By: Brooks DuBose, Capital Gazette reporter
An Annapolis environmental group is appealing a plan to turn part of a heavily forested property off Forest Drive into a retirement community.
Crab Creek Conservancy, a nonprofit environmental organization, announced it had appealed a decision by the Annapolis Planning Commission to approve the development of The Villages of Providence Point, a proposed 350-bedroom continuing care retirement facility that would be owned and managed by National Lutheran Communities & Services. The petition for judicial review was filed in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Thursday.
“We believe there are significant issues of merit that need to be considered with regard to the project’s impacts as well as the approval process,” the group wrote in a news release.
The Planning Commission, which hears and decides applications for planned developments in the city, voted to approve the plans for Providence Point in mid-February and issued a written opinion of its approval March 31. That initiated a 30-day window in which the decision could be appealed to the circuit court.
In its announcement, Crab Creek laid out a preview of some of the issues it could raise during the appeal process. Among them are negative environmental impacts like the clearing of nearly 60 large trees; worsening traffic along Forest Drive; increasing pollution and runoff into Crab Creek, a nearby tributary to the Chesapeake Bay; displacing the habitats of several species of rare birds; and accelerating climate change. The project could also increase safety concerns for a nearby residential community, the group said.
“All of these impacts would result in a reduction of neighboring home values while also taxing area infrastructure and governmental resources beyond current capacity,” they said. “It is our contention, backed by experts, that the mitigations proposed by the developers and the City of Annapolis cannot resolve these issues.”
The city will have 60 days to compile documents related to the project and deliver them to the court, City Attorney Mike Lyles said. A judge will then establish a briefing schedule, including an opening brief by the appellants explaining why they are appealing the decision and a response from the city.
Alan Hyatt, National Lutheran’s attorney, said his clients were aware of the petition and plan to respond, adding that they were confident the Planning Commission’s opinion “was thorough and supported by the facts and the law.”
“The appellants, we think, are in the minority and chose to disagree and that’s their prerogative,” Hyatt said. “Our expectation is the court will affirm the decision of the Planning Commission, and we’ll do what we have to do to defend that.”
Crab Creek has hired G. Macy Nelson, an environmental and land-use attorney based in Towson, to represent them.
The appellants will argue that the Planning Commission’s opinion does not conform with city law, Nelson said, “and what my clients are requesting and insisting upon is conformance with the law. Nothing more, nothing less.”
Oral arguments would begin in about six months, Nelson said.
The appeal names seven affected parties in addition to Crab Creek Conservancy. They include Forrest Mays, Crab Creek’s president, and Laura Townsend, who serves as vice president and spokesperson. The other petitioners are Mary Reese, Valerie Casasanto, Christine Dunham, Hans-Michael Edward Hurdle and Cynthia Joy Cootauco, all of whom live in proximity to Crystal Spring Forest.
“We’re gonna let the appeal speak for itself,” Townsend said Friday in a brief phone interview. “I would encourage you to go back and explore the issues that were raised during the hearings, but we really have no comment other than that, yes, we have appealed.”
The commission’s approval of the project followed five public meetings dating to last winter that included about 15 hours of testimony from developers, experts, environmental advocates and everyday citizens.
Under the plans, National Lutheran would build 350 apartments and health care suites on about 35 acres. The developer has promised to replace every tree it clears, make improvements to traffic patterns at Spa Road and Forest Drive, and install various stormwater management systems. There is also a proposed conservation easement to ensure no future development on the remaining 120-plus acres on the property.
Larry Bradshaw, the former CEO of National Lutheran, who has continued to shepherd the project despite retiring last year, said he couldn’t comment on the appeal until he knew more about the reasons behind it.
The Providence Point project dates to 2011 when National Lutheran and a group of Connecticut developers proposed a massive mixed-use development called Crystal Spring Annapolis that included a shopping center, restaurants and a hotel, plus the retirement community and other residential units.
After community backlash, the project was shrunk and all aspects except the retirement community were eliminated from the plans. Additional modifications like stormwater controls and one-to-one tree replacement were added along the way thanks in part to heavy involvement from another advocacy group, Concerned Citizens for Proper Land Use, led by Gerald Winegrad, a former Maryland politician and Capital Gazette columnist.
Tom Smith, the city’s chief of Current Planning who has worked in the Department of Planning and Zoning for 30 years, told the Capital in February this would likely be the first appeal of a Planning Commission decision during his tenure.