Janet Richardson-Pearson

Janet Richardson is working to develop a section of her Crystal Spring Farm into senior living and a mixed use development. The plan is controversial in Annapolis, with opponents saying the project will destroy some of the last forestland on Forest Drive. (Photo by Algerina Perna / Baltimore Sun / June 5, 2013)

To its developers, Crystal Spring Annapolis represents a new wave of retirement living: Senior apartments and nursing home rooms nestled in the woods. A cluster of specialty shops a short walk or golf cart ride away. An inn and village green attracting people of all ages.

To the proposed project's detractors, Crystal Spring represents another attempt to burden congested roads with an oversized development in one of the state capital's last remaining forested areas.

Battle lines have been drawn over the project, which at 180 acres and 540 units is one of the largest Annapolis has seen in years. It's also one of the most contentious, leading to a fight featuring protests, petitions and even dueling Twitter accounts.

The developers have made a public relations push, and opponents have been pushing back just as insistently — all before the project is even under official consideration by city officials.

"This will be the largest development the city has ever seen and probably will ever see," said Ray Sullivan, who lives in the Hillsmere neighborhood just outside city limits and has been fighting the proposal as part of the Annapolis Neck Peninsula Federation. "I don't know how else there would ever be a development this big. There's no land."

Opponents of Crystal Spring Annapolis will hold a meeting Wednesday to marshal their forces and educate the public about their views.

The same night, the developers will hold the latest in a series of information sessions for potential residents of the senior community.

The landowner and a Connecticut-based development company say the opposition is limited to a couple dozen vocal critics. They say there's a large but quiet contingent of people who support Crystal Spring Annapolis for the jobs it would bring and for the alternative option for senior living.

"Nobody's hearing about the people who are for the project, because they don't want to fight the battles in the media," said Janet Richardson-Pearson, owner of the property.

Marshall Breines, the Connecticut developer who has a contract to buy the land and build on the site, said the city's permitting process will allow him to present the project in clearer detail and "overcome [the opposition] with facts."

Environmentalists and neighbors say they're eager for that review process, too.

"Because they haven't put in an application, it becomes kind of murky," Sullivan said. "They've been out there taking ads and they're giving the impression that it's approved and it hasn't been."

Crystal Spring Annapolis would be located on Richardson-Pearson's 180-acre Crystal Spring Farm, along the southern edge of Annapolis on busy Forest Drive, not far from Annapolis Middle School.

The project would include a "continuing care retirement community" run by National Lutheran Communities & Services. It calls for 362 apartments and single-story cottages for seniors, plus 52 beds for nursing care and assisted living, tucked away from Forest Drive on the rear of the property.

On the front half of the property, separated from the retirement community by woods and a stream, would be a shopping area anchored by a Harris Teeter grocery store. Also planned are an 80-room inn and spa, a 300-seat cultural arts center, 126 townhouses for people of all ages, a 2-acre village green and a new location for the Annapolis Wellness House, which offers services for people with cancer.

Richardson-Pearson has agreed to make water-quality improvements that she says will offset the project's impact on the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Crystal Spring has the endorsement of the South River Federation.

Richardson-Pearson says the project will marry her interests: establishing a desirable place for people to retire, helping people with cancer and providing services that people in Annapolis can use.

Richardson-Pearson said buildings will be designed to evoke a village-like feel. "I'm not the typical property owner trying to squeeze every dollar out of every square inch," she said.

Richardson-Pearson is hoping Crystal Spring will attract people such as Douglas Hole. He and his wife, Donna, live in a neighborhood a few miles away and like the idea of moving to a retirement community without having to find a new church or new doctors.

"I think for us, as we grow older, this might be a very, very good approach for us," said Hole, 71, a retired Air Force colonel. Donna Hole, 68, used to be the chief of historic preservation for the city of Annapolis. "The whole thing is right here. We're not inclined to pack up and go to Florida."