By: Gerald Winegrad, Capital Gazette Columnist
It was January 2013 when I was cajoled, induced, and guilted into joining the ongoing battle to block the development of the 176-acre Crystal Spring site at Spa Road and Forest Drive in Annapolis. I knew from experience this would be a quagmire and that once I entered, I would sink deeper and deeper into its time sink. Now, approaching nine laborious years and more than 2,000 hours of my time, we appear to have reached a resolution of this epic battle and secured a model of environmentally sound development.
A Connecticut developer proposed a sprawling mixed-use development with 500 housing units, a major shopping center, an 80-room hotel, and a huge, high-traffic grocery store. This project would have destroyed 40 acres of forest and caused traffic Armageddon. In the face of withering community opposition, we saw the Connecticut boys flee town. We saw mayors unelected and elected seemingly based on their positions on Crystal Spring. We saw the development name change from The Village at Crystal Spring to The Village at Providence Point.
We saw the city enact the strictest forest protective measure anywhere in the Chesapeake Bay region with a requirement to reforest all trees cleared or pay $435,600 an acre to replant elsewhere. We saw the Hogan administration try to stop this no-net-loss law from being enacted despite an attorney general’s opinion authorizing it. We saw a new state law passed to correct the governor and allow the city to protect forest as we always thought it could.
A cluster of opponents coalesced into a formidable and well-funded juggernaut holding rallies and protests with hundreds of citizens from all walks of life and political persuasions. We saw our land use attorney and my co-chair of Concerned Citizens for Proper Land Use retire and our communications director marry and have two children. I saw my grandchildren grow from infants and toddlers to teens and preteens
We were successful in blocking this project with the help of thousands of citizens fed up with the over development of this area. Our prime goal was to have the state, county and city chip in and buy the land outright or buy a conservation easement to eliminate development. This proved impossible because the owner did not want to sell and was legally obligated to honor a development contract, and there was no political interest in spending as much as $25 million to keep the land undeveloped.
But we finally have accomplished our backup mission: assuring that any development was clustered closest to Forest Drive and met the stringent requirements we set for traffic, stormwater management, forest conservation, and extinguishing all other development of the site. The current plans fully meet our criteria and Concerned Citizens for Proper Land Use and our leaders have unanimously decided to drop our objections if the agreed upon traffic and environmental terms are made conditions for approval. All parties involved, including National Lutheran Communities and Services, the developer, are in agreement on our four major demands:
TRAFFIC. The development will consist exclusively of a senior-only living facility with 302 housing units, mostly apartments, and 48 health care units. All traffic-generating retail businesses have been eliminated. The developer will make significant intersection and road improvements that should minimize, and may improve, traffic flows. Only about 60 new daily rush hour vehicular trips will be generated. National Lutheran will pay for a new left turn lane on Spa Road at Forest Drive and traffic light synchronization. It also will pay $181,000 toward the cost of right of way acquisition for a connector road from the property paralleling Forest Drive to connect with Spa Road to Skipper Lane near the CVS, reducing Forest Drive/Spa Road traffic. There also will be a walking/biking trail around the entire perimeter of the project.
FOREST CONSERVATION. The approved Forest Conservation Plan reduces clearing to 27 acres, leaving 97 acres of intact forest. All (100%) forest cleared will be replaced on site with native trees. Remarkably, 124 acres of forest on the 176-acre site will remain in perpetuity including reforestation for the 27 acres cleared. Another 345 landscaping trees will add 3.8 acres of tree canopy. There will be a permanent 125 foot forested buffer along Forest Drive to shield the project and reduce noise. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o9vE3BOYBZA for details on the forest conservation plan. I think you will be impressed.
STORMWATER. We have made great progress in reducing the development’s footprint, thus protecting forest and reducing stormwater that would have polluted Crab Creek. The clustering of the senior living project results in a footprint of only 15.25 acres of impervious surface, which is never to be exceeded at the 53-acre development site. The stormwater management plans meet our demands that the stormwater system handle a 25-year storm event (6.2 inches) so that there would be no increase in the rate, volume, or pollutant loads from the predevelopment site and stormwater will not exceed that from a forest in good condition.
The developer will install 79 rain gardens (1.2 acres in total) and more than an acre of green roofs, and will fix a major source of pollution to Crab Creek by restoring a stream channel that drains into Crab Creek from Spa Road. Additionally, 364 of the 475 parking spaces will be placed underground or under buildings while another 28 spaces will have porous surfaces. This goes well beyond state and city requirements.
FUTURE DEVELOPMENT EXTINGUISHED. We have ensured that there can be no future development of the 176-acre site beyond The Village at Providence Point, with a few exceptions. The owner has graciously agreed to a strict conservation easement on her remaining 123 acres where the equestrian center is located and National Lutheran will execute deed restrictions eliminating future development on its 53 acres. A new wellness house for cancer patients and families could be built on the 123 acres next to Spa Road as well as limited equestrian-related barns and stables. The conservation easement would be held and enforced by the Scenic Rivers Land Trust, operating in Anne Arundel County for 30 years.
Our decision to withdraw opposition is supported by the area’s top environmental leaders including the South and Severn Riverkeepers, Sierra Club, Annapolis Neck Peninsula Association, Annapolis Green, Growth Action Network, and former Gov. Parris Glendening, father of Smart Growth, who has praised the solution. He is a resident of Annapolis Neck.
I wish to thank all of our thousands of supporters whose steadfast support led to this resolution. A special thanks to my co-chair since the start, David Prosten. And thanks to Mayor Gavin Buckley, Alderman Rob Savidge, and Tom Smith at Planning and Zoning for their steadfast support, making it possible for us to accomplish our goals.
The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing virtually on Dec. 16 at 7 p.m. and followup hearings in January. You can view the first hearing, where I will testify, at: www.youtube.com/user/CityofAnnapolis. I also encourage readers to go to our website for more details and a list of leaders supporting the project: https://www.stopcrystalspring.org.
Gerald Winegrad represented the greater Annapolis area in the Legislature for 16 years, where he championed efforts to restore the Chesapeake Bay. He served on the tri-State Chesapeake Bay Commission and taught graduate courses in bay restoration and wildlife management he authored. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.