The Capital: “New Village at Providence Point plan addresses forest conservation, traffic, stormwater issues; easement still contested”

Capital Gazette: May 7, 2020

By: Brooks DuBose, Capital Gazette reporter

Developers of a proposed retirement community on Spa Road submitted a revised site design plan to Annapolis Planning and Zoning Monday that includes several compromises negotiated with an environmental group that has fought the development for years.

However, the leaders of that group, Stop Crystal Spring, say the plans also include language that could allow the developer National Lutheran to do future construction on the 175-acre tract where the 351-unit facility known as The Village at Providence Point is set to be built.

Larry Bradshaw, the CEO and President of National Lutheran, contested this notion, saying there are no plans for additional units to be added or any further tree clearing, but the facility would have “flexibility in the future” to do things like add more hospital beds or add a floor to its skilled nursing area.

At issue is what is known as conservation easement, a legal agreement that permanently limits land use to protect its conservation values. It is one of four demands laid out by Gerald Winegrad, a former Maryland state senator, and leader of Stop Crystal Spring, which takes its name from a previous iteration of the proposed project. Winegrad also writes a column on the environment for The Capital.

Winegrad’s group has asked that once the 28 acres are cleared to build the facility, no more construction, other than a planned wellness center and equestrian facility, can be done into perpetuity. The group has also demanded better forest conservation, a connector road to address traffic congestion and improved stormwater management.

While significant progress has been made in resolving the last three, changes the company made to its site design plan could allow for an expansion of the senior living facilities 20 years after the site is completed so long as no trees are removed, Winegrad said.

“They didn’t inject that until the last minute,” Winegrad said. “I don’t know why Larry did that.”

In its resubmittal, the company has included a request for “limited expansions of its community components,” like special needs housing units or small convenience facilities only for residents’ use.

The company does not plan to add retail space or new units on top of the 303 housing units and 48 health care suites already proposed. But it does give them flexibility in addressing the needs of their residents in the future, Bradshaw said.

“Clearly there’s no further development that’s going to be done on the site,” he said. “What we have floated as a concept is that the nature of health care — especially senior health care — changes a lot. So what we’ve tried to do is put together some language that would say … [there would be] some flexibility in the future.”

Winegrad said he requested a meeting with Bradshaw to discuss the language before the plans were filed but that meeting didn’t happen. Both men agreed that conversations have been productive and collegial and they hoped that would continue moving forward.

“In my opinion, we have addressed all four of the issues. There’s a couple of things left over that I think probably are not able to be satisfied yet. And the main one, frankly, is the conservation easement,” Bradshaw said. “The city is really the group that needs to take a look at that and make sure that they’re OK with it and then having conversations with is likely a third party conservation easement group.”

The Planning and Zoning department has received the new filings and will begin the review process, said Planning and Zoning director Sally Nash.

Once the review is complete, the proposal will go before the Annapolis Planning Commission.

Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley said he gave Winegrad his word that he would only support the proposal if National Luthern met the four objections laid out by the activist group.

“My position has always been that I support the Winegrad plan,” Buckley said. “I believe they’re close but my position will stay the same until we get those needs met.”

For nearly a decade since an initial proposal was made in 2010 for a sprawling complex with 400-plus housing units, a shopping center, retail space and a hotel, the relationship between the development company and the activist group has been fraught.

But despite the apparent disagreement on the conservation easement, Stop Crystal Spring’s efforts have born fruit in recent months.

National Lutheran has agreed to adhere to the city’s no net loss ordinance, which requires developers to replace the trees they remove during construction. Twenty-five of the 28 acres that will be cleared will be reforested and another three acres will be street trees, Winegrad said.

The plan also calls for a 560-foot connector road from the development to Skippers Road, a long-sought-for concession the activist group has requested.

A third compromise was made on stormwater management. The plan includes 89 bioretention cells, green roofs and porous pavement, which exceed the city and state requirements and meet a goal for the site to be able to to handle a 25-year storm event, Winegrad said.

“This has been a really positive change beginning in early March,” he said. “We really are pleased. We worked things out — forest conservation and stormwater, traffic looks good.”

Another disagreement that remains is the size of a stream channel restoration for a stormwater runoff system that flows under Spa Road near Annapolis Middle School.

The activist group has called for 700 linear feet of restoration and the company has set it at 520 linear feet.

“At the end of the day that is going to be a decision by the city,” Bradshaw said.

Though the group has made gains in ensuring the planned community meets environmental standards, there still isn’t unanimous support for it in the Annapolis area, Winegrad said.

“There are really hard people that are purists that don’t want to see one leaf cut,” he said. “I would say almost all reasonable people are OK with our position now. We’re not supporting this development, we are just going to withdraw our objections.”

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