June 1, 2023
Annapolis, US 58 F

Annapolis quashes Eastport Landing project, sends developers back to drawing board

The developers of the Eastport Landing project were dealt a blow yesterday when the City’s Planning and Zoning Director issued a ruling that will either send the project back to the drawing board; or more likely, into the courtroom.  After initially providing advice and approval for the density calculations, the City was called to task by a citizens group that argued the calculations were flawed.

The City’s Office of Law came up with an opinion that mirrored the original calculation and an independent legal counsel hired by the City sided with the citizens group. The law, as it stands, is unclear. However, the final arbiter (short of a legal challenge) is Director of Planning and Zoning, Pete Gutwald

After further review, intense community interest, and a vocal citizens group, Gutwald reversed his initial decision late yesterday with a 5 page statement (below).

“The Planning Director’s opinion will require the developer to  revise their plan and reduce the number of units,” Mayor Michael Pantelides said. “I know that the community brought up some  valid points, and those points were strongly considered by the Planning and Zoning Director  in making his finding.”

“As we move forward, I will work with the Office of Law to update the City Code to define Gross Residential Development. Until then, we will have to wait and see if developers revise their current plan or appeal the density calculations,” Pantelides added.

In determining the density calculations, the Planning and Zoning Director subtracted the areas associated with commercial development from the total development area.  The commercial development area was determined to be the floor and parking areas associated with the commercial portion of the development.

In addition to the density calculations, other factors along with the parking analysis, landscaping,   buffers, and the overall height and scale of the project must also be considered in determining the density of the project.

Solstice Partners, the developers behind the project issued a statement late last night:

Earlier this evening, the city of Annapolis released the Planning and Zoning Director’s findings on the density calculations of Eastport Landing. At this time we are reviewing the memo to determine what this means for the project’s future as well as evaluating the negative impacts this will have on our overall ability to transform and revitalize the Eastport Shopping Center.

Solstice Partners says that they have already spent more than a million dollars on the project based on the initial opinion of the City. This ruling, if it remains, would reduce the number of apartments from the proposed 127 to about 60.

The developer pulled no punches with the City when they accused the Mayor, Alderman Arnett, and the the citizens group of making a backroom deal to thwart the project. In fact, they ran a radio advertising campaign about the alleged backroom deal leading up to the public meeting.

Annapolis is known to be a municipality that is unkind to development. The re-vitalization of the former Fawcett’s Property was thwarted in 2013 by a similar citizen’s group called “Save Annapolis” which was largely funded by a single, wealthy businessman, who has a commercial interest in one of the parking lots that woudl have been impacted. Mayor Pantelides, in the midst of the campaign, was able to capitalize on the group’s opposition, gain their endorsement and defeat the incumbent Mayor by 59 votes.  Today, the property is under “renovation” and construction has ground to a halt as the owner is again actively searching for a tenant to occupy a restaurant portion of the project. The planned restaurant owners pulled out of the project citing the difficulty of working with the City.

The Maryland Crabs spoke with Solstice Partners’ Jeff Jacobson earlier this year about the project. The podcast can be heard here.

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