During a late May meeting at Arundel High School, in Gambrills, a group of county employees greeted members of the business and residential communities who gathered to read, to observe and to discuss the state of hyper local affairs.
Billed as a Small Area Visioning Forum, the event served as a precursor to completing the draft for Anne Arundel County’s General Development Plan (GDP), known as Anne Arundel 2040.
Many topics were discussed that evening, with the subjects ranging from development to transportation to the environment. One point several of the attendees noticed – or if they didn’t, were informed of – was that a significant number of projects included in the 2009 GDP have not come to pass.
During the last hour, members of the crowd pontificated about how to control development, alleviate traffic and discard refuse properly, among suggestions; the final draft of Anne Arundel 2040 is due to County Executive Steuart Pittman in early 2020 and will be sent to the County Council in March, with public hearings to follow.
James Kitchin, community engagement and constituent services officer for Anne Arundel county, said his favorite part of the forums “is the first two hours of the open houses, when people see how much of the various plans from the early ’00s have not occurred. When [Pittman] ran [for office], he kept all of the SAPs in his car’s trunk to show people how many have not been completed.
“But the frustrating part” of that exercise, said Kitchin, “is to see that parts of the old plan now can’t be done, like [at routes 424 and 450] in Crofton, where building a traffic circle would have alleviated congestion. The land isn’t available now because of the new High’s” convenience store and gas station.
Kitchin also expressed doubt about the viability of an overpass that had been discussed to connect Crofton to the Waugh Chapel shopping area.
“That people are still interested in some of these projects and recommendations shows that when the communities are involved in planning, they come up with ideas that maintain their relevance,” Kitchin said. “That’s a testament into how much community input went into the initial plans, and I’m glad that Steuart values community-driven planning.”
While the more casual information sessions are valued, “The GDP is the big picture and that comes first,” said Raj Kudchadkar, CEO of the Central Maryland Chamber. “This is a marathon, not a sprint. We, as a chamber, need to share our information with the county executive’s office and make decisions” based on that collaboration.
This GDP is crucial for Odenton, since during the past decade it has experienced more growth than any other area of the county, he said. “So at the CMC, we’re focused on density and development, so we can maintain that growth in the most responsible way possible. Numerous developers are members with projects in the pipeline and we want to see them through to fruition.”
Kudchadkar pointed out that the Odenton Town Center Master Plan is only three years old, “but it identifies the need to have a town center and projects in the pipeline,” he said. “We want to make sure [various] projects move forward,” including Elm Street Development’s townhomes at the MARC station, the mixed-used project at Academy Yards Phase 2 and the parking garages in the transit-oriented development (TOD).
The county agenda also includes negotiations for the use of the former U.S. Naval Academy Dairy Farm and the Enhanced-Use Lease at Fort Meade, “which looks like it’s moving forward,” he said. “What happens in those two cases will impact what happens in Odenton.”
County Councilman Andrew Pruski (D-4), like Kudchadkar, is also concerned about responsible development and would like to see more TOD projects “to prevent sprawl.”
But on Pruski’s mind today is building an aquatic center, which has community support.
“We hoped to get a conference center, and that hope was realized with the opening of the Live! Hotel Event Center,” said Pruski. “Now, we’re hopeful of the county building an aquatic center by Fort Meade.”
But with traffic on virtually everyone’s mind, Pruski is also taking a closer look at construction and other issues concerning routes 3, 175 and 198. “We need to think outside the box,” he said. “Traffic is not getting any better, so we’re certainly looking at a longer-term plan for commuters.”
As for the transportation plan, that section of the GDP is called Move Anne Arundel, which was endorsed after the 2009 GDP. It provides framework for the new GDP and “is being featured first because we have a culmination of plans from the last five years,” said Ramond Robinson, county transportation officer. “It has many different parts.”
It has five parts, to be exact: contained within is the Corridor Growth Management Plan, Bicycle & Pedestrian Master Plan, Complete Streets Guidance, the Major Intersection & Important Facility Plan and the Transit Development Plan. “It’s truly comprehensive,” he said.
Robinson said his department plans to have Move Anne Arundel ready for the county council this fall, which is six months sooner than the GDP is due. It’s now in draft form “and we’re getting comments from the public.”
Perhaps the most intriguing part of Move Anne Arundel is its reliance on analytics. “This marks the first time the county has gone this route,” he said. “It’s already helped us establish goals and objectives, based on performance.”
Stuart Title, vice president of brokerage and development with Odenton-based A.J. Properties, said the timing of this new GDP is noteworthy because “a new administration is trying to figure out [the appropriate direction].” With A.J. Properties heavily involved in the building of Odenton Town Center, Title weighed in on a project he, Kudchadkar and many others would like to see built.
“Building the garages is very important to Odenton Town Center and I hope the state works with the county to get that done. I think we’re struggling to find a purpose for the town center,” he said, while seconding Pruski’s enthusiasm to build the aquatic center. “That would help give it a sense of place.”
Speaking of place, Title has concerns about the place of developers in this mix.
“We’re called the problem in some quarters, though I think most people don’t think of us that way,” he said. “The county’s budget is built on the backs of developers,” he said. “We don’t need more fees, since they just get passed on to the homeowner or the renter.”
Title said traffic is the No. 1 local issue, adding that “it’s not the developers’ fault. It’s up to the county to use developer’s fees to take care of that issue, which it doesn’t always do.”
Still, he’s “not up in arms about this. All we’ve done was follow the county’s parameters. Part of this is just the life of a developer,” Title said. “The market ultimately decides what works and what doesn’t.”