The Capital: “Crystal Spring compromise a model for future land-use battles”

Capital Gazette: February 22, 2022

By: Gerald Winegrad, Capital Gazette Columnist

Plans for a senior living project at the 176-acre site known as Crystal Spring have been approved by the Annapolis Planning Commission, the last step in the city process. This only occurred after an intensive 13-year uncivil war with withering citizen opposition to previous plans.

Mayors were elected and un-elected based on whether they opposed earlier massive development plans. This struggle also led to the enactment of the strongest forest conservation measure we know of requiring 100% of forest cleared to be replanted.

In 2013, the people seeking changes to the development plan formed Concerned Citizens for Proper Land Use, which led the opposition and succeeded in gaining far-reaching concessions that many are hailing as a model for sustainable development and Smart Growth. Herculean efforts to block any development until resolution of key issues forced seven different iterations—each successive plan scaling back the development.

Village at Providence Point Building and Roadway Footprints - Development Comparison April 2011, May 2014, and July 2021. Due to citizen efforts, backed by the City, the project has shrunk greatly. - Original Credit: HANDOUT
Village at Providence Point Building and Roadway Footprints – Development Comparison April 2011, May 2014, and July 2021. Due to citizen efforts, backed by the City, the project has shrunk greatly. – Original Credit: HANDOUT (National Lutheran/HANDOUT)

The commission held six work sessions on the various plans starting in 2013. Beginning on Dec. 16, five public hearings were held on the current plans lasting a total of 15 hours and concluding on Feb. 17. Most hearings lasted until 11 p.m. to allow all citizens who desired to testify. The commission then approved the plans by a vote of 5-0 with 53 conditions attached.

We had formed a Crystal Spring Legal Defense Fund and a website, STOP CRYSTAL SPRING. We raised funds to retain a land-use attorney, stormwater consultant, and a communications director. Our initial mission in organizing conservation leaders, business leaders, and many other citizens was to obtain political support for acquisition of the site for a park. This goal never gained traction with a prohibitive cost in excess of $25 million and with owners of the land not interested in selling for a park.

Our strategy then became to block any development until our demands were met for shrinking the development, assuring traffic problems were not worsened, and all environmental concerns were alleviated. What I found most remarkable was the deep and widespread concern of so many people from all walks of life, professions, political persuasions, and ages. They had had enough of overdevelopment crashing their quality of life.

We succeeded in blocking any development of the site, including initial plans for a sprawling project for 362 senior houses and apartments, 126 townhouses for all ages, 52 nursing-care rooms, a shopping center with stores and restaurants, and an 80-room hotel. Fully 49 acres of trees were to be cleared and only 4 acres replanted.

After nearly a decade of gridlock, a stunning turn of events occurred in 2020: National Lutheran & Community Services and attorneys for them and the landowners began working with us in a collegial fashion after prodding by the mayor, planning and zoning officials. Many meetings and back-and-forth proposals resulted in the current plans for a Continuing Care Retirement Community that meets every one of our formidable and broad demands.

Our leadership team of 60 decided unanimously, with the consent of thousands of other citizens, to drop all opposition to the project if the agreed-upon terms were made conditions of city approval. This has been accomplished. Here are the terms:

Only development for seniors: All development is clustered to the north of the site closest to Forest Drive and all retail/commercial development is eliminated. Only a senior-living project with 302 housing units, mostly apartments, and 48 health care suites will be built.

Traffic: National Lutheran will make significant traffic improvements that should minimize – and may improve – traffic flows. Only 19 peak a.m. trips and 33 peak p.m. trips would be generated and mitigated by a new left-turn lane on Spa Road at Forest Drive, traffic light synchronization, and a long-planned connector road from the property paralleling Forest Drive to connect 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 and along the connector road.

Forest conservation: Clearing is reduced to 27 acres, leaving 97 acres of forest intact. All forest cleared will be replaced on site with native trees. Remarkably, 124 existing forested acres will remain and be protected in perpetuity, including reforestation. Another 216 landscaping trees will add 4 acres of tree canopy. A 200-foot forested buffer along Forest Drive is required.

Stormwater: There will be only 15.25 acres of impervious surface, never to be exceeded. Stormwater management plans are exceptional – no increase in the rate, volume, or pollutant loads from a 25-year storm event (6.2 inches). Stormwater will not exceed that from a forest in good condition. There will be 79 rain gardens (1.2 acres in total), green roofs, and remediation of a highly polluting stream channel that drains into Crab Creek from Spa Road at a cost of $500,000. Also, 364 of the 475 parking spaces will be placed underground or under buildings.

Our stormwater expert concluded, “I can unequivocally state that compared with other potential development scenarios for 36 or more acres of this parcel, anyone concerned with the water quality of Crab Creek should be elated with the current environmental site design plan for development.”

No future development: We have succeeded in assuring that no future development of the 176-acre site can occur. The owner has graciously agreed to a strict conservation easement on her remaining 123 acres, located on and around the equestrian center except for a new cancer patient wellness house and limited equestrian-related barns and stables. The conservation easement would be held and enforced by the Scenic Rivers Land Trust. National Lutheran will execute deed restrictions eliminating future development on its 53 acres.

Compliance during construction: A unique agreement assures compliance with stormwater/sediment control during and after construction. We will have direct access to the construction manager and periodic meetings. An independent inspector will monitor the construction site to assure 100% compliance. After the senior project is open, similar access and meetings are assured with the senior project manager.

Environmental leaders and veterans of local land-use battles all cite this outcome as a model to be followed for resolution of future land-use controversies. None of our leaders believe that there will ever be a better deal for this high-value property zoned for development. National Lutheran and the city have cooperated fully in addressing every issue of concern we have raised.

This torturous process has come at great personal cost as I have spent more than 2,500 hours on this issue as a volunteer. Despite this effort and outcome, there are a few who still persist in trying to block any development of the site. Their tactics include posting libelous falsehoods that I have been hired by the developers. They also have stated that the project will cause school overcrowding, massive new traffic problems, and polluted stormwater as well as contending the process deliberately kept the public unaware of the project, blocking opportunities to comment. All such allegations are untrue.

I see these attacks as the price of leadership and doing the right thing. I do not believe we can do better for this valuable tract of 176-acres, and I thank all who have helped us achieve this outcome.

Gerald Winegrad is a former Maryland state senator. He can be reached at