As Anne Arundel County continues to move forward with plans to build a nearly 8,300-square-foot office building near Quiet Waters Park, members of the Annapolis community gathered at Bay Ridge Christian Church Friday night to express their disapproval of the project.
Leaders from Friends of Quiet Waters Park and the Annapolis Neck Peninsula Federation presented development plans to roughly 250 community members in attendance for the Earl Conservation Center, an office space slated to be built for the Chesapeake Conservancy and other environmental groups on a 5-acre parcel abutting the park.
Since plans were announced in 2019, community involvement and communication dwindled, said Andrew Loftus, president of Friends of Quiet Waters Park, a citizen advisory and public education group.
“In 2019, we were all happy about it. We all went to the opening ceremony, everyone was happy,” Loftus said. “We were OK with the Conservancy utilizing the existing buildings that were there. There’s precedents for that.”
But plans to refurbish existing buildings on the property, including the original farmhouse located less than 100 feet from the shoreline, were abandoned after they were discovered to be too damaged. The county pivoted, allowing the Conservancy to demolish the existing buildings and build an office of their own that will be farther back from where the original farmhouse sat on the sensitive area on the water, according to County Council Member Lisa Rodvien said.
A presentation last spring by Director of Recreation and Parks Jessica Leys on the new proposed office building was the first time Loftus’ group had heard about the county plans, he said.
“That was the first time we heard and saw and realized the extent of the development,” he said.
Rodvien, who represents Annapolis and was in attendance at Friday night’s meeting, refuted claims from both the meeting’s leaders and attendees that the county was not transparent with the public about the project.
It is county policy that all public hearings and notices of bills being introduced are posted to the county’s website. Notices are also placed in local newspapers at least a month before the public hearing, Rodvien said.
The county’s plan to purchase the 19-acre property located on the south-end of Quiet Waters Park near Loden Pond dates back to June 2019. The proposal aimed to expand water and trail access for the community and cement the property as a preserved plot of land. The Chesapeake Conservancy announced in November 2019 that they had received a $2 million donation from philanthropists James and Sylvie Earl and a $1 million gift from the U.S. Navy toward the project.
The property was projected to cost $8 million, but with funding from Maryland’s Program Open Space, the county ended up contributing only $350,000 toward the purchase of the land.
In March 2022, the council unanimously voted in favor of leasing 5 acres of the land to the Chesapeake Conservation Center, a subsidiary of the Chesapeake Conservancy for $1 dollar a year for at least 30 years.
Friday’s meeting followed a similar outpouring of opposition earlier this month at the first County Council meeting of the year.
Duffy Perkins, a resident attending the meeting, said that she thought the Mary Parker house — the farmhouse that burnt down in a case of arson — was a beautiful place for an office setting but said she has “whiplash” at what she sees now.
“We don’t need these massive office parks, considering how infrequently they’re being used,” she said.
Anastasia Hopkinson, vice president of the Annapolis Peninsula Federation, a land-use advocacy group, suggested an alternative to building new near Quiet Waters Park: let the Conservancy use space the Crownsville Hospital Center when it is redeveloped.
On Feb. 13, Recreation and Parks staff will hold a public meeting with the community about the design of the office building and get more information regarding its amenities.
President and CEO of the Chesapeake Conservancy Joel Dunn intends to attend that meeting, according to Chesapeake Conservancy spokesperson Jody Couser.
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“We look forward to our community attending the second Anne Arundel County Department of Public Works meeting on Feb. 13 where county representatives and architects will be on hand to share more information and answer questions about this innovative public-private partnership that expanded Quiet Waters Park,” she said.
Loftus suggests that for the long term, the county needs to review the Quiet Waters Park Masterplan that was conceived in 1988 and either adhere to the processes and goals proposed or reevaluate what its vision is in the future.
Amid the public outcry, city and county officials have remained supportive of the project.
The county will move forward with the construction because to not do so would be in violation of the agreement made with the conservancy, said County Executive Steuart Pittman, who attended the information session but left before the question and answer portion of the night.
“I would say that at this point, I am supportive of [the Quiet Waters development], I know the of the council is unanimously supportive of it,” Pittman said, addressing the audience. “It’s a beautiful, amazing place; it’s an extension of Quiet Waters, and it will be a place where young people can come for programming [and] everyone can go, and I am sorry that not everybody agrees on that.”
In a letter to the editor in The Capital, Mayor Gavin Buckley offered his support to the conservancy as well as Pittman and Rodvien in the project, which he called “ecologically focused.”
“This privately funded environmental facility will provide a collaborative working space for local nonprofits,” Buckley wrote. “It will draw national talent and be a hub for the kind of environmental action Maryland needs.”