It has been six months since the developers filed their most recent proposal with the City for their senior community, the Village at Providence Point, and once again they are back at square one. The City’s extensive review is still ongoing, but they have already requested substantial changes. The plans are nowhere near approval, and we remain vigorously opposed.
National Lutheran Communities and Services (NLCS) filed plans with the City of Annapolis on January 22, 2019 to build 303 senior homes and apartments and 48 assisted living units on the Crystal Spring property. The project would have a 35-acre footprint and would destroy 30 acres of priority forest that is supposed to be protected.
For almost 10 years, we and city planners have prodded the developers to meet or exceed all state and local environmental laws, yet their new plans failed to meet even the minimum requirements of the city and state Forest Conservation Acts and Stormwater Laws. The January filings were so far off from meeting current basic environmental laws and requirements, it took Planning and Zoning (P&Z) until June 12 to complete just one aspect of its legally mandated review. That review was confined exclusively to the environmental problems with the plans and resulted in five pages of single-spaced comments requiring major changes to the development proposal. Many of these changes will result in significant increases in the cost of the project while potentially eliminating some of the units for sale. This is only the first part of the review. P&Z has advised the developers that their next phase of comments will be directed at City Code compliance and site design. Finally, in its third phase, P&Z will be submitting comments on the architecture. Many have described the main CCRC building to look “like a prison.”
Here are some of the many changes Planning and Zoning has requested:
1. Replanting 100% of forest cleared (the NLCS forestry engineer estimates this will cost $1.05 million, not counting land acquisition costs);
2. Requiring the potential elimination of some of the buildings and living units to reduce forest loss and stormwater flows;
3. Requiring a new forest stand delineation on the NLCS site;
4. Requiring NLCS to moved planned buildings;
5. Requiring NLCS to design the route of costly roads outside the NLCS property connecting the property on the east and west to other roads;
6. Redesigning their stormwater plans with more expensive undertakings including green roofs, remediation of two existing polluted stormwater channels on the 175-acre tract, improving drainage to nontidal wetlands, and reducing the footprint by clearing much less forest and reducing stormwater;
7. Extending a proposed 10-foot shared use path beyond the CCRC for the entire property length adjacent to Spa Road with a possible crosswalk at the entrance to Hunt Meadow; and
8. Reducing side yard setbacks for the expensive cottages meaning these will be closer together.
Residents’ Concerns Disregarded
Not only did NLCS fail to meet city and state laws with their January filing; they completely disregarded the concerns of local residents. After years of our futile attempts to meet with the NLCS and their development team, P&Z officials persuaded them to meet with 10 of our leaders last summer. The meetings were chaired by P&Z in their offices and lasted more than two hours each. NLCS and their team gave a detailed presentation on their plans, followed by questions and what we thought were productive discussions.
Our group (Concerned Citizens for Proper Land Use/Stop Crystal Spring) presented city planners and NLCS with four major issues that still remain unresolved:
1. Forest clearing must be reduced from 30 acres to below 20 acres at a minimum to comply with the June 12, 2019 Planning and Zoning directives and 100% of forest cleared must be replanted on site;
2. There must be no increase in the rate, volume, or pollutant load of stormwater flowing from the site for a 20-year storm event;
3. There must be agreement on a comprehensive conservation easement with terms that would extinguish all development rights outside the 351 senior units and protect all remaining and replanted forest while allowing for a new Wellness House and equestrian related structures; and
4. Traffic improvements must include commitments for the construction of a long-planned parallel road connecting the development on the west with Skipper Lane which would give senior residents direct access to the shopping center, eliminating the need to use Forest Drive and Spa Road for these trips.
As we continued to negotiate in good faith, all of us involved fully expected that our four items, which seemed reasonable, would be resolved in some fashion before the next formal filings for the development. With the exceptions of the relief road, the developer had pledged to do 100% reforestation, improve stormwater flows, and execute a conservation easement on the undeveloped land. On January 3, NLCS presented their plans to the larger community at a public meeting at St. Martin’s Church. We were surprised to see that the plans were relatively unchanged and showed no movement toward resolving the four issues we had raised. However, we were told the plans were still being finalized. Then, inexplicably, the developers filed their new plans on January 22 which not only ignored any changes to meet our four concerns and the issues raised by residents at the public meeting, but failed to meet the city and state laws mentioned above.
The January filings were actually worse than before as they planned to clear 30 acres of protected forest and reforest ZERO, violating the City’s no net loss law and their pledges. Their previous filings would have replanted at least 14 acres. They also failed to meet minimum stormwater pollution requirements.
It is completely baffling that, after almost a decade of developing plans and at least four formal submittals, the developers fail to comply with the law. Moreover, they continue to create animosity in their relationship with the community by completely ignoring our legitimate concerns.
We have submitted our comments on the City’s environmental review and directives to the developers, along with a copy of the comments of our stormwater management expert who is on retainer. We will continue to update you as the City submits further comments. For now, Providence Point is dead in the water.
Update on Department of Aging Appeal
Our appeal of the Department of Aging’s unfounded decision to approve the feasibility study for the development of Crystal Spring never reached the merits. An Administrative Hearing Officer dismissed our case on technical grounds even though we had submitted substantial evidence that the approval was not based on current plans nor was it close to City approval. The dismissal was for a lack of standing even though two of the appellants lived on or adjacent to the property and were over 70, thus eligible to buy into the project. Nonetheless, we have pressed forward and continue to urge the Department Secretary to suspend its approval of the feasibility study pending final approval of the project by the City. See our attorney’s letter of July 18. The approval of the feasibility study has allowed the developer to collect $1,000 deposits from seniors for units that may never be built. NLCS has been aggressively marketing units based on the January 22 filings knowing that these plans will have to be changed significantly after the directives from Planning and Zoning mentioned above. Many more required changes in the siting, for code compliance, and in the architecture of the development are to come. We believe the decision by the Department of Aging to allow the developers to proceed holding free lunches to convince seniors to put $1,000 down for a project that does not exist currently, and that will be changing rather radically, does a disservice to those Marylanders the agency is statutorily supposed to protect.