An Annapolis environmental group is appealing a plan to convert part of a heavily wooded lot on Forest Drive into a retirement community.
Crab Creek Conservancy, a nonprofit environmental organization, announced that it has appealed a decision by the Annapolis Planning Commission to approve the development of The Villages of Providence Point, a proposed 350-bedroom retirement home owned by the National Lutheran Communities and managed by these & services. The request for judicial review was filed Thursday in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court.
“We believe there are significant issues that need to be considered in terms of the impact of the project as well as the permitting process,” the group wrote in a press release.
The Planning Commission, which hears and decides applications for proposed developments in the city, voted to approve the Providence Point plans in mid-February and issued a written statement of approval on March 31. This initiated a 30-day window during which the decision could be appealed to the District Court.
In its announcement, Crab Creek previewed some of the issues it could raise during the appeals process. These include negative environmental impacts such as the clearing of nearly 60 large trees; deteriorating traffic along Forest Drive; increased pollution and runoff into Crab Creek, a nearby tributary of the Chesapeake Bay; the crowding out of the habitats of several rare bird species; and accelerating climate change. The project could also increase safety concerns for a nearby residential community, the group said.
“All of these impacts would result in a reduction in the values of neighboring homes, while straining the region’s infrastructure and government resources beyond current capacity,” they said. “We maintain, supported by experts, that the remedial actions proposed by the developers and the City of Annapolis cannot resolve these issues.”
The city has 60 days to compile documents related to the project and present them to the court, prosecutor Mike Lyles said. A judge then creates a briefing timetable, including an opening letter from the complainants explaining why they are appealing the decision and a response from the city.
Alan Hyatt, the National Lutheran’s attorney, said his clients were aware of the petition and planned to respond, adding that they were confident the planning commission’s opinion was “thorough and supported by facts and law.”
“We believe the complainants are in the minority and have chosen to disagree, and that is their prerogative,” Hyatt said. “We expect the court to uphold the planning commission’s decision and we will do what we have to do to defend that.”
Crab Creek has hired G. Macy Nelson, an environmental and land use attorney based in Towson, to represent them.
Complainants will argue that the planning commission’s opinion is inconsistent with city law, Nelson said, “and what my clients are asking and insisting is compliance with the law.” No more, no less.”
Oral negotiations would begin in about six months, Nelson said.
In addition to the Crab Creek Conservancy, the appeal names seven affected. They include Forrest Mays, president of Crab Creek, and Laura Townsend, who serves as vice president and spokesperson. The other petitioners are Mary Reese, Valerie Casasanto, Christine Dunham, Hans-Michael Edward Hurdle and Cynthia Joy Cootauco, all of whom live near Crystal Spring Forest.
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“We’re going to let the appeal speak for itself,” Townsend said in a brief phone interview on Friday. “I would encourage you to go back and examine the issues raised during the hearings, but we really have no comment other than that, yes we have appealed.”
The commission’s approval of the project came after five public meetings last winter, which included around 15 hours of testimonies from developers, experts, environmentalists and ordinary citizens.
According to the plans, National Lutheran would build 350 homes and health suites on approximately 85 acres. The developer has promised to replace every tree that has been felled, improve traffic patterns on Spa Road and Forest Drive and install various stormwater management systems. There is also a proposed conservation easement to ensure that no future development occurs on the remaining 120+ acres of the property.
Larry Bradshaw, the former CEO of National Lutheran, who has continued to oversee the project despite retiring last year, said he could not comment on the call until he knew more about the reasons behind it.
The Providence Point project dates back to 2011 when National Lutheran and a group of Connecticut developers proposed a massive mixed-use development called Crystal Spring Annapolis, which would include a mall, restaurants and a hotel, as well as the seniors’ community and other residential units.
After a community backlash, the project was shrunk and all aspects other than the aged community were dropped from the plans. Additional modifications such as stormwater controls and one-to-one tree replacements were added along the way, thanks in part to the strong involvement of another advocacy group, Concerned Citizens for Proper Land Use, led by Gerald Winegrad, a former Maryland politician and Capital Gazette columnist.
Tom Smith, the city’s current planning director, who has served on the planning and zoning department for 30 years, told the capital in February this was likely the first appeal against a planning commission decision during his tenure.