Environmental Planner Rob Savidge could be the closest thing to a real Whistleblower that Annapolis has seen. Below are the testimony he gave at last night’s City Council meeting, as well as his guest column reprinted from today’s paper:
The Lorax would be very upset with the city of Annapolis. I should know. I work in the city’s Department of Neighborhood and Environmental Programs. My duties include conducting environmental plan reviews for new developments and determining whether they comply with our forest and wetland protection laws.
Unfortunately, our resources are not being adequately protected. Annapolis has not fully adopted Maryland’s Forest Conservation Act. Because of this, we do not have a clear environmental review, approval or appeal process, or our own forest conservation technical manual, in violation of state Natural Resources Article § 5-1603. This has allowed many development projects (including Reserve at Quiet Waters, adjacent to the park) to navigate the environmental review process without properly applying the forest conservation laws. Every development that is or was subject to the FCA could be called into question and challenged in court.
The state Department of Natural Resources is at fault as well. It failed to properly approve the city’s FCA program and has offered only cursory reviews every other year. The FCA clearly lists what must be in a local program, so why hasn’t the DNR enforced this properly from day one?
I first tried to speak up about these programmatic failures around three years ago. Yet instead of investigating my concerns and taking them seriously, department leadership retaliated against me. They have even used my political affiliation with the Green Party to justify removing me from project reviews (such as Crystal Spring) — discrimination that is clearly against the law. Does this give you confidence in the city’s objectivity, or that projects like Crystal Spring will be given sufficient environmental reviews?
To further limit public transparency, department leadership proceeded to tell environmental review staff to avoid the state Public Information Act and to hide review comments from the public by not posting them online. They even placed gag orders on staff and told us we couldn’t communicate with our own citizen advisory boards, which the law requires we cooperate with. Yet where is the accountability for these transgressions, these violations of the public’s trust?
What we need is civil discourse on these development projects and their environmental impacts. That’s not going to come from a department that silences its own reviewers and inhibits transparency. And that will not happen, in the case of Crystal Spring, from developers that threaten litigation and use bullying tactics to get what they want. Reportedly, that development team even suppressed science by forcing a wetland scientist off the city’s volunteer Environmental Commission, by going to his employer, after he conducted an independent wetland assessment with permission from the city. They harassed city commissioners by submitting PIA requests for their personal emails and social media posts. They threaten to sue the city if we do not approve their latest submission. This behavior from the DNEP and the Crystal Spring developers is antithetical to civil, democratic discourse and should be rejected outright.
Annapolis should be a leader in Smart Growth development, ensuring that new developments protect our natural resources as the law requires. But instead, we are often dominated by interests who just want to maximize their bottom line at the expense of our environment, and by select city bureaucrats who desire control and regularity over visionary leadership and participatory democracy. This can be changed. We can bring these development projects into compliance with the law before a single tree is cut down or a single wetland destroyed. We can support ordinance O-32-14, sponsored by Mayor Michael Pantelides, Alderman Jared Littman and Alderman Ross Arnett, that would fix our forest laws and ensure that our public resources are protected and able to be enjoyed by future generations. Those are things that would make the Lorax proud.
Savidge works for the city and has over 12 years of experience as a Qualified Forest Professional with the DNR. He is a resident of the city and a longtime member of the Green Party. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lately I have been contemplating this idea that “you can’t stop the future,” as a well-known Annapolis area blogger recently wrote in reference to the Crystal Spring development. While factually true, statements like this can be used to justify the dominant paradigm and are inherently misleading. In fact, it harkens back to a time more than 50 years ago, when farms were being cleared for the first subdivisions and shopping malls: “Well, you can’t stop progress,” people would say, shrugging their shoulders as if certain forms of change were inevitable. To this, I ask, “Who defines progress, and who says we need it to be happy?”
Studies show that happiness only increases with material wealth up to a certain point. In order to maintain a certain quality of life in an area, humans require basic levels of resources: food, water, shelter, clothing, space, education, and a means to provide these things for themselves. Once people reach a certain level of material standard of living, such as that typical of the middle class in developed countries, personal happiness and satisfaction tapers off even as material wealth continues to increase. In other words, beyond a certain amount of monetary wealth, there is a diminishing return of true happiness.
But what makes life deeply meaningful and fulfilling for people? The answer goes beyond the material: things like family, health, community, spiritual practice or belief (some call it religion or faith), a sense of purpose, and ultimately, service to others and the community.
Now, like all places, Annapolis has a limited geographic area. We are defined by our space and place on the planet. A limited geography means limited natural resources: water, forest, wildlife, space, etc. Many cultures throughout time have understood these limitations and lived harmoniously within them. This is because they understood that when individual or collective greed ran up against limited resources, serious problems arose: soils eroded, forests burned, droughts occurred. The needs of the society outweighed those of the individual, and this became fundamental to their cultural existence and spiritual beliefs. Land was held as sacred, plants and animals were treated with reverence and respect.
Our culture is beginning to realize the wisdom that other cultures have had for millennia. Over last 20 years or so there has grown an increasing disillusionment with consumerism and conventional definitions of success, happiness, and wealth. Yet this process is still very young, and we still have much to learn that we used to know on a very intuitive level. If you ask me, this is true “progress”: enlightenment. Knowledge and awareness. Deep understanding. Consciousness.
Many elected officials, including those in Annapolis, however, still lag behind this underlying popular sentiment. They are still caught up in the dominant paradigm of growth for growth’s sake. They believe that a rising tide lifts all boats, and that only increased revenue can save us. Yet does this do anything for our spiritual growth or well-being? Does it strengthen our community bonds? I would argue that no, in fact, it serves to entrench economically elite interests where power is concentrated, among our elected officials and the legal halls of power.
Such faith and confidence in growth for growth’s sake comes at great hidden costs. Our economy has been based on extraction and consumption: extracting the resources from the land, the labor from our fellow community members, the life from the very soil on which we live.
On an international and global scale, these costs are manifesting themselves in the form of potentially irreversible catastrophic changes to the Earth’s climate and ecosystems. Yet all of these systems are finite and limited. This is the conundrum we all now face: our world is one global village, dealing with the limits of our natural resources and the waste that results when we “consume” them.
Statements such as “you can’t stop the future” represent the old way of thinking that profit at all costs is king, even if it’s for the few at the expense of the many. Crystal Spring will profit out-of-state developers and a handful of investors. The majority of us will have to live with the consequences: the increased traffic, the storm water runoff and pollution in the air and the water, the school overcrowding, the noise, the loss of our open space and forest, all of which give us our current quality of life. If the future means losing all of these things, then we must change the present to ensure the future we want.
The Iroquois believed that we should only make decisions that will benefit seven future generations. On some level, many citizens are aware of this moral paradigm. It is now time that we shift this creed from the background into the forefront of our consciousness. Annapolis is our piece of the global village. It is time for us to take responsibility for the present moment and how it will impact the next 7 generations of Annapolitans. That is why we cannot permit a development like Crystal Spring.
Friends of Crystal Spring Farm and Forest.
The Friends of Crystal Spring do not endorse Mayor Mike Pantelides’ plan to negotiate with Affirmative Hillspoint, LLC and the Crystal Spring developers to relocate the continuing care facility to the “north” end of the Crystal Spring property. Based on information that has been publicly released so far, this plan, though touted as having “reduced the scope” of the project, appears to be little different from the 2013 design and in some ways increases the environmental impacts. The new design creates a false trade-off between wetlands and forest by concentrating more development inside the contiguous forest on the northern end in order to avoid certain wetlands and the intermittent stream. Read our full press release here.
The Friends of Crystals Spring Forest today released a new video to help save the 110-acre Crystal Spring Farm, which is slated for destruction by a massive multiple-use planned development. Following Annapolis Mayor Mike Pantelides’ latest proposal to purchase Crystal Spring Farm using a combination of Program Open Space moneys and other public funds, this latest video demonstrates the widespread base of support in the community for saving this precious Annapolis resource as well as the many different reasons why this area should be protected. It is our hope that in seeing this video, Mayor Pantelides, Speaker Mike Busch, and other area leaders will realize how important this issue is to Annapolitans and will continue their efforts to save the last, best place in Annapolis.
Crystal Spring Farm is home to 82 acres of contiguous forest, 222 species of birds, and many other kinds of wildlife. The proposed development would cut down at least 49 acres of forest, including many of Annapolis’ largest specimen trees. The birds and wildlife would lose their habitat, and increased traffic and school overcrowding would ruin the quality of life in Annapolis.
To learn more, go to www.savecrystalspring.org
Mike Murdoch, the first superintendent of Quiet Waters Park, wrote a guest column in the Capital-Gazette about his experience at Quiet Waters and how that park has made a vast difference in the quality of life for Annapolis and Anne Arundel County residents. But one thing he never was able to realize was the completion of a linked protected corridor between Quiet Waters and some other “adjunct park” in the surrounding area. “I think this land would likely make an excellent adjunct park to Quiet Waters Park,” Murdoch writes, “and could even be connected by bike trails in and around the Hunt Meadow area”. Mr. Murdoch goes on to say that “…a piece of property this size should be saved as natural open space if at all possible and I hope this can still be done.”
Read Mike Murdoch’s entire guest column here.
Annapolis has a new mayor-elect. In a dramatic cliff-hanger of an election last week, Mike Pantelides edged out incumbent Josh Cohen in what may have been the most exciting mayoral race Annapolis has seen in generations. Much has already been written about the election and so we don’t need to cover it any more here.
Suffice it to say, we are excited to have a fresh opportunity to work with Mr. Pantelides in the hopes that Annapolis can change course on Crystal Spring. The development at Crystal Spring, contrary to what many believed earlier this year, is not a done deal. And Mr. Pantelides has stated he will take a new direction on this defining campaign issue. We truly hope that the mayor-elect will come to understand the importance of Crystal Spring Farm and Forest to the well-being and quality of life for all Annapolitans and will make good on his promise.
It has been difficult to contain our outrage over Mayor Cohen’s high-end fundraiser hosted by Crystal Spring Farm developer Alan Hyatt.
Cohen has said he will let city officials do their job when it comes to Crystal Spring. Does he think we are all naive? Most decisions in government, as in private business, are made behind closed doors.
Should we believe Cohen is not trying to please Hyatt behind the scenes, given that Hyatt is going out of his way to host a $1,000 per head fundraiser? Are we also to believe that the mayor is not in any way pressuring his public servants to give the Crystal Spring developers what they want?
While not necessarily illegal, there are many ethical questions this event raises. First, how is it acceptable that such a close relationship between an Annapolis elected official and a major developer exists? Is it moral for a private individual to bankroll an elected official to such a degree? Shouldn’t we have a system that puts constraints on such influence?
Crystal Spring is not in the public’s interest. Hyatt has a huge private stake in Crystal Spring that could very easily create a tempting, perverse incentive for the mayor. His campaign is being financed by this private stakeholder, even as city officials make decisions on Hyatt’s project. Is Cohen immune from such temptation? What assurances do we have that he is?
We don’t want to have to question the mayor’s integrity and potential conflict of interest. But after the mayor gave Hyatt extended air time during the Oct. 14 City Council meeting while limiting other members of the public to three minutes, we feel it is appropriate to raise these questions.
The developers continue to revise their Forest Conservation Plan (FCP) after the city Department of Neighborhoods and Environmental Programs (DNEP) sent it back in June with 17 major recommended revisions. There is no information about when the developer will submit their revised FCP. Once the city approves the FCP, the way will be clear for the developers to submit their full application for a development permit.
The appeal of the Forest Stand Delineation, which is part of the FCP, has been dismissed. Following the state Forest Conservation Act, a Forest Stand Delineation (FSD) identifies the natural features (forest stands, wetlands, streams, fragile soils, etc) which exist on the site prior to any development-related activities such as clearing. The FSD must be approved before a Forest Conservation Plan and site plan can be considered.
The city’s Building Board of Appeals (BBofA) determined that it was not appropriate for them to hear a review of the FSD since DNEP did not give its final approval of the FSD, even though a letter from DNEP to James Eagen of Crystal Spring Development, LLC states, “Thank you for the revisions to the Crystal Spring FSD as we requested in our March 15, 2013 letter. The Forest Stand Delineation is approved as revised.” According to DNEP, a final decision regarding adherence to the Forest Conservation Act ins’t made until “the Forest Conservation Plan, of which the FSD is a part, is approved. At that point a appeal can be filed and can include objections to the FSD.”
The Appellants, Friends of Crystal Spring Farms, Gerald Winegrad, et al., have the opportunity to appeal to the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County. No information about that appeal was available at the time of this update.
Another successful protest Saturday (September 28) along Forest Drive organized by the Annapolis Sierra Club. The number of people who honked in support of our cause and gave us the thumbs up was in the hundreds. We invite all of our supporters to get involved and join us in the struggle to stop this massive development at Crystal Spring!
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“Don't it always seem to go That you don't know what you've got Till it's gone They paved paradise And put up a parking lot”- Joni Mitchell