Annapolis government, residents disagree over Eastport, Downtown development

By Greta Easthom

Jammed in traffic on the Eastport drawbridge, Carly Anonsen, a teacher in a neighboring town, wonders how long it will take to get to work today, as the influx of cars crawl across.

At least there is no downtown parade today.

The bridge provides the shortest route from the quaint community of Eastport into Annapolis and other cities. Eastport residents require access to these regions as their main shopping center has started deteriorating.

Solstice Partners has been trying to develop a “mixed-use” renovation to the shopping center for the past four years. “We’ve invested over a million dollars,” said Jeff Jacobson, principal to Solstice Partners. “But we don’t have one permit.”  Developers have found Annapolis and neighboring Eastport “a historically hard place to develop,” according to Jacobson.  At a city council meeting on Oct. 9, several architects complained that the adoption of a new ordinance, O-35-17, would extend timelines and increase costs. The proposed ordinance requires a community meeting and a public hearing.

Pete Gutwald, director of planning and zoning for Annapolis, said the ordinance’s intent addresses two issues. “First was to provide more transparency and community input on development proposals in the City…the second was to clarify and expand the planning commissions role of reviewing major site designs.”

“We understand there is a dire need for increased transparency in the planning process,” said Jacobson, “But …this ordinance isn’t going to get you the results you’re looking for.”

Jacobson estimated that the new ordinance would extend a current Solstice Partners’ project in West Annapolis six to eight months and increase costs by more than $150,000. “What the community may not understand is if we pay more money, then we have to charge higher rent or we don’t build as nice of a project—instead of sturdier panel shingles, we have to use vinyl siding”

“We hire professionals to make these decisions,” Leo A. Wilson, principal to Hammond Wilson, said,  “The director already has the authority to decide on a project.”

Jacobson said for the Eastport project he met with the planning commission and calculated numbers alongside Alderman Ross H. Arnett and Gutwald. Jacobson said Arnett, who endorses the ordinance, now contends Solstice Partners came up with its own numbers. “We have 40 public meetings and meetings with politicians way before we start a project,” said Jacobson, “If the property is zoned, if rules are followed, there is only so much more say the general public can have.”

However, Anonsen said residents do not have enough input at public meetings.  “What we know and hear is inconsistent,” said Anonsen. “I agree there needs to be a revitalization to the shopping center, however I don’t think cramming so many apartment units is beneficial either. The general consensus from Eastport residents is traffic is already a nightmare.”

Featured image by Greta Easthom.


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