The real Crystal Spring project proposed for Forest Drive in Annapolis is markedly different than the picture painted by the developers' public relations apparatus, said David Prosten, chairman of the Anne Arundel County Sierra Club. While the developers have tried to convince the public the project is only a retirement community, in actuality senior living makes up only a portion of the proposal.
Crystal Spring would include 220,000-square-foot shopping center with a suupermarket, a 69,000-square-foot hotel and 126 three-story town houses that would have no age restrictions, Prosten said.
And the senior living portion of the project which the developers had originally promised would be “farmettes” has morphed to include a six-story building built in the most environmentally sensitive portion of the property, Prosten said.
“While the developer insists that Crystal Spring is a senior living community with some mixed uses, in reality it is much, much more - it is three different development projects with different ownership and management interests. The project has morphed into an intensive residential, retail, and commercial juggernaut,” according to a fact sheet provided to the audience.
The event, billed as a chance for Annapolis residents to hear the truth about Crystal Spring, was held at Bay Ridge Christian Church on Bay Ridge Avenue.
Prosten said attendance exceeded his expectations. The large church was packed, with people not only filling all seats but standing several rows deep around the outside of the hall. Parking spilled over into nearby athletic fields.
The developer, Alan Hyatt and his out-of-town partners, have been saying for months to reporters, city council members and others that opposition to the project is isolated to a few vocal individuals. That view contrasted sharply with the scene at the church Wednesday, where the crowd applauded loudly to former state senator Gerald Winegrad who told the audience he was convinced a united citizenry could successfully oppose the Crystal Spring proposal.
Winegrad said he has lived in the area since 1946 and watched as forests along Forest Drive were cut down to make room for housing and commercial development. He sketched out what he said were illegalities in the Crystal Spring project, saying the current proposal far exceeds the concept proposed in the city’s Comprehensive Plan, violates the state Forest Conservation Act, and the city’s own tree replanting ordinance.
Winegrad said the coalition of organizations that oppose the project have formed a legal defense fund, and several top-flight legal, traffic and other experts have stepped forward to help.
The audience was urged to contact Mayor Cohen, who has promised the project would exceed requirments of all environmental laws, and to write letters to local newspapers, among other actions. More information is available at www.crystalspringfacts.com
Other speakers from the coalition lamented that the city has yet to release a traffic study of the impacts from the proposal, a study paid for by the developers. They also said Crystal Spring will add about 23 new students to nearby schools which already are overcrowded. Hillsmere Elementary, for instance, is at 112 percent of capacity, with some learning done in two trailers on school grounds.
Another speaker said Crystal Spring will further harm the downtown Annapolis business district, as have other major commercial projects on the outskirts of the city. And while the developers have promised the project will produce tax revenue for the city, the city has done no independent study of the cost of providing services, repairing environmental damage, etc., speakers said.
Much of the evening was spent detailing the environmental impacts of the proposal. The city has determined that about 81 acres of the 111-acre property are “priority for preservation” forests as defined under state law, meaning the trees should not be cut down unless the developer can provide exhaustive justification that clearing is necessary.
Yet Hyatt and his partners intend to cut down 49 acres of the 80 protected acres, according to their current proposal as understood by the opponents. They developers have provided no detailed justification.
Representatives of the city’s Department of Neighborhoods and Environmental Programs ultimately will determine how much of the forest the developers are justified in cutting. Staff from the department last year had asked a special mayor-appointed task force to help define what is reasonable tree clearance under such circumstances, but the task force declined to help the department. That leaves the department without clear guidance, but it also provides complete flexibility to reject virtually all of the tree clearance, speakers said Wednesday.
The city presumably, for instance, could decide that the developers are only justified in cutting sufficient priority trees to make way for utilities, connecting roads, and to allow for other practical considerations. Or the city could require the developers spell out in more detail their reasons for cutting 49 acres, and if profit is a main justification, to demand a look into the finances of the project. The department also could also base its decision, presumably, on what has been deemed reasonable in other jurisdictions around the state.
The developers have said for months that they have modified their proposal to include more open space and a smaller footprint. But opponents counter that the original proposal, like an opening bid in a negotiation process, would have paved over virtually the entire property, and cut down nearly all trees. The current proposal is an improvement only in a relative sense, opponents say.
Yet the developers have convinced many influential people. The Capital newspaper previously editorialized in favor of the proposal.
Opponents Wednesday evening said when the real information about Crystal Spring is known opinions change.
From the Capital:
From the Baltimore Sun: