Arundel panel members threaten to quit over development proposal

Parole officials say village could hurt revitalization

February 24, 2003|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

A majority of members on a long-serving redevelopment committee for Parole have threatened to resign if the Anne Arundel County Council votes tonight to allow a residential and commercial "village" to spring up along Bestgate Road near Annapolis.

The village plan is the latest twist in a decadelong development saga that has mired more than one landowner in controversy. Many residents remain opposed to the village concept because they view Bestgate Road as a dividing line between commercial and residential zones. They fear that a blurring of the line could jeopardize long-awaited plans to revitalize Parole.

"I'm prepared to resign from the Parole Committee if the County Council passes this bill," wrote Lina Vlavianos, a member of the Parole Growth Management Advisory Committee, in a recent e-mail to council members and others.

The committee recently put final touches on a redevelopment plan for the Parole area, including the shuttered Parole Plaza.

Committee members charge that council members would reverse many years of careful planning if they vote to change zoning on a 34-acre parcel on Bestgate Road from residential to mixed-use residential. The change would allow Sturbridge Homes of Gambrills and Erwin L. Greenberg and Associates of Baltimore to move ahead with their Village at Bestgate concept.

The parcel in question lies outside Parole, an area where county officials hope to focus commercial activity.

"The need was identified to protect the Parole area from sprawl, and now the council is considering decaying the outer boundary," said John Flood, a member of the Parole committee who also has threatened to resign. "We're asking the council to hold that line."

Village opponents worry that they will vote to amend the Annapolis Neck Small Area plan, a comprehensive rezoning, to allow commercial development at the Bestgate Road site. They say that such action could set off a flurry of new commercial activity in the area and aggravate traffic problems.

But proponents of the village, including some Bestgate Road residents, say that the village will not compete with businesses in the Parole area. They say the county needs affordable housing such as the condominiums that would be located at the village.

"All I want is affordable housing for the people of Annapolis," said Sherrie Weeks, a Bestgate Road resident and proponent of the village concept. She also is president of Realtors for Workforce Housing. "I would really like to see the condominiums."

Most council members say they are undecided about the zoning request.

"I'm still looking into it," said council Vice Chairman C. Edward Middlebrooks, a Republican from Severn. "I'm torn because the opponents raise a good issue about the Parole growth management plan. ... But then I have concerns about what is around [the parcel] now being commercial."

Councilman Ronald C. Dillon Jr., a Republican from Pasadena, said that he has been impressed by the number of groups that oppose the village concept, including the Generals Highway Council of Civic Associations, Sierra Club and Severn River Commission.

He says he is considering a vote to keep zoning for the site strictly residential.

"The community really does seem to want to preserve what it has there," he said, adding that the addition of 240 condominiums, plus retail and office space as proposed by developers, could bring in more traffic. "I don't want to overwhelm Bestgate Road."

Residents who support the village development, many of whom live in townhouses on the south side of Bestgate Road, attended a council meeting two weeks ago to voice their opinions. Some testified that traffic on Bestgate Road would not be a problem and that they like the idea of a small neighborhood shopping hub as conceptualized by Sturbridge and Greenberg.

Many of these residents have accepted free meals and transportation to council meetings from the developers.

Sturbridge President Michael DeStefano, who also testified at the council meeting, has stated many times that he would develop the site, in addition to 24 acres near Cabin Branch Creek, with or without the proposed zoning change. But DeStefano has offered to preserve the back 24 acres as open space if he gets permission to build the village on the front 34 acres.

Opponents have long argued that the back 24 acres are not developable and that the developer's offer to give them up to open space is an empty gift.

"People who oppose this project have not kept an open mind," DeStefano said.

On a recent tour of the wooded property, DeStefano talked about the natural beauty of the site and the type of houses he could build, some of which would sell for $1 million each. He said the proposed zoning change would allow him to build more affordable condominiums.

"Let's downzone stuff on the Annapolis Neck if we want to practice Smart Growth, but let's put density where we can fit it," he said.

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