Keeping Tabs on Shuttle-UM

Shuttle-UM announced Friday that its shuttle tracking system is now fully operational. Called Shuttle Trac, the system allows for real-time bus arrival information accessible via telephone, the web, a plasma screen in the Union, and bus-shaped monitors located at many bus stops.

Though the system’s inaugural run back in November suffered from serious glitches, the system’s manufacturer has since refined and fixed the technology.

Our own non-scientific observation by the Leonardtown Community Center has shown the system to be fairly accurate with its predictions.

HOUSING RALLY, Thursday April 12th at 6PM on Mckeldin Mall

The following is a message from the event organizers:

JOIN THE FACEBOOK EVENT

Come out and show the entire state (via all major news networks) that it is time for a real solution to UMD’s housing crisis. Join us to protest Resident Life’s gross failure to UMD seniors and to show the Board of Regents, UMD, and Prince Georges County that we will fight for DECENT, AFFORDABLE housing both on and off campus. These parties must fund, prioritize, and incentivize more student housing whenever possible.

News coverage so far:
-Fox (click video)
-NBC

McKeldin Hall Protest

Statement From the Board of Regents

Statement Regarding Student Housing Construction

This message outlines the Board of Regent’s longstanding policy that encourages University System of Maryland (USM) institutions to pursue fully public student housing projects only after “all options for non-USM debt [have] been exhausted.” Essentially they want private or public-private projects as is well known by university administrators. More simply: they put together the wrong package when they proposed a 500-bed north campus dorm last May.

More Housing Coverage, RTCP Solutions Column Published (updated)

Angry Terp Protest SignAn impressive congregation of students and student leaders congregated on McKeldin Mall last night to bask in the press spotlight (every major new network was there) and exchange horror stories about their desperate search for more housing. As the “McKeldin Hall” protest enters its first full day, the fury over Friday’s Dept. of Resident Life decision has only intensified and New revelations today will only stoke the flames. Diamondback interviews suggest that university administrators ignored the Board of Regent’s suggestions to submit plans for a indirect-debt, public-private partnership and instead blindly pursed a 500-bed dormitory financed by direct-debt. That dormitory project was of course dead on arrival. Basically, they should have known full well it would fail.

What’s also apparent from Diamondback coverage and quotes is that the university is trying to shield FP-Argo (their chosen developer for East Campus) from potential competition that would come from new on campus housing not built by FP-Argo – at least until they finish negotiations with the developer. That’s all good and well until one realizes that the residential portion of East Campus won’t be online for nearly 10 years (if not more). In addition, we believe that the considerable uncertainty surrounding that project is largely responsible for the dearth of privately proposed student housing projects in College Park.

“Vice President for Student Affairs Linda Clement said that until the university wraps up its negotiations on the East Campus development project begun last month, the school is rejecting all other housing projects, putting off a decision on any sure solutions to the university housing woes for at least six months.”

What follows is a RTCP column published in the Diamondback today:

All around the campus this weekend, we heard personal stories from our friends who were scrambling to find off-campus housing after the surprise, last-minute announcement that the university could not house more than 600 seniors. Clearly the Department of Resident Life dropped the ball, and it needs to be held accountable for its late notice and failure to make arrangements for those who are financially strapped. But let’s not let our short-term frustration with the department cloud out the real underlying issue at hand here: the persistent and long-term lack of decent, affordable housing in College Park. As students mount their “Hooverville” protests on McKeldin Mall this week and The Diamondback continues its relentless coverage of the housing crunch, I urge them to realize that:

– The housing crunch is not new nor is this campus’ housing situation unique among universities nationally.

– The housing crunch is not the result of increased university enrollment, which was capped after the school became the state’s “flagship university” in the late 1980s.

– The housing crunch is a reflection of a changing student population and the university’s rapid transition from a commuter to a residential school.

– The university has neither wholly financed a new traditional dorm since La Plata Hall in 1968 nor a suite-style dorm since New Leonardtown in 1982.

– In the mid-1990s, 50 percent of freshmen sought on-campus housing. Now it’s approaching 100 percent.

On this foundation, let’s think of a solution for the long-term structural housing shortage in College Park. Yes, the university is partially responsible for solving the problem, but no reasonable person can expect it to house every single student who wants to live on the campus. Indeed, many other colleges deny juniors and seniors outright from on-campus housing. Priority must be given to underclassmen and those who are financially strapped. We should examine solutions that recognize both the university’s responsibility to its students and the real necessity of the private market to pick up most, if not all, of the slack.

The solution has to involve a compromise between the university, the city and the county. University administrators must work with the Board of Regents to change long-held debt policies to take into account the real need for traditional dorms on the campus. The city must break free from its anti-rental mentality made evident by rent control, owner occupancy requirements on new construction and the present effort to limit fee incentives. These policies could have a significant effect on the housing situation in the future.

Prince George’s County must work to amend local zoning codes to give more financial incentives to private developers for undergraduate and graduate housing. This includes, among many things, allowances for greater housing density, lower parking requirements and special consideration for student complexes next to the campus. County and city officials have already indicated, to student government leaders and RethinkCollegePark.net, their willingness to revisit local zoning codes this summer for the benefit of students. They must act according to these promises.

The careful work of the parties during the past six years has brought thousands of new student beds to the area. Yet the events of the past week remind us that the housing crunch is far from over and that past policies have failed to keep pace with the rapidly changing on-campus population. Inaction would be a form of mutually assured destruction, whereby the university’s academic competitiveness is weakened and the city’s neighborhoods will continue to be degraded by transient student renters.

Housing will surely plague students for years to come, but I’d ask those who are furious with the situation today to focus their current frustrations to bring about real long-term change instead of just more venting. In the past, students have been victims of the broken state of the political process in the area. If students don’t use this opportunity to begin on the road to a solution, we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves.

David Daddio, Co-editor RTCP

Worse than we ever imagined

Dback opinion page - housing crisisKnox BoxesThe student housing crunch in College Park is not new by any means. It’s been going on far longer than the 9 months or so we’ve been covering it. Yet, yesterday’s revelation that 639 seniors will be dropped from on-campus housing next year hit a lot of folks close to home and has triggered a level of student organization that has not been seen since the great Facebook rebellion of 06′. Some groups plan to stage a protest in front of Annapolis Hall every hour, on the hour, starting at noon today to criticize the Dept. of Resident Life’s 11th hour decision. Res life also plans a forum Monday at 1:30 in the Hoff Theater in the Student Union.

Indeed, the 639 number is just the beginning of next year’s waitlist which will be quite a bit higher once it incorporates lesser priority groups. The new Freshman deadline for housing applications doesn’t even occur till May 1st. More enlightened students will realize that if they aren’t affected by this round of eviction notices, their time may come if they seek on campus housing their senior year and don’t secure a South Campus Commons or Courtyards room.

So what exactly caused the crisis?

Clearly, the answer is a change in housing preferences as more and more underclassmen (and undergrads) vie for limited on-campus spots. The crisis IS NOT (we repeat: IS NOT) a result of increased enrollment at UMD, which was capped after the school became the state’s “flagship university” 15 years ago. IT IS the result of the university’s lack of available debt to build new dormitories. As we noted yesterday, UMD has not built a traditional dormitory since La Plata Hall in 1968 nor a suite-style dorm since New Leonardtown in 1982. They tried to build a new north campus dorm last year, but were handily rejected by the Board of Regents.

Who’s to blame?

It’s clear that Res Life erred in waiting so long in notifying students of their ineligibility for housing. That being said, they are not responsible for the failure to build more housing. Annapolis is responsible because tight purse strings led them to demand that UMD’s housing be self supporting. This caused the need, in recent years, for public-private partnerships like Commons and Courtyards, university land contributions like University View, and county incentives/giveaways for buildings like the Towers at University Town Center.

What’s not cut and dry is who’s responsible to house students – the city Jefferson Square Condominiums(+ county) or the university? Yesterday’s post drew maybe the most fierce comment string we’ve ever seen on this site. Opinions ran the gamut, but most will see that really both the private and public sector should play a role. It’s worth pointing out that both have made progress in recent years on the student housing front but somewhere along the way their efforts fell flat. Virtually no designated undergraduate student housing is on the way (in the city or on campus) and even standard (and existing) rental housing is having trouble navigating through the local planning and political process. Indeed the city has recently:

-instituted a rent control ordinance on single-family homes

-mandated owner occupancy requirements in nearly every project coming through the pipeline

-is pursuing the limitation of incentives for student housing via Annapolis

What’s the solution?

Clearly we need a multifaceted approach to student housing that includes the university bearing some of the burden. That does not mean they should pick up all or even most of the slack. The city needs to move forward with incentives for housing in Lakeland, the Knox area, and along Route 1 or surely the their neighborhoods will be so overcome with transient renters that they will be virtually unrecognizable in 15 years.

Jack Perry, a District 2 City Councilmen is quoted in today’s Diamondback as saying, “The University of Maryland needs the housing; we don’t. This is the city of College Park, not the campus of the University of Maryland.”

We say NO to Mr. Perry because his standpoint (the least enlightened on the city council) is a form of mutually assured destruction. Think like a mountain, Mr. Perry, think 5,000 to 7,000 beds.

Housing Situation Reaches Crisis Proportions

Non-contributing, non-historicWe’ve shied away from using the term in the past, but we are now prepared to call the student housing situation a full out crisis. According to the Diamondback today, UMD’s Dept. of Resident Life dropped 639 rising seniors from on-campus housing, leaving public-private partnerships like South Campus Commons and the University Courtyards as the last vestiges of campus housing for that subset of undergrads. The move comes just a few months after spring freshman admits were denied guaranteed university housing for the first time ever.

This most recent move leaves many students shocked as they are thrown into an extremely tight off-campus housing market (2.8% vacancy rate if not lower) late in the leasing game. These students are victims of the university’s continued and rapid shift from a commuter to residential school. Apparently the student housing boom over the last 6 years just wasn’t enough:

-South Campus Commons (1,825 beds)
-Courtyards (700 beds),
-University View
(1,056 beds)
-Towers at University Town Center (about 230 UMD beds in the 910 bed complex)

Add this recent construction to the existing 8,250 beds spread over the 34 campus residence halls/apartments and it’s a formula for disaster if just a small fraction of the university’s 25,000 undergrads decide to break from past trends and seek housing. The last residence hall (suites) the university built by itself was New Leonardtown in 1982. The last traditional dormitory they built was La Plata Hall in 1968. Much of the demand can be attributed to UMD’s freshman who more and more are vying to live on-campus their first year (In the mid-90’s, 50% of freshmen sought on-campus housing. Now it’s approaching 100%). It’s causing a trickle down effect felt all over College Park, which despite the city’s best efforts, will surely push more students into single-family home communities.

And what, you might ask, is anyone doing about this impending disaster? The university’s hand’s are tied by state debt policy and plans no new dorms on campus as of yet, not one major private undergraduate housing complex is anywhere beyond the speculation phase, the city is cementing its rent control policy, the city continues to insist on owner-occupancy requirements for new condo projects, and the state is poised to reduce the scope of the only private student housing incentive in College Park this month.

It’s time, as many are realizing after the Impact Fee Waiver controversy, to revisit the Route 1 Sector plan and account for student housing needs in College Park (imagine that). Let’s start talking about allowing for “density bonuses” near campus and slashing parking requirements (as has been enormously successful in other college towns). Let’s stop banking on a Knox Box miracle and start talking about the reality. This housing crunch is not going away and we need to harness it to build in a common sense way – dense buildings with street-level retail and ample sidewalks just as everyone has envisioned for College Park. The talks can’t start a minute too soon.

Diamondback Housing Series Last Semester:

Part 1: Squeezed in Squalor
Part 2: Access Denied
Part 3: Graduate Gripes

>>City Hall Shenanigans, by David Daddio
>>No End in Sight, by David Daddio

Historic District Nears Final Approval

Sigma Chi Frat HouseWith College Park’s Old Town Historic District nearing final approval with county officials, the first public controversy regarding a property in the district has emerged.

Historic District Hearing AnnouncementWe had previously reported that the Old Town Historic District faced an additional hearing with the Prince George’s County Zoning Hearing Examiner’s (ZHE) Office. In response to complaints from some landlords and others who object to the district, the ZHE had already ordered the city to re-post signs announcing the creation of the district in the Old Town neighborhood. After months of delay, we recently received this notice announcing the hearing will be held on Thursday, April 19th in the County Administration Building in Upper Marlboro.

The Diamondback reported that the long vacated (and burned) Sigma Chi fraternity wants to demolish their building, located at 4600 Norwich Road. The fraternity argues the structure is damaged and doesn’t fit modern student’s needs. Meanwhile, preservationists like District 3 Councilperson Stephanie Stullich argue the 1930s colonial revival structure contributes to the character of the neighborhood and can be salvaged. The county’s Historic Preservation Commission generally only permits demolitions in rare cases, but does not regulate the interior design of structures. The HPC will hear the case on April 17th at 7:00 p.m., during their April meeting where two other applications for work permits in College Park will considered, both for fences.

Once the district is approved the city will be forming a local advisory committee, so property owners interested in having feedback in the process should stay tuned.

> Library: Old Town Historic District
> View a map of the properties included in the district

Student Action on Clean Energy

The following is from RTCP contributer Sam Snellings and does not neccessarily represent the views of this site or its other authors:

When it comes to environmentally friendly buildings it is not just how you build them, it’s also how you run them. Buildings account for 70% of our nations electricity use – electricity that, in Maryland, is generated primarily by the burning of coal, oil, and natural gas.

These fossil fuels each emit varying amounts of environmentally damaging materials. These include nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, mercury, and carbon dioxide along with trace chemicals and particulate matter. These emissions contribute to acid rain, ground smog, mercury bioaccumulation, global climate change, and human illnesses such as respiratory disease and asthma.

Students at the University of Maryland have put together a proposal that would purchase clean energy in the form of Renewable Energy Credits for a cost of 12 dollars per student, per year. This purchase would amount to 137,000 Megawatt hours of electricity, or the same amount used by 11,000 homes. It would be the largest clean energy purchase by any institution of higher education in the United States.

Potential benefits of clean energy:

  1. Rural areas – farmland is usually exceptional for the placement of wind turbines and biomass facilities, bringing investment and jobs into slow-developing farming communities
  2. Energy security – while the minority of electricity is generated at oil burning facilities (about 6% in Maryland), minimizing the amount of imports from unstable areas of the world helps avoid shocks like those in 1973 and the early 1980’s.
  3. Research and development investment – clean energy technology is still in its infancy. The more investment our country has in these technologies the better we can license them to other entities. This strategy is already being used by Brazil in ethanol technology and Germany in wind/solar technology.
  4. Economy of scale – the more we invest, the larger and more numerous these facilities become and the cheaper the energy they produce is. Currently clean energy is marginally more expensive than fossil fuel energy – but the gap is closing.
  5. Capital vs. Operational costs – most renewable technologies require large capital costs to install, but do not have high operation costs. This is because, except for biomass, renewable technologies do not require the preperation and shipment of a fuel source (such as coal, oil, or gas). The longer a wind or geothermal plant has been generating, the cheaper its electricity becomes.

Undergraduate voters in the Student Government Elections will take up the issue of clean energy on April 17th and 18th. There will be a non-binding referendum in support of a 12 dollar student fee for clean energy purchases. If the referendum passes, it will be a clear symbol that students are truly interested in making the right environmental choices.  After that, it will be up to the administration to take action.

For more information on clean energy at the University of Maryland and what you can do in the wider College Park community:

UMD Energy 

EPA’s Clean Power Guide

Interested in purchasing clean power?  Check out Green-e’s guide 

Solar House Groundraising Tomorrow

LEAFHouse SiteConstruction fencing for a new building has appeared on campus. However, the solar-powered structure that will appear on the site isn’t permanent: it’s the University of Maryland entry to the 2007 U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon, to be held on the national mall this October.

This Wednesday, April 4th, the University of Maryland LEAFHouse team will be hold a groundraising event at the School of Architecture, Preservation, and Planning. The event, scheduled for 10:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., will feature site tours and presentations and a chance to meet the participants and sponsors of the LEAFHouse team. The event is free, and will be a great opportunity to get involved in and raise awareness of sustainable building practices. If you plan on attending, please email umdsolarteam@gmail.com.

LEAFHouse CribbingThe LEAFHouse is the University of Maryland’s 2007 entry into the Solar Decathlon, a national event organized by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. A total of 20 schools have been selected to compete in this year’s event. Entries are judged on criteria ranging from the architecture, engineering, comfort, and even the hot water and lighting systems.

The University of Maryland’s project engages the Chesapeake Bay watershed context for a smart, adaptable, resource-efficient home powered by renewable energy. The house demonstrates both tradition and modern design practices that serve to make solar power an integral part of a sustainable lifestyle. The design of the LEAFHouse plans to balance energy resourceful technologies, green building practices, and modular and prefabricated construction techniques into an aesthetically pleasing design. The project team aims to produce an environmentally sensitive house that meets and surpasses the contest goals for sustainable energy independence. For more information visit www.solarteam.org.