Environmental, community groups join forces to hold bar high for developers
By ELISHA SAUERS, Staff Writer
About 800 residents have signed a petition to pressure city officials to protect the few remaining trees along the Forest Drive corridor, where two major developments are planned.The Sierra Club of Anne Arundel County, Save Your Annapolis Neck and other groups have joined the protest, which asks every City Council member, including Mayor Josh Cohen, to intervene. They want the city to enforce state forest conservation laws.
David Prosten, chairman of the county’s Sierra Club chapter, said Forest Drive has so few trees that it is hardly living up to its name.
Two proposed developments, he said, are planned for areas with “the last two standing forests in the City of Annapolis.” The petitioners fear the new communities will have an irreparable impact on the environment.
Crystal Spring is a senior community planned near the Forest Drive and Spa Road intersection. It could involve more than 450 residences on a 180-acre site.
Reserve at Quiet Waters is a proposal for more than 150 homes on a 39-acre site, wedged between Annapolis Neck Road and the county’s Quiet Waters Park.
“Profit motive is not enough to cut down a forest,” Prosten said. “We’re saying if you have to cut down some forest, cut down some forest, but don’t do this unilaterally. Don’t decimate the forest.”
The petitioners point to the 1991 Maryland Forest Conservation Act, which was created to reduce the loss of trees during development. The law requires developers to identify and protect “priority areas” — such as streams, wetlands and land prone to erosion — for all projects of 1 acre or more.
Both projects are still in the planning stages with city staff. The Planning Commission has already OK’d the Reserve at Quiet Waters, but it made nearly 50 conditions to protect more woods and wetlands. The developers still have to go before the city’s Board of Appeals, but they continue to postpone the hearing while they work on revisions.
Anastasia Hopkinson, a Save Your Annapolis Neck organizer, said the level of scrutiny the Planning Commission applied to that project alone was unprecedented, and she believes it showed the board’s lack of enthusiasm for it.
Crystal Spring is not as far along in the pipeline. The project’s developers are still working with the Planning Commission.
“The city needs a stronger will in dealing with major developers like this,” Hopkinson said.
Jim Eagan, a partner with Crystal Spring Development LLC, released a statement Monday, saying the company agrees that the project must meet Forest Conservation Act provisions.
“We respect the environmental features of the land and have voluntarily committed to going above and beyond what is required by the law in certain areas, such as the foresting of additional land on the site and taking steps to mitigate the environmental impacts from off-site unregulated sources by installing additional stormwater treatment measures,” Eagan said.
The developers of Reserve at Quiet Waters, Chesapeake Realty Partners, did not return calls from The Capital for comment.
The petition is online, at Change.org, and sends the aldermen and mayor an email every time a new person signs.
Alderman Ian Pfeiffer, D-Ward 7, said that got his attention. He has scheduled a meeting with one of the petition organizers.
Pfeiffer said he wants to know if the city is applying the state law appropriately. The Reserve at Quiet Waters project is in his ward.
Alderwoman Sheila Finlayson, D-Ward 4, who represents the area where Crystal Spring would break ground, said she has met with the developers on several occasions and feels comfortable that the project is environmentally friendly.
“We have to look at every aspect (of a project),” Finlayson said, adding that she expects Crystal Spring to bring a number of new jobs to the city. “It will have a considerable economic impact — a positive impact.”
Cohen said city staff are briefing him on the two projects. The last major acreage of “quality” woodland along Forest Drive is on the Crystal Spring property, and it has been designated as a greenway by the state. City officials said the plans for the project have already gone through a half-dozen revisions.
The staff is working also with the Reserve at Quiet Waters developers to deal with the Planning Commission’s restrictions.
In the most recent version of the plan, the number of single-family homes has been reduced so that the ratio of town houses to houses is almost equal. The town houses are also being clustered closer together to preserve larger swaths of land, city officials said.
But officials have said the woods at Reserve at Quiet Waters are considered a low priority for preservation because the property is in-fill development. That will probably result in “an inevitable trade-off,” Cohen said.
The mayor promised to hold the developers of both projects accountable for meeting high standards.
“I told (the staff) they should not approve anything if it fails to protect the environment to the extent we know we can,” he said.
(Revised March 2012)