By: Gerald Winegrad, Capital Gazette Columnist
In February, after more than a decade of battle, the Annapolis Planning Commission voted unanimously to approve plans for a senior-only project on the 176-acre site known as Crystal Spring/Mas Que Farm after five lengthy public hearings
For a decade, a group I led vigorously opposed six iterations of development proposals for the site. From the inception, our primary goal was to seek funds to acquire the property outright or at least a sizeable conservation easement. There simply was no political support for such an expensive undertaking with a price tag exceeding $26 million just for the 52-acre site being purchased for National Lutheran’s senior living Village at Providence Point. Nor was there a willing seller.
After we blocked all development of the site, a stunning turn of events occurred in 2020: National Lutheran, the landowners, and their attorneys began working with us in a collegial fashion. With the assistance of city 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 demands. The Planning Commission attached 53 conditions to the project, including detailed terms to meet our demands. A remarkable outcome was achieved making the project a model for future projects.
On June 12, former Gov. Parris Glendening, known as the father of Smart Growth and a member of our coalition, wrote in The Capital:
“Instead of attacking former Sen. Winegrad, she [a letter writer] should be praising his near decade of commitment to making this a model project. His tenacity turned a destructive sprawling development into a win-win for National Lutheran Communities & Services [the developer], seniors, and the community.
“As a resident of the Annapolis Neck Peninsula who must pass the site daily, I have worked with Winegrad off and on since 2013 to perfect the plans. I am pleased to join Concerned Citizens for Proper Land Use in withdrawing all objections to the project. …. I am very pleased the protection of the trees and forest land is an extraordinary part of the Village at Providence Point plan. … To permanently protect such a large tract in the city limits is truly remarkable.
“As the originator of Maryland’s Smart Growth program, I commend Winegrad and all who worked so hard to achieve this outcome that advances important goals for Smart Growth. We must remember, Smart Growth does not mean no growth. It means growth in the right place with the right environmental safeguards.”
Opponents have appealed the Planning Commission’s approval. They have resorted to outlandish lies including publicly stating that I have been hired and am shilling for the developers and that the project for seniors averaging 79 years of age would cause school overcrowding. I have spent countless hours fighting development of the site and not received a penny.
Our leadership team of 60, including Glendening, the local Sierra Club, Riverkeepers, and the Annapolis Neck Peninsula Federation decided unanimously, with input from thousands of other citizens, to drop all opposition to the project if the agreed-upon terms were made conditions of city approval — and they were. The Annapolis Environmental Commission also approved the project with these conditions. Here are the results:
CLUSTERED SENIOR-ONLY DEVELOPMENT. All development is clustered to the north, 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. Impervious surface is limited forever to 15.5 acres and many acres of forest are saved.
Due to citizen efforts, backed by the City, the project has shrunk greatly.
FOREST CONSERVATION. Despite claims from those suing to block the project making it seem like the entire forest will be destroyed, forest loss has been minimized with the significant shrinking of the project. Fully 97 acres of existing forest will be left untouched on the site in perpetuity and all 27 acres of forest cleared will be replaced on site with replanted native trees. Remarkably, 124 existing forested acres will remain and be protected in perpetuity, including reforested land. Another 216 landscaping trees will add 4 more acres of tree canopy. A 200-foot forested buffer along Forest Drive is required. This is a heroic, unprecedented outcome for the environment. If this project were still in the county, even more forest could be cleared, and none would need to be replanted.
STORMWATER. Stormwater management plans are exceptional. There will be no increase in stormwater flows or pollutants. 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. Seventy-six percent of parking spaces will be placed underground or under buildings.
Our stormwater engineer expert — one of the best in the nation — has verified the above and concluded that water quality may improve: “I can unequivocally state that anyone concerned with the water quality of Crab Creek should be elated with the current environmental site design plan for development.” This refutes opponents’ main contention in trying to block all development of the site.
ALL FUTURE DEVELOPMENT EXTINGUISHED. In another victory for conservation, we have succeeded in guaranteeing that no future development of the 176-acre site can occur. The owner 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-acre site.
TRAFFIC IMPROVEMENTS. 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. They would be 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.
COMPLIANCE DURING AND POST-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.
Those opposing all development have not raised one cent to purchase any of the 176 acres. The acreage is zoned for development as an Economic Development Zone and if this plan with all the conditions is blocked, the land is not going to sit untouched. Future development of this valuable tract would likely be much more intensive and environmentally destructive. Of course, we all would be happier if the land remained untouched but after slugging it out for so long, that is not going to happen. Let’s hope the Circuit Court rejects the appeal.