Capital Opinion Column
February 20, 2019
FOREST DRIVE/EASTPORT SECTOR STUDY IS A HOPE, NOT A PLAN
The City of Annapolis has a plan for the future development of Forest Drive and Eastport. Called a Sector Study, it requires City Council approval to amend the Annapolis 2009-2019 Comprehensive Plan and guide how the area will be further developed until 2030.
The plan’s vision is glorious: a vibrant economy of small village-like communities of multi-family residences with nearby retail shopping; commercial sites where one may walk to work; architecture that creates a feeling of an attractive place to live and work. Up to 1,428 new residences will lure retail and commercial interests and help fund new bus routes and other public amenities.
There are many ways the plan nudges citizens out of our cars by providing walking and biking paths and tree-lined streets. It is the hope that a livable, walkable community will offer a high quality of life, attracting employers whose young workers will bring vibrancy to the local society and economy.
All of this is wonderful except it depends on surprising changes. The Study observes that currently its a commuter area with 80% of workers leaving the peninsula for work, etc., with no prediction that driving behavior will change.
Yet the study says, optimistically, if there’s more nearby shopping, jobs and entertainment, and with new technologies, we’ll drive less.
That’s a hope, though, not a plan.
Where are those new houses going? If you own property within a block or two of Forest Drive, expect a developer to knock on your door someday with a generous buyout offer. The plan is to create an “urban boulevard”, with buildings up to four stories high and close to the street, on just about every block on Forest Drive except the Middle School.
Along Bay Ridge Road on the eastern end of Forest Drive, the city has found a real bonanza for development. At the Giant grocery’s shopping center and the two-story strip of buildings west of the Giant, the plan proposes a mix of residential, commercial and retail buildings of 4 to 8 stories.
What effect will that have on traffic? Forest Drive congestion will worsen, admittedly, but the Sector Study planners state that “Improvements recommended to address the current problems will largely accommodate growth.”
They say that road improvements will be funded by the County and State and by contributions demanded of developers. That’s what the 2009 Comprehensive Plan called for ten years ago and nothing happened.
Perhaps City officials will convince the County and State to cough up funds to support Annapolis’ plans for growth. Though they seem to have other priorities.
When growth is planned, road improvements should not just be talked about but actually funded and construction scheduled before new development.
The Forest Drive/Eastport Sector Study isn’t a plan, it’s a vision with dream-like qualities.
It won’t get us from today’s motley assortment of small shopping centers to charming neighborhoods with delightful amenities. There is much more work to do.
For example, determining the engineering feasibility of improving the Chinquapin intersection and Forest Drive’s capacity for additional vehicles, finding a source of government funds to pay for infrastructure improvements, evaluating environmental consequences of fewer trees and more stormwater, assessing school capacity.
And, most of all, calculating whether increased tax revenues out pace the cost of expanded city services.
The Sector Study addresses the future of two-thirds of the city’s land area and population. However, it doesn’t fully consider the challenges of intense growth on a peninsula with one, congested access road.
It should not be approved by City Council as a backward-looking gesture to complete a past plan. Rather, the Study is the basis for the upcoming 2019-2029 Comprehensive Plan.
Planners laid groundwork for thinking about possibilities. Residents in Eastport and along Forest Drive should write their own future. Its their turf and they know it best.
Come to a free, public presentation and discussion on the Sector Study on Thursday, February 28, 7:00PM at the Eastport-Annapolis Neck Library, 269 Hillsmere Dr., Annapolis.
Annapolis Neck Peninsula Federation
To read the Forest Drive/Eastport Sector Study, go to Comprehensive Planning at Annapolis.gov.