11-year-old agreement casts shadow on Crofton hotel plan; Civic association barred from protesting developer's site choice


An 11-year-old proposal for a hotel and conference center in Crofton that stirred an emotional debate this year is again sparking controversy over its location.

A legal agreement between the developer and the association keeps association board members from opposing the venture at its new proposed location, even if residents disagree.

Crofton Civic Association president Gayle Sears called for more public discussion.

"We shouldn't be stymied by an agreement that was signed in 1988," she said. "That agreement is 11 years old. People are different; things have changed."

William Berkshire, a longtime Crofton resident and landowner, is proposing a six-story stucco building on 7 acres along Route 3 between the community gates at Crawford Boulevard and Clubhouse Gate. It would have 145 rooms and a few conference rooms, but no roads or sidewalks providing access to the hotel from inside the gates. He said he is about six months from applying to the county for permits.

Last week, the association's architectural review committee, which perused plans for the hotel, disapproved of the plans Berkshire submitted on behalf of his Lancer Corp.

The committee, which is charged with reviewing landscaping and the building's appearance, said it didn't have enough information to approve landscaping plans and recommended that the association push for a brick building instead of a stucco one. Other issues, such as whether the woods along Route 3 should be replaced by a hotel are not open for discussion because of the agreement.

The agreement stems from a compromise reached in 1988 after residents opposed Berkshire's proposal to build a hotel near the country club. He agreed not to build there and to give the community its gates and a lake, which were on land he owned. The civic association, in turn, agreed not to oppose the rezoning of the land in front of the gates for a hotel. The association would also be allowed a voice in the hotel landscaping and the building's appearance.

Crofton board members reaffirmed the agreement last fall, voting to ban further discussion on the project's location.

The proposed hotel "defines the entrance to Crofton," said Ron Burns, who heads the architectural review committee that examined Berkshire's plans. Burns also serves on the Small Area Planning Committee, a group of residents that is reviewing zoning and land use for the county's general development plan.

The planning committee thought the hotel "would be better suited to the golf course or around the lake," Burns said.

The idea of a hotel and conference center in Crofton is as old as the community. Early conceptual drawings in the 1960s placed one at the golf course.

The Small Area Planning Committee, which was leaning this year toward recommending a hotel on the golf course, stirred an uprising in which about 30 residents, some of them Civic Association board members, came to speak against it. The group said in its final recommendations that the community and the county should decide on zoning changes.

"There have been people who've suggested a referendum on the issue," Burns said. "It was a potentially divisive issue. The vocal citizens are against a hotel on the country club."

Some fear that such a large commercial structure at the entrance to the community would change the character of the neighborhood and of the east side of Crain Highway. Most of the commercial developments surrounding the community have been on the west side of the divided highway.

Sears said she hopes that after residents see the proposed development, discussions on the hotel's location will be reopened.

"I think this is a real possibility that this could happen in front of our main gate," Sears said. "I think we should step back, put all of our emotions at rest and really discuss what we can do. People ought to be allowed to hear more. I'd like to hear all of the facts, and I think the community should have that opportunity."

Pub Date: 9/21/99

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