As this trying year of 2020 comes to an end, I wanted to update you on our fight to protect the forests, wetlands, and fields of Crystal Spring. I am pleased to report that the 175 acres of land at Crystal Spring remain untouched despite plans to develop the site dating back a decade. Not one tree has been cut. Nor has any more traffic from this site been added to the Forest Drive/Spa Road/Bay Ridge Road corridor. This would not have been possible without your support and the countless hours that I and others have spent on this issue.
We know that the vast majority of residents would prefer to see no development at the site. That has been our mission, too. But during the many years of our efforts to gain support for state or local acquisition of the land, these efforts have never gained traction, especially with a price tag of more than $15 million and an unwilling seller. Since current zoning allows for development of this property, we have concentrated on limiting the development while ensuring that our concerns over traffic and environmental impacts are fully resolved.
We are succeeding. Original plans for a massive, mixed use project have been defeated. These plans would have resulted in a sprawling development covering the land with more than 500 senior and non-senior housing units along with a shopping center, hotel, restaurants, offices, and a bank. Nearly 40 acres of mature forest would have been destroyed. Traffic flows would have increased unacceptably with little mitigation.
Since then, we have blocked several subsequent “scaled-back” versions of this plan that still included non-senior housing and commercial aspects that would have increased traffic and generated greater environmental destruction.
National Lutheran Communities & Services (NLCS), now the sole developer, filed the most recent proposal on May 4, 2020. Before this latest filing, the NLCS CEO agreed to work collaboratively with our group for the first time in our long battle. In several meetings and conversations over the last year, NLCS has been working with us to meet our four major demands which we have had in our core mission since the project’s inception: traffic, forest conservation, stormwater management, and a conservation easement extinguishing future development.
NLCS also worked with the City to meet its requirements. Under Mayor Gavin Buckley’s leadership, the City has been an ally in assuring our goals are met. The recent filings by NLCS reflect this collegial approach as the plans have been modified to accommodate our concerns. Although some changes are still necessary, NLCS has continued working with us to resolve them. The City has not yet formally responded to the NLCS May 4 filings, although they have informed NLCS of changes necessary to resolve their issues of concern.
The proposed project is now called The Village at Providence Point (TVPP) and has been reduced to a senior only residential community. The development footprint has been consolidated to 36 acres of land closest to Forest Drive. There would be 265 senior apartments, 30 single-family homes, 4 duplex homes (8 total units), and 48 health care suites. There would be no traffic-inducing commercial or retail development. Forest clearing would be reduced to 27.75 acres with slightly more than 100% to be reforested on site. All other development of the 175 acre site would be extinguished with very limited exceptions through legally binding documents including a conservation easement.
We have been hearing from many folks who are concerned after receiving promotional mailings from the developer soliciting priority deposits from seniors. We are repeatedly asked how the developer can begin marketing and collecting payments from seniors if the planned development is nowhere near final approval by the City. Despite our objections, the Department of Aging approved the NLCS feasibility study, which allowed the developer to begin collecting refundable $1,000 deposits from seniors. However, rest assured, final approval of this project is not a done deal.
If our four core concerns are not resolved, we believe that we have the resources and legal ability to continue to block this project indefinitely—even in its much reduced form.
Here is an update on the status of resolving the four major issues we have been insisting upon:
We are very pleased with the extensive traffic improvements NLCS has committed to implement. Based on a thorough traffic impact study prepared for the City by STV Incorporated, NLCS and the City have committed to improvements that we believe will result in better traffic flows than exist now if the site is developed as planned. Note that the traffic study found that the senior community will add only 64 AM and 68 PM rush hour vehicular trips.
Roadway Improvements to be Paid for by the Developers:
1. Widening the south leg of Spa Road approaching Forest Drive to add a second northbound left turn lane. The resultant lane use for this approach would provide two left turn lanes and a shared through and right turn lane;
2. A deceleration lane for southbound right turns on Spa Road to access the development site at the extension of Skippers Lane running through the property exiting at Spa Road;
3. A modified right tum lane on Forest Drive for eastbound turns accessing Crystal Spring Farm Road.
4. Converting the intersection of Forest Drive at Crystal Spring Farm Road to a right-in, rightout only intersection to remove westbound lefts entering the site and northbound lefts exiting the site;
5. Changing the southbound lane use at the intersection of Forest Drive at South Cherry Grove Avenue from a shared through/left turn lane and a dedicated right turn lane, to a dedicated left turn lane and a shared left/through/right turn lane while maintaining split phasing in the north and southbound directions; and
6. NLCS obtaining all necessary approvals from Anne Arundel County and the State Highway Administration and covering any associated costs to implement signalization timing improvements at the South Cherry Grove and Spa Road intersections with Forest Drive as recommended in the traffic study. The timing of the signalization lights along Forest Drive is a regular maintenance issue for the county and the county may use the TVPP development as a means to upgrade their entire single system on Forest Drive.
Roadway Improvements with Shared Costs:
Improvements include the long-planned connector road from the development to Skippers Lane behind the CVS. This is extremely important as it will reduce traffic on Forest Drive by allowing residents and workers at TVPP to access retail outlets including the drug store and Safeway without going onto Spa Road or Forest Drive. All local residents, including those living down Spa Road, would be able to use this connector road as well. NLCS has reached an agreement with the American Legion to purchase the right-of-way on the Legion’s property and pay $181,000 for this leg of the Skippers Lane extension.
Pursuant to a recent agreement reached between the City and Hogan Companies, the other leg of the 580-foot connector road would be dedicated when Hogan Companies sells their cleared property at Forest Drive across from Spa Road. This land was previously proposed as the site for an evangelical church and later, a new City Public Works garage. The buyer would be responsible for allowing the right-of-way across the property and for paying for the construction cost of the entire connector road including across the Hogan Companies and American Legion properties. NLCS has already completed the engineering for this road and included it in the May 4, 2020 filings for TVPP. This meets a demand we have been insisting upon for seven years.
Other Commitments to Lessen Traffic Impacts:
1. NLCS met with the Annapolis Middle School principal and is committed to coordinating construction and employee schedules to reduce traffic conflicts with arrivals and departures from the school. Additionally, NLCS is committed to discussing the school calendar and schedule on a regular basis with the school and making any adjustments as necessary with the work schedules of TVPP employees.
2. Upon approval of its TVPP application, NLCS will prepare a construction management plan for input from affected parties. A final construction management plan to alleviate traffic, noise, and dust problems will be prepared with input from the City, Anne Arundel County, and the State Highway Administration, and will be submitted at the time of application for a grading permit. During the construction phase, parking will be provided onsite or on immediately adjoining properties for workers and the project management team. To the extent reasonably possible, NLCS will work to assure that the roadway and other traffic improvements detailed above will be installed in the early stages of the project’s construction to assist traffic flow.
3. To further reduce the amount of vehicle trips, bus or van transportation will be provided for TVPP residents to area locations, including shopping, doctor appointments, and trips to downtown Annapolis; and
4. NLCS has committed to assuring the project does not impede the steady flow of traffic along Spa Road. Planned improvements include a stop sign on the new Skippers Lane road running through the TVPP property where it exits at Spa Road. NLCS has pledged they will not request any other traffic controls in the future at this intersection, such as a traffic light. Given the proposed extension of Skippers Lane to the west as a relief road, there should be no need to seek additional traffic controls on Spa Road.
NLCS will fully comply with City and state forest conservation laws and will provide reforestation on site for slightly more than 100% of the 27.75 acres to be cleared so there will be no net loss of forest on site. With 87.5 acres of forest remaining untouched by the project and 28 acres replanted, 115.5 acres of forest that exists currently would remain on the site and be permanently protected. NLCS is working with the City to transplant existing trees up to 6 inches DBH.
These forest conservation measures fully meet our demands and exceed the requirements of any other jurisdiction in Maryland. Every filing prior to this one included more deforestation and much less reforestation–the last filing in January 2019 proposed clearing 30 acres and replanting none.
NLCS engineers have been working with our top-notch stormwater engineer to assure the goals we insisted upon have been met. These new plans would retain or treat 100% of stormwater generated on site so as not to increase rate, volume, or pollutant loads from pre-development conditions from a 25-year storm event. This actually exceeds what we had asked for, as we were pushing for such stormwater management for a 20-year storm event.. These plans also far exceed all State and City requirements.
The plans feature 89 discrete stormwater bio-retention cells (also known as rain gardens) around the buildings and roads to catch stormwater where it occurs and allow it to settle and percolate naturally into groundwater after being cleansed by nearly 5 feet of mulch, water absorbent planting soil, gravel, and stone. These stormwater cells will be planted with highly water absorbent native plants and will collectively cover 1.6 acres. There will also be 1.11 acres of green roofs and porous driveways. Additionally, NLCS has minimized impervious surfaces by placing 280 of the 347 parking spaces underground at greater expense. Stormwater management has been enhanced by protecting all wetlands and an intermittent stream on the property, as well as 100 foot buffers around them.
The plans also include the restoration of more than 500 feet of a polluted stream channel that runs under Spa Road across from the Annapolis Middle School and drains 43 acres directly into Crab Creek. The channel has been identified as one of the two greatest sources of stormwater pollution to the creek.
We are working on legal documents that will accomplish our demands to permanently extinguish all development rights in perpetuity other than the planned development of TVPP, with very limited exceptions. The legally binding documents will also assure that all remaining and replanted forest (115.5 acres in total) is protected in perpetuity on the 175 acre site. Our land use attorney and I have been working with the Scenic Rivers Land Trust and the City to develop a strict conservation easement that the developer (NLCS), the owners of the 139 acres outside of the TVPP, and their attorneys will accept. We are still working on the details of this 25-page document and have agreement on most of the important terms.
Janet Richardson Pearson, the owner of most of this property, will be able to continue operating her equestrian center and grow agricultural products. The only allowances for any new structures would be for a new Wellness House to serve cancer patients and their families, a limited number of barns, stables, and other structures to serve the existing equestrian center, and for a small picnic pavilion. No forest may be cleared for these structures. The Scenic Rivers Land Trust will hold this easement and assure that the terms are enforced in perpetuity. This would permanently protect 139 acres of the site from future development. Ms. Richardson Pearson is to be commended for offering this easement as well as NLCS which is acquiring 16 of these 139 acres at the southern end of TVPP.
For the 36 acres comprising the development site for TVPP, our land use attorney and I have developed a restrictive deed covenant that has been submitted to NLCS for approval. We had to divide the 175 acres into two separate protective agreements as neither SRLT nor any other land trust would accept a conservation easement on such a development site. The restrictive deed covenant will assure that if the development of TVPP proceeds, our demands to permanently extinguish all other development rights on these 36 acres will be accomplished in perpetuity. All forest/trees existing after development on this site, including trees to be replanted, will be permanently protected. The restrictive deed covenant we have drawn up is just as effective as the conservation easement and can be enforced by the City and by nearby residents.
The easement and restrictive deed covenant would permanently protect all remaining and replanted forest outside of the development footprint so that 115.5 acres of existing forest will be there for future generations of people and wildlife, including the 220 species of birds that have been seen at the site.
THE FUTURE IS UP TO US
We need your support as we continue our battle over these critical issues. We are hard at work every day on your behalf fighting to achieve our goals. These efforts come at great financial cost. We rely on donations to our Crystal Spring Legal Defense Fund for all costs associated with our efforts. These costs include paying our land use attorney, our communications director, and our web development firm. We have also retained one of the best stormwater experts around.
So, please, as 2020 comes to a close, will you help us succeed by making a donation today? Please make your check out to the Crystal Spring Legal Defense Fund and mail it to: Crystal Spring Legal Defense Fund, P.O. Box 4252, Annapolis, MD 21403.I assure you that 100% of your contribution will be used in our efforts to protect our natural heritage and quality of life in Annapolis. Together, we are succeeding!
Please note that we are now totally independent of the Severn Riverkeeper. We have formed our own nonprofit entity that has been approved by the State of Maryland. Our nonprofit corporation is known formally as Concerned Citizens for Proper Land Use, but we operate financially through our Crystal Spring Legal Defense Fund. We submitted our application for IRS approval for section 501(c)(3) nonprofit status in September. For now, we cannot say your contributions are tax deductible, but should IRS approve our application later, your donation will be fully tax deductible.
Thank you for your continued support and have a wonderful holiday season.
Former State Senator (1983-1995)