Relinquishing My bid for City Council

If you follow local news and this site closely you may have noticed that we have made very little mention of the January 16th city special election. Indeed, as we posted once, I was a candidate for the District 3 council seat vacated by Eric Olson. Our minimal coverage was largely to avoid the perception that I was using this website for my own political purposes – it was never designed for that and we decided early on not to go down that road.

That being said, I am now dropping out of the race because I can no longer assure voters that I will stay in College Park after my graduation in May. A full explanation of my standpoint can be found on today’s Diamondback opinion page in my guest column. Despite some implications made today in a Diamondback news story, I actually feel that support for my candidacy was quite strong in the campus community and I thank all those people who sent kind words and support. If anything, the recent addition of two more city residents in the District 3 race actually strengthened my chances of winning. It ultimately came down to my personal situation for which I did not have a full picture of when I originally declared my candidacy. External factors contributed to a delay in my withdrawal (which I apologize for). Rethink College Park plans to do a full questionnaire for all the remaining candidates.

>>Diamondback 12/12/06 – College Park rethought

>>the Gazette 12/7/2006 – UMD students, city activists aim to fill empty council seats

Jefferson Square Project

jeffersonsquare

For whatever reason we never posted about the Jefferson Square project which is approved and slated for construction on a large wooded parcel just northeast of the 193-Route 1 interchange. It includes 160 units in a 5-story building on top of 41,540 square feet of retail. It transitions into the nearby neighborhood with 45 townhouse units directly to the east. The project faced quite a bit of community opposition when it was originally proposed (237 apartments and 8 townhomes). Community concerns were largely responsible for sending it back to the design phase and to the eventual smaller overall plan. The expected owner occupancy requirement is 80%. Read the detailed site plan here.

jeffersonsquaresiteplan

Diamondback Investigates CP Housing Predicament

ApartmentThe Diamondback published today the last installment of a three-part series examining the issue of student housing in College Park. We encourage you to check out the articles if you have not already — they are an excellent investigation into some of the causes of the current housing crunch. We hope the articles serve as a reminder to University and city leaders alike that the only long-term solution is new student housing both on and off campus.

Part 1: Squeezed in Squalor
Part 2: Access Denied
Part 3: Graduate Gripes
Op-Ed: Beds not bunk: The city and Board of Regents should stop discouraging student-friendly housing and start giving us what we need – more options.

Hilton Hotel, 12-Story Condo Project Presented to the City Council

CPHilton

Tonight the City Council heard from two of College Park’s biggest development players – Mark Vogel and Otis Warren. Vogel presented his preliminary plans for a $60 million, 10-story, 300 room Hilton Hotel between the University’s North Gate and University View. The Hotel would include at least one restaurant looking out on Paint Branch Creek with possibly a second in front of a proposed 500-600 space garage. 30,000 square feet of meeting space would be equaly split among the first two floors, followed by 6 floors of rooms, and two floors for special undecided uses. Vogel said he has spent over 4 years working on the property, including 2-3 years to buy leases from Alario’s Pizza and Jerry’s Sub. He expects to close a deal with Merchant’s Tire soon for their lease.

Citing the tremendous cost he’s incurred so far ($3 million for the ground and $5 million for leases) Vogel insisted that Tax Increment Financing (TIF) was essential to the economic feasibility of the project. The hotel would require a 3-way land swap which would take about 1.5 acres from the adjacent and soon to be constructed North Gate Park. He also stated that UMD has signed an agreement whereby if the hotel was built, the University would not construct a competing facility on East Campus or M-Square. Vogel felt he could break ground in 6 months if he got the go ahead and also that the project is a personal “leap of faith”.

Otis Warren presented a Detailed Site Plan fro 8400 Baltimore Ave – just North of University View. The building would be a 12-story (4 parking, 8 residential) condominium tower with 301 units and 14,000 square feet of retail. The Mayor expressed concerns that the project could become rentable apartment units. He noted that the City was hoping the City Hall Condo project would be 100% owner occupied and at Jefferson Square, another major project nearby, the City is hoping to get at least 80% of the units owner occupied.

We should have pictures up of the Condo project shortly.

Connector Road Letter

We finally received a response (PDF) from Maryland’s State Highway Administration about the proposed “Terrapin Parkway”. Unfortunately the letter provides little, if any, new information on the project (the response also took about 6 weeks).

The Diamondback reported last week about a letter that university President Dan Mote sent to the City Council stating his continued support for the project. Needless to say, the letter didn’t go over well at last Tuesday’s council meeting. We’ll post Mote’s letter and our analysis as soon as we can get our hands on it.

>> SHA letter to us 11/8/2006 (PDF)

>> Our Connector Road Page (including previous studies)

Connector Road drawing

No Plans Yet For East Campus Public Input

East CampusAlthough university officials have discussed some opportunities for public input in the project, the university has announced no details about public involvement in the unprecedented East Campus Redevelopment Project. The project will redevelop roughly 38 acres of university land on Route 1 that will house hundreds of students, faculty, and staff and include millions of square feet of offices, shops, and potentially a hotel and conference center.

A select group of development companies has been invited to complete detailed proposals (“RFP Part B“) for university officials to use to select a final winner. University officials say the identity of the applicants and finalists is secret, saying disclosure would violate procurement rules and threaten the selection process. The selection of the group of finalists and the final winner of the contract will be made by an Evaluation Committee, with the assistance of hired consultants. The membership of the Evaluation Committee has been kept secret, presumably also to protect the selection process. As far as we know there are no students on this committee. Although two student representatives were added to a “Steering Committee” last summer, this body seems to have little decision-making authority and a smaller “subcommittee” has no students.

University officials have asked the finalists to prepare detailed land use and development plans including at “at a minimum” the following for their final proposals:

  • Locations, layouts, square footages, and other characteristics of retail, office, entertainment, hospitality and related uses. Neither a model, nor renderings is required, but proposed building heights, massing plans and densities should be clearly delineated throughout the site. Typical elevations would be helpful.
  • Locations, unit sizes, descriptions and price points of housing uses
  • Location, layout, function and programming for streets and other public spaces
  • Circulation including transit, automobile, bicycle and pedestrian circulation within the site and connecting to key points outside the site should be shown.
  • Pedestrian, bicycle and vehicular connections to Metrorail, M Square, Main Campus and the City of College Park.

We are concerned it may be difficult to include genuine public input in the project if the public is presented with polished plans. Planning professionals know the quality of input can depend on how the public is approached, and in general rough models and hand drawings elicit more and better quality feedback than polished computer graphics. In order for public input to be meaningful, university officials and the final development partner must also be clear about what aspects of the design are open to modification.

We are in dialogue with University administrators about their strategy to involve the public once a final partner is selected — currently tentatively scheduled for February 28th, 2007. If you have ideas on how to engage the public in east campus (or would like to help) we would love to hear from you. We are convinced that an aggressive and wide-ranging effort to involve the campus and College Park community in this project is not only the right thing to do, but will ultimately result in a better East Campus design.