Residents in Piney Orchard on Wednesday got a closer look at plans for more than 2,000 new homes and a new elementary school planned for the southern Odenton/Gambrills area.
During a three-hour meeting, community board members and residents raised a series of concerns about proposals from Koch Homes and Classic Community Corp., developers of the project known as Two Rivers.
I’d like to provide a rundown of some of the community’s questions and concerns, and how development and school officials responded.
Where would the school be located, and why?
Developers have offered to build an elementary school valued at about $38 million, in order to accommodate students from the Two Rivers development. The school would be located just to the south off the Waugh Chapel Towne Centre and to the northeast of the actual Two Rivers property.
Residents wondered why the school was not located in Two Rivers itself. Developers responded that it was very difficult to find an adequate spot of land for it to go.
“Trust me, there weren’t many options available,” said Gary Koch, president of Koch Homes.
Alex Szachnowicz, chief operating officer of Anne Arundel County Public Schools, said that from the school district’s perspective, it’s better to have the school further north so it can serve students from other local developments in the pipeline.
“We’re looking ahead,” Szachnowicz said.
Wasn’t Two Rivers supposed to be an age-restricted development?
For years, the developers had planned to make the Two Rivers project for people aged 55 and over. In fact, they signed a convenant agreement with the Forks of the Patuxent Improvement Association in 2006. But the developer said economy and market conditions changed, and they’ve asked that the restriction be lifted.
But are they allowed to lift the age restriction?
Yes and no. It comes down to the complexities of adequate public facilities laws, as well as the deal the developers struck with the Forks of the Patuxent Improvement Association.
Generally, new developments can’t go forward unless there is school capacity. And right at this moment, there isn’t any in the schools serving that area. But, Szachnowicz said upcoming expansions to Crofton Elementary and Crofton Middle Schools will provide enough capacity for the age restriction to be lifted.
A perhaps larger question is whether the Forks of the Patuxent Improvement Association will change the deal it had with the developer to keep the project age-restricted. The developers and the association are currently in negotiations.
“We are currently in talks, no agreement has been made and that’s all the comment I can make,” association president Sue Meyer said.
Will Evergreen Road be extended? And if so, what would that mean?
The developers want to extend Evergreen Road from Maryland Route 3 to Strawberry Lake Way. This would provide a way to get from Piney Orchard to the shopping centers, but also allow buses from the Two Rivers development to get to the school without going on Route 3.
The road would take away about 0.9 acres from the south edge of GORC Park, but the developers said they would add about 2.3 acres by expanding the park to the east.
Under plans presented Wednesday, students from the Two Rivers development would be bused up Patuxent Road and then east onto Strawberry Lake Way, then onto an extended portion of Evergreen Road.
School and development officials said they examined whether a road could be built to connect the Two Rivers school to the development in a more direct way, but said steep terrain and wetlands would make construction there nearly impossible.
Wouldn’t that be a long bus ride for the kids?
Residents noted that the bus ride for the Two Rivers students would be much longer than that of other students in the area. Szachnowicz acknowledged this, saying it would be about 7 miles at its longest distance. But, he said it would not be longer than rides for students in South County, or those who ride to magnet or IB programs outside their area.
“Seven miles is not an egregious distance,” he said.
But what about traffic?
Some community members have expressed concern about traffic at the intersection of Strawberry Lake Way and Evergreen Road, and a rise in cars in traveling through Piney Orchard to get to the Waugh Chapel shopping centers.
Koch and Classic Communities have engaged Ken Schmid of Traffic Concepts to take a look at potential impacts from the road. He said Wednesday that the group has performed a very informal traffic study, but he declined to share it. Schmid said a more in-depth traffic impact study would be performed in the future and submitted to the county. It would be the subject of future community meetings.
So, what’s next?
Development and school officials plan to meet with more community associations in Gambrills and Crofton.
The Anne Arundel County Board of Education will review a concept plan for the school on Aug. 22, and could vote on the plan at its following meeting in September. If the concept plan is approved, the developers and the school system could enter into talks for a construction agreement.
Meanwhile, the development team continues to talk with the Forks of the Patuxent Improvement Association regarding the age-restriction, and with the county regarding the Evergreen Road extension.