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Crystal Spring: the Verdict is In

David Prosten

The people spoke loud and clear in the November 5 mayoral election—more clearly than would be suggested by winner Mike Pantelides’ 59-vote margin. What was documented so clearly was the overwhelming popular dissatisfaction with the proposed 111-acre Crystal Spring development on Forest Drive—perhaps the campaign's most-debated issue.

“If you vote for me,” Pantelides said repeatedly, “you’ll be voting for someone who would favor the environment over developer interests at Crystal Spring.” Declared Pantiledes of Crystal Spring in his “Where I Stand” column in the Capital: “[W]e will sit in unbearable traffic, destroy valuable forest and hurt already struggling city businesses… I will do everything within my power to reverse the irresponsible development…”

If you voted for candidate Cohen, you voted for someone who had begun, albeit belatedly, to acknowledge the intense public opposition to Crystal Spring. While for months he had promoted and defended “the concept” of the development, in his own Capital column he acknowledged that the project “raises serious concerns about traffic, environmental impact and school capacity.” He was acknowledging the public’s abhorrence and agreeing that it was, at a minimum, unacceptable as drawn.

By 8:00 p.m. November 5 a majority of voters who cast their ballots had voted for a candidate who pledged to kill the development; almost as many cast their ballots for a candidate who had come to have serious concerns about it. No matter how you do the math, it means that voters either don’t want Crystal Spring developed at all, or, at the least, don’t want it developed in any way approaching what is currently proposed.

A quick project recap: developers would bulldoze 49 acres of an 80-acre priority forest, the bulk of an 111-acre tract in the Crab Creek/South River/Chesapeake Bay watershed; they would build a retail complex nearly the size of Annapolis Harbour Center; an 80-room spa and hotel; 130 non-age-restricted townhouses; 376 units of “senior” housing including a six-story building, three two-story apartment buildings, 33 single-family and duplex houses and health center with 52 suites, and 40 more senior apartments above some of the retail shops.

Understand the immensity of this on just the issue of traffic alone: a county traffic study found that, as proposed, the development would create failing intersections on Forest Drive at both Spa Road and Chinquapin Round Road while the intersection at Forest and Hilltop Lane would be graded “D.

My organization, the Anne Arundel Sierra Club, declined to endorse either candidate. Cohen had failed to use the authority he has under the Forest Conservation Act, and in enforcing the City’s own Comprehensive Plan, to at a minimum decrease the damage that would come with Crystal Spring. Pantelides, while declaring his opposition to the development, spoke in broad terms and never committed to a specific course of action.

So, the mayor-elect has promised to fight this development and the voters of Annapolis look to him to do just that.
  1. Investigate the availability of state Project Open Space funding, and/or a state bond issue, to acquire the property. The owner would still profit.Remember, Quiet Waters Park at one point was going to become a 350-acre housing development.
  2. At the same time, and preparing for the possibility that public acquisition can't be achieved, order city staff to insist on the strongest possible interpretation of the state's Forest Conservation Act. This would save the 80-acre forested part of the property yet still allow the owner to profit from developing 31 acres.
Mayor-elect Pantelides won office in large part on his strong opposition to Crystal Spring. We welcome the prospect of his words turning into deeds.

(Reprinted from the Capital November 12, 2013.)