Approval likely for contested development

Annapolis appeals board to issue decision by Feb. 6

January 07, 2001|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

After five years of tense legal battles, acrimonious residents' meetings, voluminous traffic studies and redrafted plans, the Crab Cove development on the Annapolis Neck peninsula is one step from approval.

The 104-acre project, slated to include 172 residences ranging in price from $300,000 to about $650,000, cleared several hurdles on its way to the Annapolis Board of Appeals, where it landed last month. The board, which has the final word on the project proposed for an area between Bywater Road and Greenbriar Lane south of Forest Drive, will issue its final decision by Feb. 6, Chairwoman Judith Billage said Friday.

Billage gave no indication about Crab Cove's fate, but those familiar with the project say they expect it to be approved.

Forty-nine acres will be preserved as forest under a required city conservation easement. Jon L. Arason, director of the Annapolis Department of Planning and Zoning, credits the project's neighbors and the developer for moving beyond their differences to devise the current plan.

He added, "I don't want to sound like this was a big love-in. We had some intense meetings."

The 4-inch-thick file on Crab Cove in Arason's office chronicles some of the strife surrounding the subdivision that developer Chrisland Corp. of Fairfax, Va., proposed in 1996.

That year, the city annexed the land from Anne Arundel County, prompting a county lawsuit. The county contended that the annexation isolated a section of the county south of the proposed development and allowed too many houses to be built on the property. Chrisland had sought the annexation so that it could pay fewer governmental fees and have access more rapidly to water and sewer lines.

Two neighborhood groups, the Annapolis Neck Peninsula Federation and the Bywater-Church & Crab Creek Association Inc., also filed a court challenge, noting traffic problems in their lawsuits against Chrisland and the city. In 1997, a judge dismissed the suits and ruled that the annexation could proceed. The Maryland Court of Appeals upheld that decision in 1998.

Paul Cuticchia, Chrisland's president and owner, said he didn't expect the legal battle to take so long. But that wasn't the last of the wrangling. "We probably went through 20 different game plans," he said Friday. "We went to great pains to include everyone."

Crab Cove addressed community concerns with plans to widen Forest Drive, modify the size and location of the garages, and make the development accessible from Greenbriar Lane and South Cherry Grove Avenue instead of only from Bywater Road, originally planned as the main entrance site.

Crab Cove's county-city location further complicated discussions. To complete the project, the county had to convey parts of Bywater Road and Greenbriar Lane, which it maintained, to the city. Now, plans call for all roads to be maintained and services provided by the city.

Steven Fuller, a physician who lives on Bywater Road, was among two neighbors who expressed concerns at the Board of Appeals hearing last month.

Fuller, concerned about the project's density and traffic problems on Forest Drive, said that Chrisland's proposed remedy - to widen Forest Drive - wouldn't go far enough. It would only move what he calls "the choke point of congestion" farther from Crab Cove's entrance, he said.

Fuller said he spoke for his allotted three minutes at the hearing and characterized the reception he was given as "rather icy."

"Realistically, I think the development will go ahead. I'm not trying to stop it," he said. "But to develop it regardless of the Forest Drive traffic - that's a big mistake in my view."

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