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."
Richardson-Pearson says that if the project receives approval from Annapolis officials, she'll sign an agreement to protect 75 acres of the property from development.
Some neighbors and environmentalists, however, would like to see the whole property preserved. They note that nearby Quiet Waters Park —one of the most popular parks in Anne Arundel — was once envisioned as a housing development.
While total preservation is their ideal vision, David Prosten, chairman of the local chapter of the Sierra Club, said it's not realistic to expect that money can be found to buy the land for conservation.
"In the absence of that, most people are saying a continuing-care retirement community is a fine thing — build it," he said. "But we're not convinced there's a need for 130 townhomes. And we're not convinced there's a need for 250,000 square feet of commercial development."
If development is inevitable, opponents want to see the project scaled back, Prosten said.
Richardson-Pearson and the development team say scaling back is not an option. She said they've modified plans several times already to reduce its footprint.
With supporters and opponents at loggerheads, both sides have taken to social media to promote their views. There are dueling websites as well as dueling Twitter accounts — @CrystalSpring_ for the developers, @SaveCSFarm for the opponents.
The opponents have been running an online petition, encouraging people to write letters to the editor, and they've persuaded former Gov. Parris N. Glendening — who championed the concept of smart growth and lives on the Annapolis Neck Peninsula — to join their cause. Their tactics have sometimes had mixed results: A December protest on Forest Drive snarled traffic and may have contributed to a fender-bender.
Opponents say they're are up against well-financed developers, who've hired a community relations representative, a public relations firm and a marketing company.
"The whole town thinks this is a done deal," Prosten said. "It's been difficult to wade through the PR."
But they remain undeterred; they've been meeting regularly to plot strategy and have started a legal defense fund in the event Crystal Spring ends up in court.
"We don't have a multimillion-dollar budget. We're more limited in our capabilities," Sullivan said. "But that's not going to stop us."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun