A vote over the proposed residential complex near Quiet Waters Park was again shelved by city planning commissioners after lengthy discussion on Thursday.
The Reserve at Quiet Waters is proposed on a 40-acre property along Annapolis Neck Road. The development is slated to include 158 residential units, scattered in an inverse S-curve, all adjacent to the north end of the county-owned Quiet Waters Park.
The development’s proximity to the park and its potential impact on nearby Forest Drive have made it a sensitive issue for the Annapolis Planning Commission.
“This is a damned difficult site,” said Commissioner James Urban.
An alternate entrance or exit was originally proposed at the entrance to the park, which would have spit traffic out onto Hillsmere Drive. But that proposal is now “off the table,” said Annapolis Planning Director Jon Arason.
Debate over the Reserve has eaten up more than eight hours of the commission’s time over its past two meetings, and that’s estimating conservatively. And a conclusion for the proposal will have to wait a little longer, as the five-hour meeting was continued for a second time Thursday night.
These delays are somewhat understandable, given the scope of the project. When one side of the room has dozens of organized residents concerned over the environmental impact of the development, and the other side has an army of well-dressed experts paid for by the developer, one can’t help but sympathize a little with the commissioners.
Thursday saw the first official presentation by the site's developers, QW Properties and Chesapeake Realty Partners, before the planning commission. The last meeting had a public hearing that extended past midnight, all before they got a chance to speak.
Jerome Feldman, an attorney representing the developer, laid out his presentation for commissioners with a panel of five experts, including an arborist, a traffic engineer, and a landscape architect.
Each expert testified that the developer was doing its best to minimize the Reserve’s impact on the area, in some cases improving the area by cleaningit up. But first and foremost, their plan meets or exceeds the requirements of local government, they said.
Zack Lett, a landscape architect, said the site would connect walkways around the area, creating a sidewalk network for pedestrians and cyclists. Mike Klebasko, an environmental consultant, said the site had become a dumping ground for trash and a home to invasive insects. But developing it would clean up the area.
Mike Lenhart, a traffic consultant, said improvements were planned along Forest Drive to minimize traffic congestion heading into the development.
He and the city’s traffic expert, Rodney Plourde, agreed the most feasible solution would be to cut back on the landscape in the medians and extend left-turn lanes for both directions of Forest Drive at the intersection of Annapolis Neck Road.
They did not advocate adding a traffic signal.
But traffic soon became the hot-button issue with commissioners. They struggled with whose responsibility it was for Forest Drive becoming the nightmare it is, and where they should draw the line on it becoming any worse.
At one point in the meeting, Commissioner Robert Waldman slammed his hand down onto the lectern in frustration. Despite the assurances of traffic experts, Waldman said he had a gut feeling their solution wasn’t safe.
“It’s hard for me to understand how this is a safe intersection,” he said of Forest Drive and Annapolis Neck Road.
Commissioner Wilford Scott said he regularly bikes through that area, and considered it "one of the scariest things I do on a bicycle.”
“I just can’t imagine, on a regular basis, having to negotiate Forest Drive from that horrible, horrible intersection,” Scott said.
Waldman questioned both traffic experts on the safety of the intersection, and asked them if a traffic light might be a better alternative.
Both experts said they thought extending the turning lanes is a safe solution. However, Lenhart said they had no control over whether a traffic light was installed on Forest Drive. That’s up to the county, as it owns and maintains the road.
However, a traffic light at that location has been frowned upon by others in the past, including Annapolis Mayor Josh Cohen. At the commission’s July 21 meeting, he said, “The last thing we want to do is create more undue delays on Forest Drive.”
Janet Norman, a resident of Annapolis Neck Road, said a traffic signal was a necessity. She described her experience at the intersection, boasting of more than 16,000 trips through the gauntlet of Forest Drive. Increasing visibility on Forest Drive wouldn’t resolve the issue of safety, Norman said.
“The sight lines are not the only issue here," she said. "It’s coming from a dead stop on an icy road into 55 mph traffic. An unsignaled road here is a fatality waiting to happen. … How many fatalities do you think it’ll take before they put a traffic signal there? Two? Three?”
The next session for the Reserve will be at the planning commission’s Sept. 15 meeting, scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. Arason said he would try to clear the agenda for that night so they could focus on, and possibly conclude, the Reserve’s business.