Last week the County Council adopted the Annapolis Neck comprehensive zoning bill. The final version that passed is a mixed bag.
The adoption finally brings closure to a 10-year planning process that started with the 1997 General Development Plan. On the plus side, the bill limits future development on hundreds of acres of environmentally sensitive land south of Forest Drive, as recommended by the 2003 Annapolis Neck Small Area Plan.
In the minus column, some amendments that passed open the door to more intense development by upzoning several parcels along the Bestgate Road corridor. Most disheartening is that the bill fails to honor the agreement reached by community leaders and owners of the Samaras property on Bay Ridge Road. I'll discuss this agreement more towards the end.
What's in the adopted bill
The adopted bill downzones all five areas identified in the March 11 bulletin ("Annapolis Neck Zoning, at last"):
- 600 acres on peninsulas south of Forest Drive. The bill "grandfathers" any permit applications already in progress so they can proceed under the existing rules;
- Two areas that total 18 acres at the intersection of Route 2 and MD 665; and
- All of Quiet Waters Park and a 3.5 acre addition to Peninsula Park;
I voted for these changes, all of which were recommended by the 2003 Small Area Plan.
- Bestgate Road corridor:
The adopted bill creates more intensive zoning on four separate parcels from one end of Bestgate Road to the other.
- One parcel at the intersection of Generals Highway is the site of the former Naval Institute book warehouse. It was already zoned C-2 commercial and the bill upzones it to C-3.
- The other three parcels were all residential but are now commercial. These include:
- Several residential lots along Fowler Road across Bestgate Road from Fowler United Methodist Church;
- The home site between Sunrise Assisted Living and the 24-hour Emergency Veterinary Clinic. This is to become a new dental clinic;
- The house at the intersection of Rowe Boulevard and N. Bestgate Road across from St. John Neumann Church;
I voted against these changes for several reasons. First, the 2003 Small Area Plan recommended no changes to Bestgate's zoning. Years of public input and thoughtful deliberations went into that Plan. It should not tie the Council's hands, but the Council should only depart from it for good reason and with broad community support.
The Bestgate corridor should be examined in a broad context rather than piecemeal. Before allowing more intense commercial development there in the future, the County should first understand what the impacts will be on traffic, the environment, water and sewer capacity, and the residential quality of life in adjacent neighborhoods.
- Changes to Route 2:
In contrast to Bestgate Road, the Council made no changes to Route 2 south of Admiral Cochrane Drive. Several residential property owners had requested amendments to change their zoning to commercial.
The County's long-established policy has been to keep Route 2 residential south of Parole. Neighborhoods such as Gingerville, Wilelinor and Poplar Point have fought time and again to prevent expansion of commercial development there. I ran for office partly on a platform to contain growth and protect the character of these neighborhoods. No member of the Council offered any amendments to upzone properties along Route 2 south of Parole.
- Samaras agreement:
For the past four months, several community leaders worked hard to negotiate a landmark agreement with the owners of the properties referred to as the Samaras property. These six acres on Bay Ridge Road include the C&C Liquors store across from Georgetown Road, as well as several residences next to and behind it.
The agreement secured several concessions to benefit the community. It would have required the property owners to build LEEDS-certified green buildings; replicate the stormwater runoff as if the land were in its pristine, natural state; protect a forest conservation easement along the rear property line; reduce curb cuts onto Bay Ridge Road; and add a bike path.
In addition to these specific concessions, the property owners agreed to establish a design review board of residents to work with the developer and monitor the project from start to finish. This would have literally given the community a seat at the table to help shape the development in a positive way.
In return for these concessions, the agreement called for rezoning the balance of the property from R-2 residential to C-1 commercial. Making the property all commercial would have benefited both parties. It would have given the property owners the financial return to pay for the concessions. It also would have meant no more houses along this stretch of Bay Ridge Road, something the community leaders were trying to avoid.A majority of the County Council voted down the amendment that would have implemented the agreement. Instead the Council adopted an alternate amendment that rezoned only a portion of the front of the property to commercial. Unfortunately, that amendment was inadequate to implement the agreement. It will likely lead to a small strip shopping center in the front and more houses in the rear, exactly what the community leaders didn't want.
The community representatives who participated in the negotiations shared my belief that some development is inevitable on that site. The purpose of the agreement was to ensure that when the site does get redeveloped, it would be done in a neighborly way that enhanced rather than diminished our quality of life.
County Executive Leopold has signed the bill and it will soon become law. The book is now closed on the Annapolis Neck zoning bill.
Later this year the County expects to start the next General Development Plan. This planning process, expected to take 18 months, will set the blueprint for future county growth, development, and preservation. Although the exact GDP process is unknown, it is likely that the County's immediate focus will be on West County to prepare for the imminent military expansion. The next zoning bill for the Annapolis Neck is probably several years away, if not longer.