Dernoga yields, Mazza to go forward

We’ve written enough about this project. What had to be said was said. Now it’s finally time for the shovels to hit the dirt and for some concrete economic development to finally come to College Park (ETA – Fall 2009). The details aren’t clear yet, but the word is that Councilman Dernoga has finally given in to reason and made compromises on the conditions he put on the project last week – thus letting the long-awaited $60 million, 630 bed Mazza grad student housing project go forward. This wonderful outcome was due, in no small part, to the work of Graduate Student Government President Laura Moore and RTCP dating back to February.

Alternatives to Mixed-Use Cafritz Development?

The third meeting for the Cafritz Property was a summary of community input from the previous first two meetings that the developer found to be salient (as were reported in our previous Cafritz post). A large obvious chunk of public opinion that was not reported back at all was the interest of many citizens to keep the property undeveloped, or to not pursue changing existing zoning to accommodate mixed use. This is pragmatically to be expected of a developer pursuing mixed use in the first place. However it is disappointing that the Cafritz’s who boast of interest in community wishes did not note the expressed public interest in single-family residential in the wrap-up meeting and explain why this avenue is not being pursued.

When asked outright about single-family residential, the developer has always been quick to direct attention back to a purported great need and benefit for more mixed-use in the area. The benefit of mixed-used development could very well prove to be true. It would be satisfying to hear the exact reasons why the Cafritz Team appears to see more merit in mixed-use over single-family residential for current residents. The developer obviously has no intention of making a single-family residential development if they can get a zoning change.

It could be that pursuing a mixed-use ideal is meeting halfway those in the community who want only single-family homes. This post is largely intended to direct attention to a post on the Route 1 Growth blog. It discusses the pros and cons of the current direction of the Cafritz Property development, and its hypothetical alternatives.

Downtown Parking Garage Hearing

Hearing to be held Tuesday, July 3rd (7 pm) at City Hall on the proposed downtown parking garage.

A planned 5-level parking garage is proposed to be at Knox Road and Yale Avenue (across the street from City Hall, behind Cornersproposed downtown garage site (Knox rd & Yale ave)tone) where there is currently a regular city parking lot. Two houses adjacent to the site were recently acquired at high cost by the city to be part of the garage site . The structure would hold 300 parking spaces and 6,000 square feet of ground-level retail space on Knox Road frontage. Upon completion, city parking capacity would increase by 43%. Barring delays, the garage could be operational by 2010.

Knox Rd and Yale Ave elevations will be primarily brick. South and west elevations would be concrete that is tinted to match the color of the brick. Adding brick to the south and west elevations would increase the project cost. The estimate for the south side alone is an additional $200,000.

The current development budget is $8.08 million to be financed through m
unicipal bonds. Parking meter revenues from the garage alone will not be sufficient to support construction cost. That is typical of similar garage projects. System-wide parking revenues will ultimately support the project cost. This includes an increase in city parking meter rates.downtown garage elevations

The garage is intended to support current downtown businesses, and to help attract new (hopefully more diverse) businesses. The Downtown College Park Merchants Association is strongly in support of the garage. Some current businesses have already been contributing to a parking district fund for years. Councilwoman Stephanie Stullich encourages citizen attendance at the meeting. She says public input will guide final city council decisions on whether to go forward with the project, as well as decisions on specific features of the proposal.

See the College Park city site for specifics on the proposal including feasibility reports.

Cafritz Development Update

June 14th saw the 3rd and final meeting of the initial round of Cafritz Property community workshops. The development team has publicized the following rough time line of further planning stages for development: 1) design principles 2) concept plan 3) file for rezoning. Public input from the completed initial round of meetings is now being synthesized by the development team into design principles, Step 1. These principles will be discussed and possibly amended based on public input in two identical meetings in July. Here are the tentative dates:

-THURSDAY, July 26TH (7-9pm) -SATURDAY, July 28th (10am-12pm)

The development team will then use finalized design principles to draft a concept plan, Step 2. That plan will be presented in two identical meetings in September. Here are the tentative dates:

-SATURDAY, September 15th (10am-12pm) -TUESDAY, September 18th (7-9pm)

*all meetings take place at Riverdale Elementary School (5006 Riverdale Road)

The final Step 3 will then be to apply for rezoning the property to allow for the mixed use development. If all goes well for the Cafritz’s, the earliest groundbreaking can be expected is fall 2009.

The Route 1 Growth blog has an insightful and valuable discussion on the pros & cons of re-zoning the site for dense mixed use versus developing single-family homes with the existing R-55 zoning. Route 1 Growth also has a list of important questions for the public to ponder in this development process. We highly encourage perusing these posts and their accompanying discussions. They are an invaluable resource for public involvement. The posts discuss (among other insightful things) the possibility that the development team already has multiple concept plans in part or whole, and is simply holding their series of public meetings to determine which will sit best with the public. Because development is a highly political process, this strategy would hypothetically gain the developer public support when it comes time for rezoning and other types of government approval.

Actual Cafritz Development planning strategy not withstanding, here is a synopsis of public input from meetings 1 and 2 of the first round of workshops that, in meeting 3, the development team reported to be salient. The development team will purportedly use this input to draft concept plans that did not exist before the June 14th meeting…

    Place-Making – Make a place for all ages that gives opportunities for informal socializing. Ensure housing that is compatible with surrounding communities. Pearl St. - Boulder, COMinimize tall buildings (especially above tree line). Use case studies of places including Georgetown, Bethesda Row, Silver Spring, and Boulder, Colorado. Include recycling, child care, recreation, adult education, and senior facilities. Include volleyball courts, interactive sculpture gardens, a skate park, water features, and sidewalk dining.
    Livability – Make dense varied housing accommodating a mixed income market that follows a village concept. Ownership is preferred over rental. Arrange density in a bull’s eye design (increasing density toward development’s center). Provide senior housing and no student housing. Mitigate impact on local school enrollment.
    Open Spaces & Connections – Ensure open public community spaces that vary in size (not one outdoor mall). Make green spaces inter-connective with paths. Include flexible open space similar to the Astroturf in Silver Spring. Develop a continuation of the Rhode Island Ave. pedestrian/biker right-of-way path connecting the Calvert Hills neighborhood of College Park to Riverdale Town Center. Connect the development to surrounding trails in a way that enhances overall local trail system connectivity. Make an automobile connection to Riverdale Town Center.
    Transportation – Enact programs that bring pedestrians, not cars. Make “right-size” sustainable parking to minimize impact on surrounding neighborhoods that has minimal visual impact. Create alternate north/south routes to Rt. 1 to minimize cut-through traffic in surrounding neighborhoods. Make an east/west connection over the CSX tracks to River Road. Make a clearer articulation of streets, curbs and sidewalks with more and safer Rt. 1 crossings.current Cafritz forest
    Environmental Sustainability – Maintain an overall green quality with retail adhering to LEED standards. Retain as many mature trees as possible, especially in buffer areas. Employ native species, incorporate wildlife habitats, make community gardens. Contact the county about storm drainage and other off-site issues.
    Culture & Community – Integrate the arts with the overall mixed-use and village concept in a way that is connective to the Hyattsville Arts District. Do not duplicate East Campus amenities. Include permanent gallery space, mixed use community meeting space, and a combined food/music venue that are all designed for the larger community.
    Business & Retail – Integrate open-air business and retail in ways that support pedestrian activity and help revitalize Riverdale Town Center. Encourage craft markets and local ethnic restaurants and business. Limit national chains and big box stores.

We hope that the development team will make a good faith effort to incorporate as much of this public input as possible into fresh concept plans.

CP Area ‘Blogosphere’

For awhile there it seems as though RTCP would forever reign king over this area’s “blogosphere”. The College Park Observer was off to a good start but then apparently flopped, the College Park Site had an impressive tech-savvy rollout but is now hardly updated, and had plenty of funding but never really went anywhere. We’re pleased to announce the recent creation of two more blogs (both apparently with a development focus): The Riverdale Park Coffee House and Route 1 Growth. Both seem to be taking more of a Hyattsville-University Park- Riverdale orientation than we do, but Route 1 Growth professes to be building a coalition of citizens concerned about development from Mount Rainier to Beltsville.

We like to believe we have a unique thing going here, but blogging has become an enormously useful/common tool for communities undergoing rapid change the country over and a vibrant blogging community is a good signal of a vibrant community. In a blogging universe that can range from information overload (still an amazing resource), to ranting lunatic and personal cat diary blogs, we like to think RTCP is well informed, easily digestible to the average reader, and reasonably easy to navigate. The jury is out on these two (new) blogs, but we certainly welcome them to the neighborhood.

Mazza Apparently Dead (AMMENDMENTS ADDED)

It appears that County Councilman Tom Dernoga has Killed the 660 graduate bed Mazza Grandmarc. The conditions he put on the project’s approval today will likely not go over well with Mazza’s investors. Chief among these conditons are:

  • Requiring LEED standards in the 11th hour
  • KICKER: Requiring a site plan approval for the two commercial parcels on the portion of the property fronting Route 1 (before the resident portion could be occupied)

With seemingly no community opposition, the county council has killed the only up and coming student housing project in College Park. Incredible.


Mote Signs Presidents’ Climate Challenge

UMD President C.D. Mote, in a move that will surely stun the campus environmental community, has signed the far-reaching Presidents’ Climate Commitment. Maryland joins 284 other colleges and universities who have pledged to take substantive measures to fight Climate Change (see the University announcement). Here is what he commited to doing:

1. Initiate the development of a comprehensive plan to achieve climate neutrality as soon as possible.

a. Within two months of signing this document, create institutional structures to guide the development and implementation of the plan.

b. Within one year of signing this document, complete a comprehensive inventory of all greenhouse gas emissions (including emissions from electricity, heating, commuting, and air travel) and update the inventory every other year thereafter.

c. Within two years of signing this document, develop an institutional action plan for becoming climate neutral, which will include:

i. A target date for achieving climate neutrality as soon as possible.

ii. Interim targets for goals and actions that will lead to climate neutrality.

iii. Actions to make climate neutrality and sustainability a part of the curriculum and other educational experience for all students.

iv. Actions to expand research or other efforts necessary to achieve climate neutrality.

v. Mechanisms for tracking progress on goals and actions.

2. Initiate two or more of the following tangible actions to reduce greenhouse gases while the more comprehensive plan is being developed.

a. Establish a policy that all new campus construction will be built to at least the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED Silver standard or equivalent.

b. Adopt an energy-efficient appliance purchasing policy requiring purchase of ENERGY STAR certified products in all areas for which such ratings exist.

c. Establish a policy of offsetting all greenhouse gas emissions generated by air travel paid for by our institution.

d. Encourage use of and provide access to public transportation for all faculty, staff, students and visitors at our institution

e. Within one year of signing this document, begin purchasing or producing at least 15% of our institution’s electricity consumption from renewable sources.

f. Establish a policy or a committee that supports climate and sustainability shareholder proposals at companies where our institution’s endowment is invested.

3. Make the action plan, inventory, and periodic progress reports publicly available by providing them to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) for posting and dissemination.

Route 1 Reconstruction Climbs County Priority List, Campus P-Line Simulations Expected Soon

Rendering of Route 1 MedianAccording to County Councilman Eric Olson, SHA’s Route 1 project has made it up to #4 (up from #6 last year) on this year’s PG County “Transportation Priority List”. The list, which every county in Maryland produces each year, has “a lot of weight in determining [state] funding priorities” according to an email correspondence with Secretary of Transportation and Former UM administrator John Porcari.

Olson also mentioned that the Purple Line remains PG County’s top transit priority. It’s worth pointing out that Porcari (confirming what was previously pointed out to us by the Coalition to Build the Inner Purple Line) also said that the MTA is producing a much needed electronic simulation of an at-grade light rail right-of-way through campus. He added that such simulations often answer “questions about pedestrian, bus, emergency vehicle, and LRT compatibility.”

Funding, unfortunately, is still a serious issue for transportation priorities all across Maryland as the state continues to project massive funding shortfalls in the coming years. Porcari noted that the Department of Transportation is working closely with legislators to identify and pursue new revenue sources.

Mazza Brinksmanship Coming to an End?

The 60 day waiting period is almost up and the PG County Council is set to vote Monday on the approval of the Mazza Grandmarc – a 660 bed (largely graduate) student housing complex in northern College Park. The project has been stalled since May 2006 because Councilman Tom Dernoga “pulled it” for review. When the Council heard to case in April 2007, they said they expected more brick on the building and that it should exhibit green building standards. Word on the street is that that is likely what they will get from the developer Monday.

We understand the desire for higher quality (more brick) and the need to move towards sustainable building practices. What we don’t understand is who benefited (save the homeless man who lives on the property) from the long delay of the project. Please email us if you benefited! We do know who lost from the delay:  600+ grad students seeking decent, affordable housing who will have to wait the equivalent of 3 or 4 semesters past when Mazza should have been completed. Certainly the developer, the University of Maryland, the North College Park Citizens Association, the City of College Park, and the PG County Planning Board were all on the same page when they supported/approved Mazza in 2005 and early 2006. Why then did Mr. Dernoga pull it for review and wait so long to act? Why do we have to wait until 2010 for even the most minor aesthetic (the property is barely visible from Route 1) and economic improvements in College Park? Why doesn’t the council see the urgency that we and any plain person can see in which redevelopment is needed in College Park? Why can no one see how prohibitively difficult it is to develop anything along Route 1 and the need to work with (rather than opposed to) developers in a proactive and collaborative manner?

An aside:

Interestingly, the council never even addressed the most serious flaw of the Mazza project – its tremendous amount of parking – nearly one parking space for every tenant. Indeed, it’s a peculiar situation for a project that will have pedestrian connections to the Paint Branch Trail and frequent Shuttle-UM service. When told in April that Mazza’s internal parking deck was so massive that it would pop out of the top of the building and be visible to bikers on the Paint Branch Trail, no one on the council (Councilman Eric Olson had to recuse himself from the entire case) showed any concern. It’s telling that they instead chose to nitpick issues that had been worked out over the span of years by city and county planners or tried to set aside slush funds to please constituents. Ironically, the project now faces approval less than 2 weeks after a county consultant suggested limiting parking in the Route 1 Corridor.