manage or treat all stormwater from the site appear to have been jettisoned. The new plan appears to route stormwater to a large retention pond on the adjoining Mas Que Farm — land required to be placed under a conservation easement under the city’s annexation agreement. In the past, the city advised the developers this pond would not be allowed.

•With at least 500 new residents, plus work vehicles servicing the development, the added traffic will exacerbate congestion on Forest Drive, especially at the failing intersection at Spa Road. If the rest of the Crystal Spring land is developed, traffic will be even worse. The developers plan to make the major gateway to the development on Spa Road and have proposed a new traffic light there. A second access could be created at Forest Drive and Crystal Spring Farm Road. Unless the developer pledges other significant traffic improvements, the city must reject the plan because worsening the failing intersection at Spa Road would not be allowed under the city code.

•The proposed project would simply be too expensive for many area seniors to live there. The developer has estimated an average cost of a senior unit at about $500,000, with a monthly fee of close to $3,000 for a single resident.

•The development is not connected with downtown Annapolis in any meaningful way, failing almost every test for sound smart growth developments. Moreover, although National Lutheran billed the plan as a “community integrated” senior living complex, developers have told prospective buyers that because of violent crime at nearby Newtowne 20 and Woodside Gardens, they will build a security fence around the development.

As a senior citizen, I receive many solicitations for senior living developments in the Annapolis area. Most of the three dozen or so local senior living facilities have vacancies and many more units are being built.

As someone who drives Spa Road and Forest Drive daily, I ask the mayor to honor his pledge to stop Crystal Spring.

John W. Frece was State House bureau chief for The Baltimore Sun and UPI for 17 years and directed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s smart growth program. He lives near the Crystal Spring site. Contact him at The plan for the Village at Providence Point development has been posted with the online version of this column.

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