Concerned about a proposed development plan for Annapolis Neck, as well as a builder's push to erect condos, shops and offices on Bestgate Road, more than 300 residents attended an Anne Arundel County Council meeting last night.
So many people crammed into the Arundel Center in Annapolis that the county fire marshal posted four officers at the entrance to the council chambers and denied admission or re-entry to some. Inside, those who couldn't find seats leaned against walls and sat in aisles.
Although most of those who attended the meeting stood in opposition to a plan by Sturbridge Homes of Waugh Chapel to build a residential and commercial center on Bestgate Road - a proposal that would require a zoning change from residential to mixed-use residential - supporters' yellow buttons were hard to miss.
The buttons were printed with the slogan, "I support the Village at Bestgate."
Mike DeStefano, president of Sturbridge Homes, told the council that the retail side of his project would cater to local residents, and that it would not drain business from the Westfield Shoppingtown Annapolis mall or a proposed development hub at Parole. The project would result in a mix of moderate-income housing, retail and office space, he said.
On the other side of the debate, about 150 residents from Annapolis Neck and Crownsville packed the chambers to show their displeasure over the Sturbridge proposal - many saying they want the 54-acre Bestgate Road property to stay residential - as well as the Annapolis Neck development plan.
Some people asked elected officials to give them more say in the local planning and zoning process, a process that is viewed by many to be too heavily influenced by builders and developers.
"Take this county away from the developers who have gotten us where we find ourselves today and give it back to the citizens," said John Flood, a member of the Parole Growth Management Area Advisory Committee, which opposes the Sturbridge proposal.
Earlier in the day, council members met to review a 1999 report that suggested possible options to relieve traffic on Forest Road, a main artery on the Annapolis Neck that has long suffered from traffic congestion.
Many residents, including Councilwoman Barbara D. Samorajczyk, who represents the area, worry that the study, which was used to set out the Annapolis Neck development plan, is out of date.
Last week, Samorajczyk said she could ask her council colleagues to adopt planning legislation for the Annapolis Neck but hold off on zoning legislation, which must be introduced and adopted separately, until summer so that traffic data can be updated. But as of late last night, the council had yet to finish with public testimony.
County planning officials have stuck by the Annapolis Neck plan, which was created with input from an advisory committee of residents and would set development and zoning for the next decade. Planning Officer Joseph W. Rutter Jr. has stated that, overall, the plan embodies what residents requested.
Rutter's staff - some of whom have stated in the past that aspects of the advisory committee's draft, including establishment of a development oversight board and population cap, would never work - also defended the plan at the meeting. However, they made it clear that they do not support a zoning change at the Bestgate Road property.
"I know you've heard a lot about the plan," long-range planning officer Rich Josephson told the council last night. "But I feel confident in saying that there are more areas of agreement than disagreement."
Philip Dales, chairman of the Annapolis Neck development plan advisory committee, said members still hope the council will allow for changes within the plan. He said that editing changes by planning officials had altered the meaning of some sections of the plan, or made them ambiguous.
Dales added that the development plan should not allow for any further growth on the Annapolis Neck until after a fire station is built. He said that a map of the area's greenway system should be returned to the document, as well as a request by residents for an inventory of existing natural resources.
"We are trying to put the Annapolis Neck small-area plan ahead of the curve," Dales said. "Without your help, the community's vision will lose its teeth and its passion."