For over a year now, the City has been working on a Forest Drive/Eastport Sector Study, which will use extensive citizen input to develop guidelines that will determine future zoning and development in this overcrowded corridor.
The Sector Study is to be a mirror image of the expressed concerns and desires of the communities interested in and affected by what happens in the Forest Drive corridor. The two primary opportunities for public input so far were an online public survey and the first public meeting held in September. Thousands of citizens have provided comments or otherwise influenced the Sector Study in a variety of ways. The City Planning and Zoning Department has hired a planning consultant to help develop the findings, vision, and recommendations to implement them.
They are currently in the drafting stage of of the study document. Please see our comments on the most recent draft below. The next event will be a Planning Commission Work Session on August 2 at 7pm in City Council Chambers. The public will not be permitted to comment at this meeting, but all are welcome to attend. Please click here to visit the City’s website for more information on the sector study.
FOREST DRIVE/EASTPORT SECTOR STUDY COMMENTS ON MAY 31, 2018 DRAFT
From: Gerald W. Winegrad for Concerned Citizens for Proper Land Use
SUBMIITED: July 9, 2018
Concerned Citizens for Proper Land Use was organized 5.5 years ago.
Annapolis area leaders who are participants and who have led efforts to bring sanity to the overdevelopment of the Annapolis Neck Peninsula include: Former Maryland State Senator Gerald W. Winegrad, Former Governor Paris Glendening, Former Mayor Ellen O. Moyer, Former Delegate Dick Damato, Former County Council Member Barbara Maxwell, Anne Arundel Sierra Club, Annapolis Neck Peninsula Federation, Save Your Annapolis Neck, Severn Riverkeeper, Patuxent Riverkeeper, Anne Arundel Green Party, Pastor William Hathaway of First Presbyterian Church, and other leaders or former leaders of conservation and land use groups.
After attending focus group meetings and providing detailed comments to Ms. Faux and Dr. Nash at a meeting in the Planning and Zoning conference room, we are very disappointed in the draft sector study. The authors of the draft seemed to have had a predisposition to a conclusion that the sector needs more development to build the City tax base regardless of:
- Severe traffic problems and many failing intersections and over-capacity roads with no clear solutions planned and funded or firm commitments to how these improvements will be funded;
- Deterioration of the natural environment and loss impeding the City’s tree canopy goal and adversely affecting the quality of life of residents;
- The failure of the City to reduce the impact of polluted stormwater flows from existing development as mandated in its pollution reduction goals under its federal Clean Water Act required Watershed Implementation Plan and adding to these pollutant loads by encouraging even more development and stormwater pollution from the development with no plan for meeting the WIP pollution load limits;
- The clear opposition to the path chosen in the draft sector study for more development by the overwhelming majority of citizen’s responding to your surveys and at meetings—citizens have clearly spoken that traffic is their #1 concern and they want LESS NOT MORE development; and
- The exacerbation of these concerns expressed herein in the clear intent of the authors to distort citizen preferences and responses that want traffic problems resolved and new growth either stopped or greatly limited. In your survey #1, citizens overwhelmingly chose as the three highest priority issues: Transportation, Land Use, and Environment, not more development.
We therefore submit these comments on behalf of Concerned Citizens for Proper Land Use and urge that they be addressed in the final sector study:
- The Existing Conditions traffic model results (pg. C-9 – C-11) confirms for the first time that there are 7 major intersections at E&F ratings and 20 individual movements that are failing. The Improved Conditions model (pg. C-30 – C-31) shows a better picture only because any and all road improvements are implemented. However, NONE of the pipeline developments shown in Appendix A were included in this model.
- The study is missing several crucial elements that will provide the information needed to inform future decisions about the corridor. First, the Existing Conditions model should be run again with all city developments in the pipeline whether or not approved (plus any county developments that would add to sector study traffic) with none of the proposed road improvements. Second, the Existing Conditions model should be run again incorporating the same list of developments, but all of the possible road improvements. Both of these models will show outcomes that are far worse than shown on the 2017 Existing Conditions Model on pages C-9 to C-11 and the Improved Conditions model on pages C-30 to C-31.
- Regarding the Crystal Spring development, specifically, please confer with city planning and zoning staff about the potential changes at Crystal Spring Farm Road, and Forest Drive where the draft traffic study commissioned by the city for this proposed development will likely require a new lighted intersection and widening of Forest Drive to allow for a bike and pedestrian path as well as turning traffic. These changes should be incorporated into the modeling to fully understand their impact on future conditions, especially since the neighboring intersection at Spa Road is currently failing (rated an F both in morning and afternoon rush hours) without this new major development.
- Also, regarding the Crystal Spring development, the Sector Study should include details of the effects on the failing intersection at Spa Road of the currently proposed According to the developers, The Village at Providence Point will include 383 more housing units and a 48-suite health center with nearly 500 parking sources and 500 new residents and 200 full and part-time employees. How will this new traffic from 700 more people affect the failing intersection at Spa Road and Forest drive and the intersection at Crystal Spring Farm road as well as through traffic on Forest Drive?
- The two additional models can better inform decisions about which improvements are needed and the order of their priority. Feasibility studies for all recommended infrastructure improvements and how they will be paid for should be done as soon as possible. This cannot be put off any longer.
- A moratorium on future development for some period of time should at least be a consideration, even if it were only until the completion of feasibility studies for the infrastructure improvements.
- The risks of not considering the worst-case scenario are extremely high, especially given the enormous amount of assumptions made in the study regarding employment and human behavior changes. It is irresponsible to recommend sweeping zoning changes and dense development on the hopeful assumption that more residents of the peninsula will choose not to travel outside of the corridor area for shopping or work. Additional residents choosing to walk or bike to work would be a terrific outcome that would help with traffic, but it is not likely to occur.
- It is also vitally important that the City engage their counterparts in the State and County transportation departments as to the viability of the proposed infrastructure improvements. They are also required, under state law, to comment on the final version of the Sector Study plan as recommended by the City Planning Commission.
- The study asserts that the traffic gridlock occurring at the western end of the corridor is actually a good thing as the study concludes that this helps regulate traffic flow to the peninsula! This is an unacceptable conclusion and without merit. Capacity improvements for the MD 665/Chinquapin/Bywater Road/Fairfax Road area need to be prioritized in coordination with the County and SHA.
- Changes to the Policies and Guidelines for Traffic Impact Analysis for Proposed Development (outlined in Appendix D) should be postponed until the State and County have weighed in on the proposed infrastructure improvements. It is irresponsible to lower standards or allow alternate mitigation standards until we know what mitigation standards are available and feasible.
- Please also consider how the modeling from this study supports or rejects findings of prior studies, especially the September 26, 2016 Traffic Impact Analysis completed for the County regarding the Lidl Grocery Store, and the October 2017 Revised Traffic Impact Study for the City regarding the Chesapeake Grove (Rodgers Property) development. Both studies showed numerous problems along the corridor and failing levels of service at the Forest Drive/Spa Road intersection, even without major new development.
ZONING CHANGES/RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FUTURE DEVELOPMENT:
- “Collective Vision” – The study reports on page 5, “The drafted document reflects collective visions of the residents, businesses and other stakeholders in the FD corridor and Eastport.” We feel this statement is deceptive and should be corrected to reflect the actual number of residents who participated in this process. Participation was high at the start of the process with 1,180 people responding to the first online survey and 75 attendees at the first public meeting, but then it declined. Only 178 responded to the second online survey and only 37 attended the second public meeting. Only 18 people attended public meeting number three. The City did try to step up their efforts to engage with the public by creating the website for the study and sending out emails, but a lot of these outreach efforts seemed to die off as the study went on, especially in the latest stages. For instance, the last public meeting on June 20 was not even published on the City’s Facebook page. If the goal was to create a collective vision, we feel more could have been done to engage more members of the public.
- Survey Responses: We feel strongly that respondents’ overwhelming responses expressing their concerns regarding traffic, overdevelopment, and environmental protections have been minimized in the draft study. In Survey #1 respondents were asked, “What do you not like about the Sector Area?” The two most popular responses were “Traffic when there is an accident” and “Traffic on a day-to-day basis.” When asked, “What is Most Important to Focus on,” “Transportation Issues,” “Land Use,” and “Environment” were the three most popular options. Traffic has been given consideration in this study but the study does not attach the highest priority to traffic issues as citizen responses dictate and the failing intersections and poor traffic flow warrant. The study fails to prioritize solutions for the major traffic problems in the sector. The study’s recommendations are to simply put off consideration of possible fixes for a later date and, in the meantime, continue significant development in the sector under study that will undoubtedly significantly exacerbate the current traffic problems. This problem is not just one of inconvenience but one of public health and safety and yet the study tends to minimize and punt on this issue while supporting more development which leads to more traffic problems.
- In addition, we feel some opinions from the survey were clearly misrepresented. For instance, in Community Survey #1 respondents were asked, “What is your #1 Desire for this Area?” Aside from a better grocery store (there is already a new Lidl grocery store currently being built), the most popular response to this question was “Nothing.” However, the study reports that the “most frequent request by a large margin was for more local commercial uses.” One resident who had seen the results of Survey #1 asked Ms. Faux directly about this discrepancy, and Ms. Faux explained that they had simply added up all the other various responses for a litany of different commercial uses, which were as specific as a gun shop or a museum, and taken together in total, they outranked the responses for “Nothing.” To us, this seems disingenuous and should be corrected. People on the Annapolis Neck Peninsula are fed up with traffic problems and a deteriorating environment all adversely affecting their quality of life. Do the authors of the study really believe if people had their choice of noting to be built versus more commercial development, the latter would gain the majority’s approval?
- Increased Tax Base – The study focuses widely on the need for more development to increase the City’s tax base. Our organization recently published an op-ed in the Capital on this very issue (“Gerald Winegrad: More development means more taxes and more pollution” The Capital, May 22, 2018, Link to Article). Any argument that increasing residential development results in a net increase in city revenue after costs of such development are subtracted is fallacious. Studies demonstrate that construction of such residential developments results in a net increase in the cost to city government beyond increased property tax revenue to cover more capital construction and public services.
- The document does not account for the constraints on growth that we are already facing. The City is already struggling to keep up with paying for services and infrastructure improvements for the residents who live here now. Our schools are overcrowded, our police and fire departments are short-staffed, and the Sector Study results confirm that our intersections are overcapacity. Adding an influx of new residents will only exacerbate these problems. In order to address resident’s concerns, the study should be making recommendations for how to address the issues we currently face before we begin to add more development.
- The study does not take into consideration another major concern for area residents–property values. We have already heard first-hand accounts from residents living down Spa Road that they cannot sell their homes at their current value because prospective buyers are aware of the overdevelopment in the area and the increased traffic, overcrowded schools and other infrastructure issues contributing to declining property values along this corridor.
- Development Framework Map/New Community Character Types – How were the desired community character types assigned to each area? For instance, the study calls for dense development of the Crystal Spring property in the vicinity of Forest Drive and Spa Road, including an Urban Village Center, a large Urban Neighborhood, and a Skipper Avenue Streetscape Area. The City Planning and Zoning Department has been working with developers for many years on specific development plans for this property. In fact, residents up and down this corridor have been fighting for years to limit the development, as it is the largest contiguous block of Priority Forest left in the City and is located in an area of failing intersections. City planners have been hard at work to ensure the development only destroys a minimal amount of forest and that the remainder of the property is placed in a conservation easement. The study’s recommendations for this particular piece of property seem completely out of left field, which leaves us to wonder how many other community character designations were simply placed without proper consideration. The authors should immediately check with Planning and Zoning to learn of the reduced footprint being advanced for the site, eliminating all but 383 housing units for seniors and a 48-suite health care center.
- Skipper Avenue Streetscape Area – Similar to the comments above, it seems the recommendations were made here with no consideration of the current The Village at Providence Point proposal and the City’s ongoing negotiations with developers. Also, please be advised that the current road that would be extended is called Skippers Lane as opposed to Skipper Avenue.
- Skippers Lane/Gemini Drive Extension – This recommendation appears in the City’s 2009 Comprehensive Plan and is also required under the 2005 Katherine Properties Annexation Agreement for the Crystal Spring/Mas Que Farm Property. The Annexation Agreement states that the developer must make an “equitable contribution” to the cost of the road but does not dictate what that percentage or cost would be. The Sector Study draft does not clarify who will pay for the design, engineering, right-of-way acquisition, and construction costs, which the City has said could be in excess of $10 million. This parallel road is a necessary and viable option to improve traffic, but we should seize this opportunity to ensure the developers foot the majority of the bill and not the City.
- “Create a City Greenway Plan” – This will take years, and how will you ensure these areas are still available to create a greenway by the time the plan is in place? The County Greenway Plan has been in place for years yet has not been adhered to.
- Coordination with the County – The study contains numerous recommendations that will require joint efforts with the County, which has already proven to be a weakness for the City. How is this going to change?
- Emphasis on Conservation – There doesn’t appear to be any mention of conserving undeveloped land, despite the fact that this was a very popular desire of citizens in Survey #1. According to Figure Three, the Crystal Spring property is one of the very few areas of undeveloped land and the only area of undeveloped contiguous forest. This would be an ideal location to prioritize conservation and possibly create more recreational space and green space, but instead the study recommends dense development. How could the authors disregard citizen’s desires and the work of the City Planning and Zoning and the Mayor who wants a Greenway including land at Crystal Spring/Mas Que Farm?
- Stormwater Management – There appears to be no major recommendations for stormwater management, which is already a struggle for the City to keep up with financially. With even more development and no solution in sight, the stormwater issue will only be exacerbated and water quality in the area will continue to deteriorate. The only related recommendation is, “Continue implementing the City’s 2016 Watershed Improvement Plan. Encourage developers to assist with this effort.” The Watershed Improvement Plan is not voluntary but mandated under the federal Clean Water Act and under the TMDL, the City must meet significant reductions in stormwater nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment. Any new development must not be allowed to increase the rate, volume, or pollutant flows of stormwater from pre-development conditions. The study should note these requirements in depth not minimize them and state that the city should Encourage developers to assist. They should require developers to meet the stringent standards for stormwater detailed above. Regulations need to be strengthened to require stormwater management practices that does not add to increases in rate, volume, or pollutant loads. The City under its WIP is struggling to retrofit acres of impervious surfaces that are the major contributors of pollutants to our polluted waterways.
- Street Trees – The only major environmental recommendation seems to be more street trees. Street trees are not going to take the place of intact mature forest. On the Crystal Spring property, for instance, if you clear forested land as the study recommends with the solution of planting street trees/forested buffer to simply block the view of the buildings from the street, that in no way is going to help with the polluted stormwater runoff that is going to increase from all the new development that is recommended in the study. Crab Creek (where the Crystal Spring property drains to) is already one of two of the most polluted tributaries of the South River due to stormwater runoff from development. We need more forest to address this issue, not less. Forests also provide clean air benefits and serve as carbon sinks to reduce global warming gases. They provide respite for humans and habitat for wildlife and yet you sector study almost neglects the importance of such forests.
- One of the study’s recommendations is, “Adjust regulations to allow and encourage street tree and forested buffers along the corridor to create a continuous greenway (consider strengthening this as a desired mitigation measure in the City forest conservation requirements so that off-site design solutions can be considered).” This should be revised to encourage retention of existing forests and 100% reforestation to assure the City meets in Comprehensive Plan goal of 50% tree canopy by 2036. Street trees and buffers are not going to come close to increasing tree canopy in the City. Further, all replanting should be done on-site whenever possible.
- Another recommendation is, “Use the developer fund to plant trees along Forest Drive.” Within the study, there appears to be no recommendations that are based on environmental benefit or improving water quality. It seems that all “green” recommendations are purely for aesthetic purposes. This should be corrected.
- No Net Loss – There is no mention in the sector study of support for a true no net loss (of forest) ordinance. Mayor Buckley and five of eight sitting aldermen signed a candidate questionnaire during the 2017 City Elections pledging to work for and support this legislation. The study mentions continuing to work toward the City’s canopy goals, but street trees alone will not get us there. A true no net loss ordinance is the only way we can continue working toward this goal. City Ordinance 0-27-18 would establish a true no net loss of forest from development in the City and has six co-sponsors, enough for enactment and yet is ignored in the study.
- Tree Planting – There also needs to be a focus on identifying parcels for tree planting–not just street trees, but quality, hardwood trees in order to reach the City’s goal of expanding the canopy to 50% by 2036.
- Who will pay? – Importantly, as with road improvements, the study does not outline any action plans for how the greening/beautification ideas will be carried out or who will pay for them. Without funding mechanisms, these ideas all become very unrealistic. Simply encouraging local businesses to contribute to the beautification of the corridor is not going to work.
Note: You have received detailed and technical comments from Greg Walker, who has become well-versed in planning and traffic issues in the sector under study. His residence near the sector and daily use of the roads in the sector and his extensive studies on traffic issues make his expertise invaluable. His concerns and comments should be given the utmost consideration.