Crystal Spring opponents collect donations to pay for lawyers

The Capital Gazette, Thursday, June 27, 2013

Crystal Spring Rally
Photo by Atalie Day Brown, Correspondent

Members of Friends of Crystal Spring Forest conduct a meeting at Bay Ridge Christian Church on Wednesday night to discuss how the proposed Crystal Spring development would impact residents and wildlife in the surrounding areas. More than 250 community members attended the meeting.

More than 200 people gathered in an Annapolis-area church Wednesday evening to oppose a proposed senior community and shopping center off Forest Drive.

Many who attended the rally want to see the plans for Crystal Spring scaled back or hope Annapolis leaders will completely scrap them.

The development — slated for a site about 2½ miles down the road from the Bay Ridge Christian Church where they met — would sit on 111 acres at Forest Drive and Spa Road, backing up to Crab Creek. The project, plans for which haven’t been formally submitted to the city, could include 326 houses and apartments, 126 town houses without age restrictions and a 52-room nursing facility. The plans also involve an inn, a chapel, a cultural arts center, and a mix of stores and restaurants.

National Lutheran Communities and Services, a Rockville-based ministry, would own and operate the retirement community.

The city’s consideration of the project is in a preliminary phase. Staff are reviewing how the project would affect the site’s stream, forest and wetlands.

Its developers say Crystal Spring could be a boon to the local economy, creating 1,200 permanent jobs. But many neighborhood groups and environmental activists fear its construction will destroy one of the few forests left in Annapolis and do irreparable damage to wetlands.

Others worry adding about 500 housing units to the Forest Drive corridor will worsen traffic.

The Annapolis Neck Peninsula Federation and the Anne Arundel County chapter of the Sierra Club sponsored the meeting to organize neighborhood groups and environmental activists against Crystal Spring.

David Prosten, president of the local Sierra Club, said the community has heard enough from the Connecticut-based development firm, Crystal Spring LLC.

“They’ve had two years of unchallenged representations through any number of venues, and it’s been backed up by a multimillion-dollar budget and paid PR folks,” Prosten said.

Circulating baskets around the room, organizers collected donations for a fund to pay for lawyers. Prosten said they hope to raise about $30,000.

“If things go the way the developer wants, we’ll have to go to court,” he said.

Andrew Bing, a spokesman for Crystal Spring, and Jim Eagan, one of the developers, attended the meeting, though they didn’t address the crowd.

Bing said the meeting was slanted, led by a group of “anti-growth zealots” who were presenting half-truths.

“This is all about killing this project,” Bing said. “It’s not about trying to work in a cooperative way.”

Eagan said the meeting’s turnout did not concern him because the developers have names of about 900 seniors who support the project. They’ve met these residents through a series of community outreach meetings over the past two years, he said.

The team, he said, believes the proposal will provide jobs, bring in new residents with discretionary incomes, add tax revenue to city coffers and add stormwater management projects that will improve the South River watershed.

The latest drawings from the developers show 49 acres of trees cleared, with 4 acres of forest replanted on the property. An additional 75 acres of forest adjacent to the development area were set aside for conservation in 2005 when the property was annexed to Annapolis.

Gerald Winegrad, a former Maryland delegate and state senator, said he wants to see the city reject the proposal and use state open space funding to buy all of the land and turn it into a public park.

Other residents who spoke at the meeting talked about how the 126 town houses could impact the overcrowded Hillsmere Elementary School, which already has two trailers for extra classrooms.

Organizers encouraged citizens to call or write Mayor Josh Cohen, sign a petition, join the Save Crystal Spring Forest email list and contribute to the legal fund. They also urged people to write letters to newspapers and to testify at public meetings.

Chuck Ferrar, a former county councilman and owner of Bay Ridge Wine and Spirits, said the project’s economic gains have been overblown. He believes an extra inn would take away business from existing hotels and a new grocery store would cut into the profits of area supermarkets.

He urged city residents to speak up. As this is an election year in Annapolis, they may have more influence on their elected officials now rather than later, Ferrar said.

“You said that this was not a green development? It’s green,” he said to the crowd, then waved his wallet in the air. “The wrong kind of green.”

(Revised June 2013)