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Crystal Spring developers unveil new sketch of project

Chase Cook
Contact Reporterccook@capgaznews.com
Hours before meeting on impacts of Crystal Spring project, developers unveil new scaled back sketch of plan.

Hours before an Annapolis Planning Commission meeting in which critics were set to detail impacts of the proposed Crystal Spring project, developers of the site released an updated look at the project that shrinks its size and scope.

The new sketch of the plan reduces the number of townhomes from 118 to 80, and further reduces retail and the size of the inn and spa planned for the location.

There will no longer be any development on the Crab Creek side of the project, with the $200 million mixed-use plan concentrated closer to Forest Drive. Developers said the project would now be about a half-mile away from the creek.

The new version of the plan has not formally been filed with the city, but developers said that would be the next step of the process. Crystal Spring has been in development for about six years and has not gotten past the initial forest conservation plan phase, which is the beginning of the process.

Marshall Breines, president of Affirmative Hillspoint LLC and developer of the project, said he hoped the new plan would be a way to get the project in the pipeline and move away from what he called "premature" `opposition.

"There has been no formal plan to oppose," he said.

The planning commission on Wednesday night heard testimony from experts asked to discuss the impact that Crystal Spring would have on the city, including environmental, economic and transportation concerns. The audience in the full City Council room was mostly anti-Crystal Spring and applauded after the speakers gave their statements.

The new sketch of the project wasn't used as the basis of the discussion because it wasn't a formally filed plan. The speakers focused on an April version of the plan.

Gerald Winegrad, former state senator and project opponent, said he is skeptical of the new plan until it is filed, so it was important for Wednesday's planning work session to go ahead.

"This doesn't change anything because there isn't a new filing with the city," he said.

Over the last two years, Breines and his developers have gone through "dozens" of changes to get to what they hope is an agreeable plan to carry forward.

In that time, the project has shrunk.

The number of townhomes dropped to 80, residential units above retail businesses rose from 40 to 50 while retail space dipped from 186,000 square feet to 132,000 square feet. Developers also cut offices planned above retail and the cultural arts center, making up another 51,000-square-foot reduction. The number of rooms at the inn and spa also was reduced from 120 to 80, according to the updated sketch. The 140 unit apartment complex also was written out of the project.

The changes are an effort to meet the city's requests regarding the scope of the project and there have been ongoing discussions that have been positive, Breines said.

City officials confirmed they had seen the plan but did not comment on specifics.

Diane Butler, a member of the Annapolis Environmental Commission, said she was pleased with the changes to the plan, but still raised concerns about traffic. She also had concerns about trees that were replanted being cut down in the future.

"This is a positive direction forward," Butler said. "I'd like to see them create some conservation easements so replanted trees aren't cut down in five years."

Winegrad and the critics at the work session went into detail with complaints about the project. At the environmental level, they were concerned about the impact to Crab Creek from the project's runoff and from trees being cut.

Critics also said increased residential and retail traffic would have a negative impact on Forest Drive, which has several projects planned along its corridor. Crystal Spring is the largest in the corridor and in the city.

Winegrad and the other speakers put together about 100 pages detailing the impacts of the project, which were delivered to the commission members.

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