Annapolis’ Drawn-Out Fight Over Providence Point
This is the story of what may be the longest-running fight over a development project in Annapolis history. Three mayors have had to deal with it. One of them lost his job because of it.
And as the project, which has undergone a name change along the way, inches toward construction, it remains as controversial as ever.
Originally known as Crystal Springs, the project first showed up in the Annapolis City planning office around 2010. It was a sprawling multi-use complex with an elder care facility, housing, a hotel, an arts center and retail shops on the western edge of the city. And it immediately ran into a storm of opposition from environmentalists and nearby residents.
Since then, National Lutheran Communities and Services, the developers, submitted revised plans to shrink the footprint and the number of units.
And they renamed it The Village at Providence Point.
In response, city planners sent back 50 requests for changes last summer.
Still, the leader of the opposition, former State Senator Gerald Winegrad, says he’s frustrated by the developers.
“The developers and their attorneys have refused to compromise and when they do deem to meet with us, they violate all terms of the agreement and act as if we never even spoke with them,” he complained.
But Lawrence Bradshaw, President and CEO of the Lutheran organization, says the project has evolved significantly over the last nine years.
“There’s no longer any retail space, any non-age restricted housing, an inn and spa,” he said, ticking off the features they’ve eliminated. “The senior living building has been reduced by 20 percent.”
Despite those changes, the degree of opposition remains the same. You could say the opponents have nailed their demands to the church door.
“It’s highly unusual for a project to take this long and the reason is that the developers constantly change plans,” argued Winegrad. “They renege on pledges that they’ve made to manage storm water, on promises to replant 100% of the forest, on promises to build the proper roads. And they also renege on the conservation agreement terms.”
In their latest iteration, the developers have sharply reduced the size of the project, reworked the storm water plan and proposed a conservation easement on the undeveloped portion of the 175-acre tract that leads to a tributary of the South River. And they said they would retain 67 percent of the trees on the site.
Despite the environmental concerns, the core issue, the one that really generates heat in public meetings, is traffic.
Dave Humphreys, Executive Director of the Annapolis Regional Transportation Management Association, says Forest Drive, the road that runs along the western boundary of the city and would serve the new development, already has problems.
“Quite honestly the corridor is dangerous now and it has no additional capacity,” he said. “There are no shoulders; it’s right up against the curb. No bike lane, no sidewalks. So it really violates an awful lot of planning principles.”
But Annapolis City Planner Tom Smith says Providence Point might actually improve the situation.
“Traffic is an issue on every project,” he said. “But this is a use, an institutional use, that really doesn’t add (traffic) to the a.m. or p.m. peak hours.”
And the developers are proposing improvements at Forest Drive and Spa Road, the main intersection near the project, he said.
Smith says city planners have asked the developer to redesign road connections on the property to ease the traffic problems.
Meanwhile, Alan Hyatt, the lawyer for the developers, warns the opponents may not have thought things through “because the alternative of a residential development is much worse.”
That’s because most of the tract, one of the last undeveloped large parcels in the city, is zoned for townhouses, up to 12 units per acre.