By: Chase Cook, Capital Gazette reporter
Based on the city’s most recent report, there are 689 proposed residential units in the development pipeline and city officials expect more growth as developers feel more confidence in the economy.
That number — listed in the April monthly report — doesn’t include retirement communities, which could bring another influx of 529 age-restricted units for retiring seniors or those that need health care. Those projects are listed on the report, but their unit counts aren’t listed as they are not traditional residential properties. That number also doesn’t include new developments near Annapolis, such as the 293-unit apartment complex behind the Double T Diner.
For some, a boom in development means opportunities to increase tax revenues and keep property taxes from rising.
For others, a flurry of developments means more traffic for already congested areas.
If the city plans to continue allowing these developments, it seriously needs to consider long-term plans for traffic mitigation, said Annapolis resident Greg Walker. Walker lives about 100 yards outside the city and maintains his work office in Eastport.
Walker has become a constant voice in city traffic issues after he took interest when the Crystal Spring project was proposed several years ago.
He is calling on the city to live up to its pledges in the 2009 Annapolis Comprehensive Plan. One such plan is revisions and updates to the policies and regulations governing traffic impact analysis.
“Everyone knows we have a problem,” Walker said. “There is a growing perception that these things are not getting done.”
The city has not updated those rules in accordance to the comprehensive plan, which calls for a “more coherent and balanced urban planning-based evaluation of accessibility and mobility.”
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The city’s traffic impact regulations were modified in October 2015, though the amendment only changed the requirement threshold for traffic impact studies. Originally developments required 400 trips but the new law reduced that number to 250.
Officials stated this change would lead to more developments submitting impact studies and thus giving the city a better understanding of traffic impact.
Sally Nash, Annapolis chief of comprehensive planning, said the city also recommends the impact studies consider other approved developments as required by city regulations.
This prevents developments from building in a vacuum, Nash said. As for the comprehensive plan, it’s Nash’s job to ensure it is met when approving developments.
That can be a challenge when the comprehensive plan has conflicting goals, such as pushing for the city to have 50 percent tree canopy while also targeting areas, some of which have forested acres, as places for potential growth.
“It’s a balance,” Nash said.
Building in Annapolis
One of the largest incoming developments is a proposal for 127 residential units at the Eastport Shopping Center, titled the Lofts at Eastport Landing. The Baltimore developer Solstice Partners has envisioned a mixed-use project that blends apartments with retails and commercial uses.
The developers have pitched the project as reinvigorating a shopping center that has been somewhat down on its luck. A movie theater has sat empty for years and retail businesses and the shopping center are looking for more space and customers. The application is in the planned development review phase.
Alex Kopicki, principal of Solstice Partners, didn’t return a request for comment. In previous stories, Kopicki has envisioned the Lofts at Eastport would bring a site back to life.
Some of the struggles with the slew of development is in large part due to older projects that have been moving through the development pipeline, said Mayor Mike Pantelides.
These new developments show that Annapolis is a desirable place to be, but there needs to be consideration on the size of the incoming projects, like Parkeside Preserve, which are too big, said Pantelides.
The city recently made a deal with the Parkeside Preserve developers to buy 22 lots and conserve about 4.4 acres of forest that was set for clearing. It cost the city about $1.5 million but it also came as part of a deal not to obstruct development approval.
“I’m certainly not happy with the way things are going,” Pantelides said. “These large, massive ones, at the end of the day it doesn’t benefit the residents of Annapolis.”
A greater focus needs to be placed on the potential for growth as well as projects that have already applied, said Alderman Ross Arnett, D-Ward 8.
If the city plans for places with potential growth or redevelopment, it could prevent or improve traffic issues, he said.
“One of the problems is that when planning looks at things, they only take on what has been applied for,” Arnett said. “They don’t take a comprehensive approach to looking at traffic.”
Setting a standard
Forest Drive has long been a problem and the city may soon know, in depth, the scope of the zoning needs that will drive future development.
Officials are in the beginning stages of what is known as the Forest Drive Sector Study. This study also includes Bay Ridge Road, Aris T. Allen Boulevard and Eastport as these roads feed in and out of Forest Drive.
In non-city jargon terms: The study is trying to figure how to change and adapt development guidelines along a corridor that has gotten more congested over time and is viewed more as a pass through rather than a destination.
Alderman Jared Littmann, D-Ward 5, chairs the Environmental Matters Committee and recently held a meeting to get an update on the study as well as hear public comments on desires for Forest Drive.
If people want to spend more time in Forest Drive, rather than pass through, that could help with traffic flow and it will establish a better development vision for the sector, Littmann said.
“Right now it is just a road that people (use) to get from one end to the other as quickly as possible,” Littmann said. “The goal is to have private investors excited and to get private money into this sector.”
The time line of this study is expected to extend into 2018 as officials gather information, take public comment and hold meetings. It is anticipated that a plan could be adopted in summer of 2018.