City Council, Student Leaders, RTCP Reach Major Compromise

Final Impact Fee Waiver amendments

We’re pleased to announce that a major (and in our view: reasonable) compromise was reached late last night on the impact fee waiver controversy. While everyone at the meeting agreed the boundary (that allows a county incentive for student housing) needs to be reduced from its original size (black line) to an area within the City of College Park, there was no consensus on exactly where the new boundary should be drawn. Jim Rosapepe and the 21st Delegation originally proposed (with the approval from the College Park City Council) the red boudary (seen above) and that version of the state bill went to committee last week in Annapolis. The amended proposal approved last night adds several key properties located both:

-west of Route 1 and north of 193

and

-east of Route 1 and south of 193

After these new areas were added, 6 of the 8 councimembers agreed, in an unusual pro-student vote, that the compromise boundaries (in purple) would more reasonably accommodate long term student housing needs in College Park. They apparently agreed with the reasoning that most of the property zoned “mixed-use” in the city could potentially be student housing and that it should be eligible for incentives as such. There was also talk about “density bonuses” to encourage even more housing right adjacent to campus.

We applaud last night’s decision and are especially looking forward to a period of limited RTCP political activism (after the bill becomes law).

East Campus Decision Expected this Week

Acting university Vice President of Administrative Affairs Frank Brewer informed us late last week that he expects an announcement of the university’s development partner for East Campus by this week’s end. East Campus has been looming over our project (this website) for the entire school year and we’re eagerly awaiting the announcement and preliminary concept plans. This project may very well surpass in scope all the other development in College Park combined.

We’re very pleased to hear that the administration is expecting a robust public input process to ensure the final product has both community buy-in and meets everyone’s expectations. What follows is a series of past concept plans for the East Campus site. Several of them were given to competing developers so they could build their proposed plans on various past ideas. This is especially true for plans produced during a 1999 Architecture Study. The East Campus project is apparently now expected to be denser than these images portray.

Master Plan (Historic Core)

East Campus Concept

Route One Sector Plan - East Campus

East Campus Concept

East Campus Concept

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East Campus Concept

East Campus Concept

East Campus Concept

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Dissolve the City-University Partnership?

Two city councilmen, John Krouse and David Milligan, have proposed eliminating city funding for the little known and little understood City-University Partnership according to the Diamondback. The councilmen charge that the city seems to have gained little from its yearly (8 years) $50,000 funding of the entity and that the partnership, according to Krouse, is “being manipulated to the advantage of the university and developer interest, while providing little or nothing tangible for residents.”

We’re not sure what the councilman Krouse’s definition of “resident” is, but last we checked about half of the city’s 25,000+ population happen to be students of the University of Maryland. Perhaps Krouse should have specified permanent resident, of which District 1 (his and Milligan’s district) has many. Still, the quote from Krouse implies that the city’s budget is wholly derived from permanent resident’s pocketbooks. A pie chart (below) from the city’s own budget shows that that is hardly the case. The permanent residents, according to Krouse, aren’t getting anything for their contribution to the partnership, but they are also paying less than half of the partnership’s funding since UMD directly pays for half (of the partnership’s $100,000 budget) and university/renter-related items make up a significant share of the city’s $11 million yearly revenues. Residents will benefit just as much from a revived Route 1 Cooridor as the university community, if not more.

We had the opportunity to present this website to the partnership not long ago and were impressed that city officials and high-level university administrators do actually gather together in a room and talk about common concerns and common goals. Indeed, we recently posted the partnership’s guiding principles for the Northgate and “Knox Box” areas. Previously we’ve covered the Northgate Park project, which was spearheaded by the partnership, but appears to have taken quite a bit longer than expected (what doesn’t in College Park?). Clearly the partnership needs to be more of a public entity as some of its members have already expressed to us. Also, we agree that it needs to be more results-oriented. That doesn’t mean it can’t be a major player in College Park development and a great tool to ease town-gown tensions. So let’s get down to work and stop the political posturing.
City of College Park's 2007 Revenue Stream

Bill Would Give PG Cities Control of Home Construction

A bill being considered by the Maryland legislature would give the City of College Park — and all incorporated cities in Prince George’s County — new controls over construction in neighborhoods zoned for single-family homes.

Under the proposed bill (HB 668 and SB 581) cities will be able to regulate the following variables for both new construction or remodeling work in single-family residential areas: fences, walls, parking, residential structures, setbacks, the bulk, massing, and design of structures, and lot coverage.

The bill is modeled after a similar bill for Montogmery County passed in response to teardowns and mansionization in residential neighborhoods.

RTCP Building Awareness of the Student Housing Crunch

Today, we submitted written testimony to the Maryland Senate’s Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee adamently opposing the narrowing of the impact fee waiver zone. As reported recently, we feel the proposed bill in it’s current form would drastically reduce the only incentive for building student housing in College Park. Interestingly, during research for this testimony, we discovered that even the furthest developments qualifying for the existing impact fee waiver (University Town Center) had 90% bus ridership among UMD students. This project’s eligibility for the waiver was contingent on an official relationship with the university’s bus service – Shuttle-UM. If that isn’t smart growth we don’t know what is.

Our testimony
provides a framework for a compromise bill that:

• Provides long-term housing relief for University of Maryland students
• Includes the views of student stakeholders
• Respects the wishes of single-family homeowners and neighboring jurisdictions
• Adheres to the state’s smart growth principles
• Recognizes the unique urban planning opportunities and challenges of a college town

Diamondback Prints RTCP Op-ed on Impact Fee Waiver

The Diamondback printed today RTCP’s own blistering account of the School Facilities Impact Fee Waiver bill being considered in Annapolis today and tomorrow (read our first report on this). While the undergraduate and graduate student governments may not agree with the specific rhetoric in today’s Op-ed, they stand firmly with us in opposition to this and any plan that would drastically reduce the only incentive for student housing in the area. We’ll be in Annapolis tomorrow with student leaders to give testimony against the bill and propose a plan that takes into consideration the interests of the 35,000 UMD students that were never consulted during the bill’s drafting.

>>Diamondback – No End in Sight by David Daddio

Not far north on Route 1, just past the used-car dealerships, the psychic shop, the tattoo parlor, the rubble of a brothel and a restaurant that fell victim to an arson, sleeps a homeless man in a tent on a wooded lot. He’s taken up residency in our beautiful college town – College Park. Ironically, this man lives in the very same place that 630 graduate students were set to move to in August 2007 – the Mazza Grandmarc apartment complex. Instead, nearly 10 months after the project’s approval, the developer remains embroiled in a bitter fight over a little-known and little-understood law that gives incentives for off-campus student housing: the public school facilities impact fee waiver (henceforth referred to as the extortion fee waiver). Two committees in Annapolis are poised to reconsider (read: gut) the very same incentive this week with a bill championed by local elected officials.
Continue reading Diamondback Prints RTCP Op-ed on Impact Fee Waiver

Purple Line Community Meeting Tomorrow

The Maryland Transit Administration is sponsoring a Purple Line Community Focus Group meeting tomorrow (Wednesday, 3/7) at 7:00 p.m. at the College Park Municipal Center (4500 Knox Road).

Although the project was recently delayed at least a year, the MTA continues to plan the project and is holding community meetings to take into consideration resident’s opinions. The event invitation says the event will include information about planning that has taken place since the last meeting, held in Spring of 2006. This event will be a good opportunity to learn more about the project and ensure state planners hear from a broad spectrum of the community.

> Purple Line library page
> Previous Purple Line articles

City Council Considering Election Rules

BallotBox_600.gifThe College Park City Council plans to discuss how to handle the timing of special elections at their regular meeting at 8:00 p.m. tonight, Tuesday, March 6th. Readers of this website will remember the January 16th special election for two vacancies on the city council fell during winter break when few students are in College Park, because the city charter required the vacancies be filled within 45 days.

City Council Student Liaison Jesse Blitzstein told us the discussions tomorrow could eventually result in an amendment to the city charter. We strongly urge supporters of student voting rights to attend the meeting.

Annapolis to Reconsider Major Student Housing Incentive

Fee Map - Reduced Size

Two state government committees are set review a bill early this week that would drastically reduce an incentive to build multi-unit student housing around the university. If the bill succeeds, it would condense (see map above) an existing overlay zone that exempts new student housing from what’s known as a “school facilities impact fee”. This is a one-time fee that applies to all new development in PG county in order to fund local public school construction. A 2002 law was successful in creating a waiver zone (in red on the map) within 1.5 miles of campus under the principle that UMD students shouldn’t have to pay for local public schools since they don’t use them (more details here). Local politicians have been hell bent on reducing the scope of the 2002 law since it went into effect without their consultation.

The fee is significant ($7,671 per unit in 2007) and the waiver has become a major incentive for new student housing in the area. For instance, you may remember our Mazza Grandmarc graduate student housing reporting. The 231-unit complex, if the fee was applied to it, would be slammed with a nearly $1.8 million bill. Because that money is so central to the project’s financing and required profit margin, the developer has been embroiled in a battle with County Councilmen Dernoga since May 2006 to start construction. Consider the University View. If that project were to be built today, its 353 units would be subject to over a $2.7 million fee.

The intention of this new bill is clear – minimize new student housing projects and especially new student housing projects that aren’t directly next to the University. Since the impact fee doesn’t apply to construction on UMD’s campus, the new zone (in yellow on the map) would leave only the Knox Box area and the Northgate area (west side of Route 1 only) waiver zones intact. The former is undergoing property consolidation, but large-scale development is years and years away. The latter is a promising district for student housing, but is already almost completely filled out with proposals for hotels and city-mandated owner occupied units (see development map).

This bill is supported by Senator Rosapepe and the Prince George’s county delegation along with the the College Park City Council. Absolutely no student leaders have been consulted at any point on this issue. The bill implicitly tells the University that it should take up responsibility for student housing, but Annapolis has already virtually stripped the University of that ability.

What’s the net effect of this bill as proposed? Gutting the impact fee waiver and further exacerbating the student housing crunch. It must not go forward.

Track the bills online:
> House Bill 697 (Hearing before the Ways and Means Committee at 1 p.m. Tues. March 6.)
> Senate Bill 582 (Hearing before the Education Health and Environmental Affairs Committee at 1 p.m. Wed. March 7)

A Tale of Green Cities

chicago city hall roofAs cities across the US become more aware of the environmental impact development has on energy use and local water quality, many cities have begun to adopt strategies to mitigate these ecological concerns and help the environment.

–>Santa Monica, California has adopted green building codes that address storm water runoff, mandates bicycle storage, carpool spaces, storage space for recyclable materials, requires the recycling of construction material, and the installation of water efficient fixtures among other environmentally friendly, low cost building codes.

–>Montgomery County, Maryland has voted unanimously to adopt the LEED standard for all new multifamily residences greater than 4 stories, commercial buildings, and county buildings. This legislation will go into effect this November and mandates energy efficiency, indoor air quality, site selection, water use, and other environmental protections.

–>Chapel Hill, North Carolina passed an ordinance in 1997 that required town owned buildings to use 30% less energy than required by the North Carolina building codes. Accepted strategies include solar orientation, daylighting, renewable heating resources, water conservation, appropriate landscaping, energy efficient lighting, and the use of building materials and colors to lower cooling load.

More cities than we could possibly profile here have adopted environmentally conscious building codes, and many of them have adopted comprehensive green building strategies such as the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED program. From energy and water efficiency to alternative transportation, from site selection to the beautification of public spaces, cities are learning how to make themselves allies of the landscape instead of adversaries. Even Chicago’s city hall, pictured above, incorporates a insulating green roof.

The city of College Park is not unique in its lack of Green Buildings codes, but it’s foreseeable that the city (or county) might jump on the bandwagon if the influx of CP development continues as we expect it will. Certainly the university can do more in this area and join a growing list of universities that have done the same. In the past we’ve suggested that the East Campus Development initiative incorporate some form of green building standards and we reported on the NOAA building in UMD’s research park that will be LEED certified.

Here are some ideas to get the ball rolling (if it hasn’t already):

  • Require demolitions, renovations, and new construction to recycle 60%+ of their construction waste
  • Mandate the use of low-flow faucets in new construction and renovations
  • Encourage the installation of waterless urinals
  • Relax parking space requirements for multifamily construction
  • Provide funding for covered bicycle parking facilities
  • Organize a renewable energy credit purchasing program for residents of College Park

What do you think?