After months of mediation with an Annapolis residents group, the Lofts at Eastport Landing project is moving forward with a new application.
Some still wish it weren’t.
The Annapolis Department of Planning and Zoning recently approved the site design plan for the project, a mixed residential and commercial development that seeks to refresh the Eastport Shopping Center. The project is scaled back from its original density — a result of mediation with the city and the Concerned Citizens of Eastport over the design of the redevelopment.
Solstice Partners, the group developing the project, agreed to lose a floor, implement a setback along Chesapeake Avenue and scale back units to 98 rather than the proposed 127.
Residents tend to agree the shopping center, pocked with an abandoned movie theater, needs a face-lift. But some disagree with the application and are preparing an appeal of the city decision.
The criticisms align with common concerns among Eastport neighbors: the project will generate too much traffic, inadequately address open-space requirements and violate the scale of the community.
“We’re trying to get the city to recognize errors and mistakes,” said Steve Rogers, who owns a neighboring property. “We believe there are huge errors in the review and there are very large mistakes.”
Rogers and Alderman Ross Arnett, D-Ward 8, think there should have been a public hearing after Solstice Partners resubmitted its application. Arnett passed legislation last year which would have required all major developments to go before the Annapolis Planning Commission and host a public meeting.
But Alan Hyatt, the attorney representing Solstice and other city developers, filed a temporary restraining order against the city, citing the new law as vague and unactionable. As a part of the legal agreement, the parties worked to revise the legislation together and the city agreed not to enforce the suing parties (including Solstice).
The revised law passed in November has essentially the same requirements, but grandfathers proposals already in the pipe, specifically the Lofts at Eastport Landing.
So, why didn’t the city hold a public hearing on the new application?
“It’s not required,” Planning and Zoning Director Pete Gutwald said.
Rogers also takes issue with the ratio of residential units to commercial space under the zoning regulations. Bill Reichhardt, spokesman for the Concerned Citizens of Eastport group, said he sees the application as compliant with the code.
Rogers and his neighbors have other worries. The Annapolis code requires a new residential development to include a certain amount of recreational area per unit. Plans for the Lofts at Eastport Landing categorize “amenity space” and patios as open space, which has led some residents to decry the plans.
Solstice principal Alex Kopicki said the patios and courtyards would be open to the public.
“Anybody can obviously utilize that or sit on a park bench or go for stroll,” he said. As to claims the project will count private patio spaces for restaurants and cafes as open space, Kopicki said, “I don’t think that that’s accurate.”
Reichhardt wrote a letter to the city in August outlining resident disagreements with the traffic impact study used to assess the project. The study was from 2016, when Solstice submitted their initial application. In response, the contractor revised the traffic study and found fewer trips due to new industry standards and fewer units.
“There’s not going to be a traffic light on Americana (Drive),” said Eastport resident Frieda Wildey, who was not a part of the Concerned Citizens. “We see that’s going to be a recipe for disaster.”
Kopicki said he and his partners are willing to continue through the process, even if it means more appeals.
“We’re not giving up at this point,” he said. “I think that its a very tight application and it’s been approved at this point by planning and zoning.”
The 98 units will be a mix of studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments, including six moderately priced dwelling units. The apartments will go for market rate, Kopicki said, likely starting at $1,300.