The “coming soon” sign has been up for more than a year. Now, a nonprofit organization and a developer are hoping Annapolis city staffers will remove several roadblocks and help them move forward with The Willows at Forest Drive, a 58-unit, income-restricted apartment community.
The current holdups include a delayed financial impact analysis by the city manager, complaints from city planners about the design “character,” and a lawsuit filed against a neighboring developer that could imperil a proposed access road to The Willows.
“The water has gotten a little bit muddy in the past 90 days,” The Willows’ developer David Holden said. “We are trying to clear that up.”
Housing Initiative Partnership, a Hyattsville-based nonprofit, and Ingerman, a Philadelphia firm where Holden serves as principal, have long hoped to construct a three-building community on a vacant 3.5-acre parcel adjacent to the American Legion’s Cook-Pinkney Post 141 on Forest Drive.
Monday night, HIP and Ingerman received approval from the Anne Arundel County Council to make an unspecified payment in lieu of property taxes. Next up, the partners hope, is a similar tax agreement from the Annapolis City Council and a hearing before the Annapolis City Planning Commission, which the partners believe is several months overdue.
“We need to be at the planning board in September,” Holden said. “We’ve been in limbo for too long.”
Although Ingerman also builds market-rate housing and commercial projects, Holden and project manager Matt Zajac specialize in shepherding affordable housing communities through the planning process. Financing for The Willows at Forest Drive relies in part on a state COVID-relief fund for pandemic-delayed developments, Zajac said, and failing to begin construction this year could jeopardize that money
All these hurdles frustrate retired U.S. Marine Gun. Sgt. Curtis “Gunny” Jones, who has been supporting The Willows for more than two years. Jones serves as commander of American Legion Post 141, and he called on the city to remove its roadblocks, especially its complaints about the project’s aesthetics. He also accused the city of prioritizing approvals for the proposed adjacent development, The Village at Providence Point, a continuing care retirement community that National Lutheran Services & Communities wants to build on 25 wooded acres.
“We need to ask, why is this taking so long?” Jones said of the affording housing project, which he feels will be a huge improvement over the weed-infested lot next door.
Now that a local activist group, the Crab Creek Conservancy, has challenged the city’s approval of Providence Point in court, Jones says that he has entered into a memorandum of understanding to sell a small portion of the Post’s property to Ingerman rather than Providence Point in hopes of helping The Willows move forward faster.
“I am not going to be someone’s puppet,” Jones said, adding that he views supporting affordable housing as synonymous with supporting veterans.
Cyndi Walters, president and CEO. of National Lutheran Communities, said in a statement Wednesday that “our overall plans are unaffected,” by Jones’s decision. “We continue to be committed to our approved project plans and that includes ongoing discussions with the American Legion,” Walters wrote.
Both developments depend on partnering with the American Legion and the city to extend Skippers Lane, a four-block roadway running parallel to Forest Drive behind several shopping centers, into a new access road for The Willows and The Village at Providence Point. Neither new project will include an access point on Forest Drive, a decision city planners made because of traffic concerns.
Ingerman revised its schematics for The Willows accordingly. Holden says his company has been working with the city since early 2021 on “various planning and land use issues.” Final plans went to the city in April, yet they still don’t have a date before the Planning Commission, in part because of discussions about forest conservation along property lines and the city’s design critiques.
City Manager David Jarrell said in a statement Wednesday that planning staff will meet with Ingerman, HIP and their architect next week, “to review modifications to the architectural plans to ensure that they better relate to Annapolis character.”
Alderman Brooks Schandelmeier, one of the most vocal housing advocates on the City Council, called the city planners’ concerns “complete nonsense.”
“The Willows will be a fantastic looking project,” said Schandelmeier, a Democrat from Ward 5.
The Willows was designed by Judy Miller, founder of Architecture by Design, an Ellicott City firm that specializes in new and refurbished multifamily communities. The company’s Anne Arundel County projects include The Park View at Severna Park.
Three buildings at The Willows are slated to house 12 one-bedroom apartments, 28 two-bedroom apartments and 18 three-bedroom apartments. The base of each building is beige brick, with slate gray and brick red accent siding. Eleven units will be reserved for residents with state housing vouchers. Tenants in the remaining 47 units will need to earn between 20% and 50% of the area median income, or between $23,220 and $58,050.
“It’s a wide range of incomes that we are going to serve,” said HIP’s executive director. Maryann Dillon. In May, the nonprofit opened Towne Courts, a community in Parole with a similar mix of voucher, disabled and income-restricted housing, plus a handful of market-rate homes.
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Although there is no official waitlist for The Willows, dozens of people submitted their names to receive updates on the project, Holden said. Applications will be accepted once the project is within three to four months of opening.
“There seems to be a lot of interest and excitement,” Zajac said.