With the New Year upon us and with the passage of one month since the newly elected mayor and City Council were sworn into office, it is time for them to take action on their campaign pledges on development issues, particularly Crystal Spring.
Mayor Gavin Buckley and five of the eight aldermen pledged in a questionnaire to support the public purchase and protection of the Crystal Spring property either outright or through a conservation easement. This could be done with the mayor leading the way, inducing General Assembly leaders to find the funding through Program Open Space and a special bond bill.
This would give permanent protection to 125 acres of increasingly rare mature forest with the owner having an opportunity to keep her land for equestrian purposes and in open space and to be fairly compensated for the land.
If this proves impossible after efforts are exhausted, Buckley and five aldermen have agreed to ensure the entire 179-acre Crystal Spring/Mas Que Farm property would be limited to no more than the 140 housing units allowed under the city’s Comprehensive Plan, including any senior housing, while also preventing any commercial/retail development on the site.
The mayor and five aldermen also pledged to support making improvements to city development laws. One ordinance would prevent school overcrowding, paralleling county law. A previous attempt resulted in an emaciated ordinance weakening the originally introduced ordinance as developers and their attorneys pushed amendments through.
Now, there needs to be a new law simply paralleling the county law. After all, these are county schools. The ordinance would stop any new development of four or more units for six years if the receiving public school is overcrowded. If the overcrowding is resolved, then the development could proceed before six years expire.
Another change agreed to by the mayor and five aldermen would protect our remaining forests by requiring developers to replant 100 percent of forests cut down — a true no-net-loss requirement. The previous council passed a so-called net loss bill that is not a net loss bill.
For example, the plans filed by the developers of Crystal Spring, the project is now called the Village at Providence Point, would destroy 39.5 acres of priority mature forest and propose replanting only 16.45 acres. This is certainly anything but a no net loss, as 23.05 acres of forest would be lost, replaced with potentially more than 500 new housing units, new roads, 500 parking spaces, and other buildings.
The developer’s pledged to replant 100 percent of the forest cleared, and to assure that stormwater leaving the site would be cleaner than before development, would not increase in rate or volume, and would not increase pollutants. Their plans do not reflect these pledges.
Current plans propose not only 383 unit senior development with a health center, but also the subdivision of other lots the owner would retain. One of these wooded lots of 18 acres could be developed with as many as 147 non-senior homes under current zoning while stripping 12 acres of forest.
My wife and I live near the development site and cannot imagine how bad the traffic will be on Spa Road and Forest Drive with 500 new homes and the many vehicles servicing them.
We await the promised actions by our new mayor and at least five of the aldermen. We trust that they will follow through with their pledges.
John W. Frece was State House bureau chief for The Baltimore Sun and UPI for 17 years and directed the Maryland Office of Smart Growth and later, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s smart growth program. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.