Capital Editorial: “Development will be on the Annapolis ballot”

Capital Gazette: May 8, 2017

By: Capital Gazette Editorial Board

Annapolis is a pleasant place to live, so it’s no surprise that when the economy gets sunnier, plans to build new homes blossom.

The number of existing homes on the market remains lower than normal, so the law of supply and demand takes over: People want to live in Annapolis and there aren’t enough homes to meet the demand — so build more homes.

A recent city report that 689 residential units are in the development pipeline —and more could be coming — shouldn’t be a surprise. It should be a call for Annapolis voters to ask tough questions in this election cycle.

A small city like Annapolis, particularly one where the largest employers don’t pay property taxes, is always looking to expand its tax base. It’s long-held wisdom that growth is a sign of a healthy economy. What’s good for business is good for the city, right?

But critics of current growth strategies have started to ask good questions about how well Annapolis balances development with the actual costs of services and the impact on quality of life. Traffic in particular remains one of the big Annapolis bugaboos, although we remain unconvinced it is as bad — or at least as uniquely bad — as some people contend.

Mayor Mike Pantelides and Ward 8 Alderman Ross Arnett, two of those with a large say in striking this balance, see a need for improvement. Pantelides told our reporter he’s “not happy with the way things are going,” particularly on big projects. Arnett criticized city planners for failing to take a comprehensive approach.

We can’t help but wonder why, if this is the case, they haven’t done more to make the changes they see as needed. But, of course, government changes slowly.

The big projects Pantelides is talking about likely include Parkside Preserve, the proposal for 127 residential units at the Eastport Shopping Center and the Village at Providence Point — the scaled-down and rechristened latest version of what opponents will insist on calling the Crystal Spring project.

Pantelides recently made a deal with the Parkside Preserve developers to conserve about 4.4 acres of forest, spending $1.5 million in exchange for stepping out of the way of development approval. Arnett has been highly critical of the planning process for the project in Eastport, which he represents.

As they consider candidates in 2017, voters should be asking about the proper role of City Hall in regulating housing development. In our view, setting reasonable guidelines is logical and possible, while trying to put the legal equivalent of a moat and castle wall around Annapolis is neither.

The success or failure of candidates with clashing views on development will be a strong indicator of the local appetite for more homes. It also will tell us a lot about what the city might look like 10 years from now.

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