The Crystal Spring project is an enormous (by Annapolis standards) project, which, if approved, will have profound impacts on all of Annapolis and its residents, businesses, and visitors. The impacts include the environment, schools, jobs, tax base, commercial growth, senior living, traffic, and property rights; the issues are intertwined and complicated. For most of us, the impacts aren’t going to be all good or bad, but a mix of both.
Ultimately, I’m not for or against this project, but instead for a modified project only approved once the significant impacts are comprehensively mitigated. I’d like to see the project modified to reduce some of the biggest impacts, while preserving a significant portion of the developers’ objectives. I outline my specific recommendations below.
When I talk with people about the Crystal Spring project, almost all under-appreciate its size and scope. Therefore, while describing my specific suggestions, I mix in a rough description of the major elements of this project in an effort to put its size in context. Keep in mind that some of the “facts” are hard to nail down, because draft plans change and the developers have not filed a final site plan.
The owner of the property bought the property with the expectation and zoning rights to build some level of development. While individuals might wish that the owner would chose to not develop the property, it is her right. Therefore, I don’t think it is fair to suggest that the City deny the entire project. Instead, so long as the project complies with the law, the owner’s rights should be respected and protected by the City. Those rights, however, must be balanced with the City’s obligations to apply restrictions on size and impacts for the benefit of the rest of the citizenry.
Even without this project, the projected traffic congestion on Forest Drive is a serious concern. As you’ll see from the studies referenced below, fixing the traffic concerns is complicated and so far, incomplete. Before the City approves further development projects, it and the County must give serious consideration and funding to the solutions contemplated by their respective Comprehensive Plans.
The environment, traffic, and overall building mass are the biggest unknowns in terms of what the City staff will accept as lawful under the terms of the Comprehensive Plan and applicable Planning and Zoning considerations. Also, we do not know what the County might decide with respect to granting an access permit for a new intersection onto Forest Drive. The County has authority to “condition the permit with specified requirements that preserve and maintain the public health, safety, welfare, and convenience.” Remember: this project goes from staff to the Planning Commission; it does NOT come to City Council. On the one hand, the property is zoned and slated in the 2009 Annapolis Comprehensive Plan for some development. On the other hand, the project is enormous by Annapolis standards and would create an entire village out of near undisturbed forests. The current draft plan seems to exceed the provisions of the 2009 Annapolis Comprehensive Plan, does not contemplate its impact on schools, and exacerbates significant traffic concerns. I believe in property rights, but they must be balanced and restrained to some degree for the best interests of the citizenry.
In summary, I contend that the City staff should:
- Implement directly and with the contributions of developers (those of Crystal Spring and others with pending or future applications for development) the necessary traffic remediation options found in the City’s and County’s Comprehensive Plans;
- Require the developer to shrink the commercial portion significantly;
- Require the developer to eliminate the non-age restricted townhouses (or reduce and add a 55+ age restriction); and,
- Require the developer to reduce and relocate the senior residences away from Crab Creek and closer to Forest Drive and otherwise maximize the preservation of priority forests in support of the City’s stated environmental requirements, goals, commitments, and values.
In addition, I also advocate:
- The City Council to pass the school capacity legislation (O-19-13) so that the development review process considers the impact of residential developments on school capacity;
- The City staff require that the tree reforestation is equivalent to the acreage cleared, to the extent that the City permits forest clearing;
- The developer scale back or eliminate the proposed inn and cultural arts center; and,
- The City’s administration seeks an independent economic analysis that would determine if the developers’ jobs estimates and tax implications are reliable for such a development, and if the economic growth on the Crystal Spring property will come at the expense of existing businesses and lead to more vacancies, or instead lead to economic growth for the City as a whole.
Those policies and compromises would address the traffic, environment, and school impacts that citizens are rightfully concerned about, while still leaving a significant development that would generate a profit for the property owner, tax revenue for the City, jobs for citizens, and senior living opportunities in a village setting, albeit a smaller one than currently envisioned.
I look forward to representing the interests of Ward Five and the City of Annapolis as this project unfolds.
For a detailed point-by-point analysis of the specific issues, please visit read this document. (PDF)