Judge orders further review of utilities in Eastport Mall redevelopment – ​​Capital Gazette

A circuit judge has ordered the Annapolis Appeal Board to reconsider an Eastport redevelopment project to ensure it will provide utilities such as storm water management, traffic and police protection to the project and to the existing community.

In an April 29 opinion, Circuit Judge Cathleen Vitale upheld parts of a city appeals board decision to overturn the planning department’s approval of a certificate of adequate public facilities. and zoning for the proposed loft development at Eastport Landing. Council ruled in December 2020 that plans negotiated between the city and the developer, Solstice Partners LLC, to provide additional security at the premises, install new traffic control measures and pay fees in lieu of creating more recreational spaces and other services were inadequate.

For new developments to be approved in Annapolis, developers must ensure they can adequately provide public services, including police and firefighting, traffic control, recreational spaces and the capacity of schools, among others. If a plan is found to be lacking in any of these areas, called adequate public facilities, the developer is responsible for bringing services up to code with the city before a certificate can be awarded. .

Vitale’s decision refers the matter back to the Appeals Board for further action, she wrote.

“We respect the court’s decision and we will follow it,” said Bob Gallagher, chairman of the Appeal Board.

Solstice Partners filed its first application for a Certificate of Adequate Public Facilities for the project in 2016. Plans call for a partial redevelopment of the Eastport Mall on Bay Ridge Avenue with a proposed 98-unit multi-storey apartment building and a commercial space on the ground floor. Currently, the mall is home to a handful of restaurants, a pharmacy, and a few other small businesses as well as a long-vacant movie theater.

After the appeal board ruled that the developers must do more to provide public services, Solstice Partners appealed the decision to Anne Arundel County Circuit Court in January 2021. The developers argued that the commission “erred in law in applying the wrong standard of review and substituting its judgment for that of [Planning and Zoning]and that its endorsement of the Adequate Public Facilities Certificate was “legally correct and supported by substantial evidence.” …”

Alan Hyatt, attorney for Solstice Partners, called the decision disappointing and described it as a “split the baby” decision, a nod to Vitale partially agreeing with the appeal board while siding on the side of the developers on its plans to provide leisure and non-auto spaces. transportation services.

“We had two agreements with the city’s planning and zoning department regarding mitigation plans for these five criteria to meet the adequacy of public facilities, and each time the appeal board rejected them. and that the court agreed, in part with the commission. calls,” Hyatt said Wednesday. “Our options are to appeal the decision of the circuit court, or to resume the process in the city, or perhaps to try another approach. I do not know.

“We are reviewing all of our options and no decision has been made at this stage.”

In his view, Vitale ruled that the appeal board was partially right to rescind the certificate more than a year ago, saying the proposed plans to pay for stormwater improvements and safety and the additional traffic control did not meet what is called the “no worse-than” test. had not been developed,” according to the City Code.

The developers had offered to pay for security cameras and up to $50,000 a year to employ off-duty Annapolis police officers to provide security to the property, an additional $17,000 for engineering costs of the stormwater infrastructure and $10,000 for traffic light optimization. Those attempts to pay for utilities failed, according to the appeal board, and Vitale agreed.

Vitale, however, overturned council’s rejection of two other plans which called for payment in lieu of creating recreational space and providing services such as cycle harrows – dedicated cycle road space, widened sidewalks and a pass. temporary bus pass for residents.

The developers had offered to pay a $21,000 fee instead of creating more than 40,000 square feet of new recreation space, a total calculated according to city code requirements. For cyclists, pedestrians and transit users, planning and zoning recommended requiring new bike markings, on-site bike racks and gas stations, new sidewalks and expanded as well as signal timing optimization, stop sign mandate analysis, and a 30-day bus pass for each residential unit, among other changes.

These plans “will be adequate with the required mitigation measures,” Vitale wrote, “therefore, the appeal board should have confirmed the [Planning and Zoning]decision.

In its original decision, the appeal board ruled that the four other public facilities, including school capacity impacts, water and sewer services, public maintenance and fire protection, were adequate.

Vitale’s decision extends one of the longest development fights in recent memory that has included battles over the size and scope of the project, environmental concerns and more.

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The Department of Planning and Zoning first issued a Certificate of Adequate Public Facilities for the project in November 2018. However, two Eastport residents, Steve Rogers and Charles Henney, appealed the decision, arguing that the public facility plans for the project fell far short of code requirements. According to the city code, inadequacy “means that adequate facilities are not currently available to service the existing development and the proposed project.”

In January 2020, after hours of hearings, the Appeal Board issued a “mulligan”, neither approving nor rejecting Rogers and Henney’s appeal. Instead, he asked the Planning and Zoning Department to provide more information about the project’s impact on public facilities. And a few months later, in May, the ministry issued a new certificate on the condition that developers meet a series of mitigation requirements.

The council then ruled in December 2020 that the city erred in approving the mitigation plan and returned five of the nine public facility requirements to the department.

The decision comes at a time of transition for the Planning and Zoning Department. Former director Sally Nash left for a new job in October. Michael Mallinoff has served as acting director since then. On Monday, the city council will swear in a permanent director, Michael La Place, who will likely oversee the project going forward.

“We are reviewing the judge’s decision to see how it affects not only the Eastport Mall, but other projects in the city as well,” Mallinoff said.

Rogers, who lives near the proposed redevelopment property, said he was happy with the decision, calling it a “community effort.” Since the appeal was first filed, Rogers has spent thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours fighting the development alone. He stressed that he was not opposed to the project but wanted it to be done correctly and according to code.

“If they played by the code, played by the rules and played by them, we’d all be okay with it,” Rogers said.

Edwin S. Wolfe