Third Time’s the Charm? For Bikesharing Efforts in College Park, Maybe.

Washington, D.C.'s Capital Bikeshare has been wildly successful. College Park is attempting to tie into the same system (photo via Flickr user DDOTDC).

After at least two failed attempts to roll out bikes on city streets, the city of College Park is trying once again to secure funds for bikesharing—this time, on a much smaller scale. The city is planning to apply for the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority grant program, which is due on March 4, 2011.

City staff have proposed requesting matching grant funds totaling $66,000 to initiate a pilot bikesharing program that would build on the existing Capital Bikeshare program in Virginia and the District of Columbia. Proposed locations for bikeshare stations are downtown, at the College Park Metro, and in the Hollywood Commercial District.

Funds would be matched with $66,000 from developer contributions ($10,000 from the Varsity project and $31,000 from the Domain project) and the City’s FY 11 Operating Budget ($25,000), according to city officials.

Early last year, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) failed to win $10 million for expansion of its then-fledgling bikeshare program. The City of College Park and the University of Maryland had jointly applied for the grant through the federal stimulus program TIGER.

The original TIGER application asked for 2,250 bikes at 225 stations in D.C., Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax City, Bethesda, Silver Spring, College Park, Hyattsville, and National Harbor, in addition to the 1,000 the District had already funded. A second similar application also failed to secure funding from the USDOT last fall.

The university is also looking at bikesharing opportunities, as part of the update to its Facilities Master Plan.

Despite College Park’s lack of an “official” bikesharing program, weBike, an independent project, rolled out its own version of bike sharing between the Mazza apartments and the university’s campus last year.

Councilmembers Criticized by WaPo for Opposing Baker Reform Bill

Photo of Rushern Baker by Flickr user herrvebah

When County Executive Rushern Baker introduced a reform bill to “clean up the county council,” most councilmembers criticized it. Members became worried about potential loss of vote for several years on development projects requested by campaign contributors, as the Gazette reported.

Baker introduced the bill after former county executive  Jack B. Johnson was arrested on a series of dramatic corruption charges. His wife and current council member Leslie Johnson was also arrested after her husband was recorded by the FBI telling her to flush a $100,000 check down the toilet and hide $80,000 in suspected bribes in her bra.

Baker’s first reform bill would ban council members from voting on any project request from a developer who has contributed to their campaign or slate in the past three years.

The second bill would prohibit councilmembers themselves from calling for review of a development site plan. According to a news release from Baker, reported in the Gazette, the second bill was drafted “to address prior instances of ‘pay to play’ where council members have ‘called’ up cases for purposes to seek concessions from developers.”

Councilman Will Campos (D-Dist. 2) of Hyattsville and Councilman Mel Franklin (D-Dist. 9) of Upper Marlboro have opposed the proposed bill, while others also have criticized Mr. Baker for “lavish spending” during his inauguration sworn-in ceremony as county executive.

Council members’ opposition to Baker proposed reform plan however drew a sharp criticism from the Washington Post. In an editorial last Friday,the Post wrote:

The truth is that Prince George’s recent ethics record is so horrendous—and the resulting failures of economic development have inflicted such long-term damage—that radical surgery is required. Prince George’s needs to go the extra mile to prove, most of all to its residents, that it’s cleaning up its act. And yes, it needs to go further than its neighbors. If the council blocks Mr. Baker’s reforms, it will have itself to blame for the county’s continued second-class status and subpar economic performance.

The “call up” issue in the bill would prevent the tactics council members used to use to stymie projects. There are many different kinds of “pay to play.” Some for campaigns, others are shakedowns to make politicians look good to their constituents. Critics say such tactics ultimately harm the development review process.

State Delegates will be voting on the proposed bill. So far. Dels. Justin Ross (D-Dist. 22) of Hyattsville and Barbara Frush (D-Dist. 21) of Beltsville have both expressed support for the legislation. A public hearing on the bill will be held on the bill coming this Saturday (Feb. 12).

UMD, Residents to Design Hollywood Gateway Park

Site of Proposed Hollywood Gateway Park

The city council recently voted to authorize city staff to pursue a grant funding design and building of the park at the intersection of Route 1 and Edgewood Road. Now, the University of Maryland has shown interest in working with residents to design the park.

Earlier, the North College Park residents formed a committee to study the proposed eco-park.

At the last month’s NCPCA meeting, committee chair Larry Bleau told members that the city’s Department of Planning, Community and Economic Development director Terry Schum was looking to see if the Landscape Architecture department at the University of Maryland would be interested in developing some conceptual designs as a class project.

“We have had a positive response (from the UMD) and are working out the details now. Having this as a class project is a good way to brainstorm conceptual ideas to see the range of possibilities before working with a design professional,” Ms. Schum wrote in an email.

“The class instructor has indicated availability in March 2011 but the logistics still need to be finalized,” she added.

A similar landscape architecture class project participated in North Gate Park. The project was coordinated by a city-university partnership; its final design was derived from a 22-student sophomore landscape architecture class competition.

Ms. Schum also said that the city’s planning department has met with an organization about the deconstruction or demolition of the site.

The property on the site was up for sale for over two years. The city purchased the property for $346,000, based on average of two appraisals. The city intends to redevelop the lot and spend $185,000, of which it will use $100,000 from a community legacy fund. The city of College Park has considered using a green job vocational training program to deconstruct the existing single family home and salvage building materials, but the timing and method for demolition has not been finalized.

2010 in Review and a Preview of College Park in 2011

Yet another year has disappeared from the city’s screen. Residents and the officials of the City of College Park recently engaged in a lively discussion on what they think about the progress made in the past year and what to expect in 2011.

The city saw its leanest budget in years, due to thousands of dollars of loss in state revenues and property taxes. However, there were signs of progress that several city officials attempted to highlight.

Residents have mixed reactions to the slimmer funds and emphasized improvements.

The issue of public safety is still a hot-button issue. While Prince George’s County overall crime rates have seen a 35-year drop in the past year, the city has seen a modest rise in violent crimes such as assaults, homicides, and robberies. The overall violent crimes against persons, from 2009 to 2010, have increased 10%. Crimes against properties, such as burglaries during the same period have gone down 18.4%.

There are, however, attempts to improve public safety, especially in downtown area. “Crime is an issue, but as a result of a state grant we were able to install about 20 security cameras downtown at year’s end. In 2011 we will be able to judge their effectiveness and determine if such cameras are an economical substitute for adding more police,” said District 2 councilmember Bob Catlin.

There were no such security cameras for North College Park residents. The neighborhood was shocked by a sexual assault incident, wherein a 15 year girl was attacked by a stranger at the north entrance of the Greenbelt metro station in the summer of 2010. Though the suspect was arrested 3 months later, residents felt a security camera at the station entrance could have prevented the incident. The city will soon send a petition with over 300 signatures to WMATA asking for cameras to be installed at the station’s entrance.

There were concerns about police presence. PGPD’s District 1 had a new police chief in 2010 (Maj. Liberati) and  a new community liaison officer (Jaron Black). The new leadership is publishing crime reports for the north and the south areas of College Park on a weekly basis. They also host a weekly morning coffee club gathering to update neighbors about the crime incidents.

Those efforts did not stop some residents from expecting more. “The police still do not get out of their cars and their reports still include inaccuracies and people still have trouble with responsiveness. I don’t think we will see any real changes unless and until we have our own police force, “said Stephen Jascourt, a north College Park resident. However, Mr. Jascourt does think that some attempts have been made to increasingly involve the police in the community and get more information to the community faster.

Continue reading 2010 in Review and a Preview of College Park in 2011

The Lackawanna “Runway”: Residents largely unhappy with streetscape improvements

Rendering of proposed Lackawanna Street streetscape.

A $100,000 neighborhood streetscape project that was once designed to give a facelift to one of North College Park’s major neighborhood street is instead stirring much controversy—so much so that some neighbors on the street think the city is ruining their neighborhood street.

The city received funding through a Maryland Heritage Areas Authority (MHAA) grant to beautify the east part of Lackawanna Street between Narragansett Parkway and 53rd Avenue. Many residents use the street as an access point to the north gate of the Greenbelt Metro station.

At the heart of the controversy lies the rows of bright white street lights that the city’s engineer and planner have used to illuminate the 2500 ft long street segment. Though the city has been working on the streetscape project for more than a year, Pepco activated the lights last Friday.

Though blurry in this picture, Lackawanna's lights are clearly high-wattage.

“I was shocked coming home on Metro on Friday night. From the platform, the whole street is lit up like a runway. It is insane,” said Heather Bourne, a resident living on the street.

“If the money was granted with a stipulation that the lamps be bright enough to supply an emergency landing strip for wayward aircraft, this could explain a few things. If we got the money to simply light up a sidewalk, any emergency landings will now be an unfortunate side effect of our exceptionally shiny street,” added Aaron Bourne, Heather’s husband.

The Bourne family is planning to send a signature petition to city asking College Park’s engineer to correct the lighting problems.

The runway analogy wasn’t limited to Bourne family alone. Mathew Byrd, another nearby resident, said “It’s great for playing street hockey at 3AM, and maybe for providing a navigational aid for a space shuttle, but aside from that, it’s a nuisance.”

The exact wattage of the lights is still unknown, but most residents agree they are much brighter than actually needed.

“The lights are bright enough to light up my backyard! The light from across the street shines into my living room. Our city has a planner and an engineer. If they were asleep at the wheel on this, I think we need to hold them accountable. This is a neighborhood, not a football field,” said Aaron Bourne.

An email to College Park’s planner was not returned.

The planning document outlining the installation of lights states that the purpose of the lights is to “encourage the feeling of safety, improve view sheds, and enhance the appearance of the streetscape.” The city planner used induction lamps, which are evidently similar to fluorescent lamps.

The Bournes, however, think the city went too far if safety was the main reason for adding those bright lights. “Please ask yourself, was crime bad enough to ruin our street? My family has to live with this; we don’t just walk through it on our way to the metro.” Aaron Bourne asked.

Some residents also complain that the a detrimental effect due to excessive light pollution will result in lowering values of their house properties. “The lighting along Lackawanna is absurd and will need to be toned down. In addition to the very negative effect on the lives of people living along that street, I don’t see that it will do much to raise property values in the eyes of prospective buyers,” said Jennifer Bardi, another nearby resident.

Other residents think the lighting’s intensity is only a small part of the problem: The white-blue lights which have been proved as health hazards. “We all want lighting that is environmentally friendly, inexpensive, and makes the street safe, but we want the lighting to be healthy, too. And the evidence is clear: blue-white spectrum outdoor lighting in a residential area is a public health hazard,” said resident Lourene Miovski. Ms. Miovski, a cancer survivor, is well aware of these concerns.

The debate over light pollution has been strong enough to involve the city’s Committee for Better Environment (CBE). CBE recommends environmental-related matters in the city to the Mayor and Council. “CBE should be interested in the amount of electricity being consumed by the new lights on Lackawanna St. as well as avoiding light pollution,” wrote CBE co-chair Stephen Jascourt in an email to city officials. Mr. Jascourt recommended that the city planner use low wattage bulb as a remedy for the problem.

But, not every resident is completely against the changes. Some think the security benefits outweigh other concerns. “I’m walking home for the first time under these lights and it’s also the first time I feel confident I won’t be assaulted while commuting…they are wonderful,” aid one resident who walks the street daily to the metro station.

“No one has died because of this and hey, maybe a mugging was even diverted this weekend because of this. How about some positive thinking?” said Jane Hopkins, asking her fellow residents to be patient until the issue is addressed by city officials.

The pollution debate caught District 1 council member Patrick Wojahn off-guard. Mr. Wojahn, who also lives on the street, believes that “the lights were the right thing to do.” He said he heard from a number of residents both on and off Lackawanna Street that they were glad that the lights were coming. “I’m sure we can work this out in a way that will not have a detrimental impact on the residents of Lackawanna Street,” added Mr. Wojahn.

Alternate view of the streetscape plan.

In Speed Cameras, City Finds a Treasure Trove, But Can Take Only a Fraction to Its Coffer

A cash-strapped city that has been scrambling to recover thousands of dollars of lost revenue will probably get some relief through newly installed speed cameras. A recession-hit economy has cost the city a loss in state funds and a reduction of property taxes due to declining house prices. The city has been using means like a $5 hike in parking permit fees to recover from such loss of revenues.

The city first installed speed cameras in 3 locations: Metzerott Road, Paint Branch Parkway and Rhode Island Avenue. A new camera was recently installed on Route 1. Per state regulations, all these cameras must be installed within half a mile from an educational institution, such as a local school or the University of Maryland.

In last May, the city awarded the speed camera contract to a Lanham-based company called Optotraffic. In March, the city conducted a public hearing on the subject.

Cameras went into operation on November 15. As of close of business on December 7, a total of 8663 citations were issued, which roughly averages 377 per day. Out of the $40 charged per ticket, the city receives $24 and Optotraffic receives $16; this means that the City is getting $9048 per day. If the trend continues, the yearly revenue from the cameras will be around $3,302,520. For this fiscal year, which ends in June 2011, the projected revenue will be around $2 million.

Though the city plans to install more cameras within its boundary, there is a major caveat on how much the city can keep these revenue figures. The city can only take an amount equal to 10% of city’s total operating budget, which equals $12.5 million. This means the city can keep around $1.25 million; the rest must be returned to the state.

“Do I like the aspect of the law where the state should get the excess money? [I’ve] mixed feelings, but I doubt they will be getting much,” said District 4 council member Marcus Afzali on the part of revenues the state will be getting.

Some residents also think the state should not be given a free ride to enjoy 90% of the revenue. “My argument is that we should not be forced to pay money to the State from this program, when they have cut our share of the Highway User Revenue fund by 90%. In my opinion, we should simply stop issuing tickets, which will save the city the cost of reviewing and validating those tickets. In essence, after we hit the 10% number, our efforts are going to the state government, not the city, but the city would still incur all the associated costs related to the operation of the cameras. Hardly fair, in my opinion,” said north College Park resident Mathew Byrd.

But the council members don’t agree on such a strategy. “We’d be in violation of state law if we hold this money back.  I certainly don’t think that’s a wise idea,” said District 1 council member Patrick Wojahn.

District 2 council member Bob Catlin also echoed Wojahn’s concern: “Perhaps people should try to function in the real world rather than an imaginary world.”

Other residents support the cameras, but are skeptical about the revenues because of “hidden” costs. “Who paid for the equipment? Who pays to maintain the equipment? Who installed it? That all costs money and last time I checked there is no such thing as a free ride,” said resident Kennis Termini.

The revenue figure from speed camera will most likely decline over the time in future. “The current rate of citations will most likely go down as people become accustomed to the cameras being there, even if we move them within the areas we’ve set up,” said Wojahn

“Optotraffic reports that Metzerott rate has decreased significantly as expected and desired,” said the city’s public safety director, Bob Ryan. The Metzerott Road location has been proven to be a goldmine, yielding the highest number of revenue figures.

In addition to the 10% budget cap, there are other limitations. There is a small administrative cost of around $3-4 per ticket. Also, the revenues from traffic tickets cannot be spent on anything the city wants; they must be spent on projects related to traffic and pedestrian safety.

A treasure trove.

When it comes to how to spend this extra revenue, most in the council said they haven’t given much thought to the subject, but will figure something together. There are, however, a few exceptions.

District 2 council member Catlin said he prefers the revenues should be spent in line with the strategic plan that the city finalized last summer. “Once we figure out the revenues better, we should look to the city’s strategic plan and the five year Capital Improvement Project plan and see how the funds can best be spent. I am not inclined to amend this year’s budget to add any significant new spending over the next seven months, but would program these new revenues into the budget planning for fiscal year 2012.”

Catlin also thinks a better candidate for the new revenue spending is about repairing city’s ailing streets. “We have lost over $1,000,000 in state aid for street repair in the last two years, with no end to these cuts in sight (2015).  So I would not call these revenues, as significant as they appear to be, a windfall to be used to fund a variety of new or expanded city programs,” he added.

District 1 council member Wojahn also has a wish list, which includes more bike lanes and pedestrian signals. “I would like us to work with the county to install new safety measures on Rhode Island Avenue, along the lines that folks were suggesting at the NCPCA meeting a couple months ago. I’d also like to see if we could use it on additional bike lanes around north College Park, perhaps along Edgewood or Lackawanna Street.  If we get enough, maybe we could do an additional pedestrian signal on US 1 somewhere,” said Wojahn.

Other council members want to take a wait-and-see approach.

“We haven’t had official discussions yet though, but it’s a good idea to start early. I’d want to sit down with other council members and seriously consider all options and see where the need is the greatest,” said Afzali. His counterpart Denise Michelle also thinks the same.

“[It’s a] good question, but Mayor and Council hasn’t discussed, and I think it’s too early to speculate. I’m sure we’ll be discussing it fairly soon,” said mayor Andrew Fellows.

City’s First Bike Sharing Program Shows Success, Promise

Though a lack of funding recently prevented our city from riding on a local bike sharing program, there is a good news to celebrate elsewhere.

Last month, a team of recent UMD graduates presented their class project in a manner that would likely earn them an A: they launched their first revenue-generating service of weBike, a community bike program that operates the country’s first station-less model of bike sharing.

weBike was created three years ago while teammates Allie Armitage, Brad Eisenberg, Yasha Portnoy and Vlad Tchompalov were taking a course at the University of Maryland with Professor of the Practice Dr. Gerald Suarez. The class, “Systems Thinking for Managerial Decision Making,” became a platform for the team to craft their class project into an ideal version of bike transportation in a college community. When class was over, the students felt their idea had enough value to pursue weBike’s implementation on campus. Upon receiving encouragement from Dr. Suarez, they launched a prototype in College Park and now operate weBike as an incorporated company.

weBike’s model of bike sharing is based on an SMS text message platform, which enables riders to rent and return bikes through their cell phones. Riders can check out a bike out by sending weBike a text to receive a code to unlock it; the weBike fleet is uniform and easy-to-recognize. They can then ride wherever they need to go within a given period, and when they’re finished, return the bike and text weBike to complete the transaction. Through this simple platform, users have access to a bike to get from A to B without the worry of theft, maintenance or the hassle of where to store a bike in a small apartment. Users also save time waiting for public transportation and avoid the hefty fees to park a car on campus.

The first official system of weBike is currently being operated at the Mazza GrandMarc Apartments, a complex located on Route 1 just 1.5 miles north of the UMD campus. Residents at the building have quickly picked up on the value of this flexible form of transportation. “Usually I use weBike three or four times a week,” says MGM resident Nicolas Patrick. “It feels so rewarding cycling to get a couple groceries or to pick up a take-out.” Riders also use the bikes to travel on Paint Branch Trail directly to the University of Maryland campus. “I use bikes almost every day of the week,” comments international student Francesco Scorcelletti. “weBikes have been my only vehicle for [my stay in] the US. I prefer by far to ride around the trail whenever I need rather than wait for the bus.”

Because the cost to offer the system is paid for by the Mazza GrandMarc management, usage of weBike is free for all residents. The system launched in early September, and since then around 85 users have registered for the program, over 300 rides have been logged, and the system has sent and received over 2,500 text messages. “The feedback we get from people using the system is very positive,” says co-founder and marketing director Allie Armitage. “It’s exciting to see how quickly weBike being adopted. Knowing that something we created is valuable to others is incredibly rewarding.”

weBike’s business model is “less expensive” compared to other public bike sharing programs, claims Armitage. weBike systems are composed of equipment (bikes, locks, accessories), technology (text message server, online applications, back-end database management system) and a maintenance platform (monitoring bikes and keeping the fleet in shape). “Because there are no stations in our system, the total cost to operate weBike is significantly less than many others that currently exist, like Captial Bike Share, where each station runs ~$35k. Our systems are usually paid for by the municipality, and they can choose how to fund the system. Ideally, funding is completely covered so it’s offered for free to users (as it is at Mazza). However it depends on the financial status and vision of the municipality.”

The team is excited to grow to new locations in the future and is actively pursuing opportunities to expand. Armitage said the team would love to expand the system in College Park–particularly to the metro station. “There are so many residents who would benefit from bike sharing, and it would be a huge step towards sustainability for the community. Last year we met with the City Council in College Park and received some positive feedback on weBike, but found no real leads towards implementing a service,” she said.

They’ve come a long way from the classroom, weBike’s founders still have high goals to reach in making bike transportation as reliable and convenient as, say, the metro. Most importantly, they believe in what they’re doing; as their slogan says, they’re out to “make shift happen.” It just goes to show that when passion is the driver behind the wheel(s), the results will be powerful.

Greenbelt Metro Deal Leads to Johnson’s Arrest

The bribery related charges surrounding the Greenbelt Metro station development could be one of the reasons why the current county executive Jack B. Johnson, who will be leaving office after this term,  was arrested yesterday.

WTOP reported that a source close to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Baltimore says the investigation is linked to a developer who sought to involve Johnson in a land deal at the Greenbelt Metro station. The investigation is also linked to the transfer of a residential property involving Johnson, the source says.

As reported by The Washington Post:

“Since taking office in 2002, Johnson has been linked to investigations by various authorities, including a pay-to-play accusation involving a county contract to lease office space and a broad FBI investigation involving a massive development project near the Greenbelt Metro station that Johnson had strongly backed.

“Both investigations have involved a number of Johnson associates either requesting payment or receiving strong government support. A Washington Post investigation of Johnson’s first term in office found that he had given 15 friends and allies 51 county contracts totaling nearly $3.3 million.

“In all, Johnson has come under scrutiny for county development deals worth millions of dollars that have gone to people with ties to the county executive. Several of those people had little or no development experience or were given no-bid contracts, according to government records.”

The U.S. attorney investigating the case called it the “tip of the iceberg” and part of a broader corruption investigation in Prince George’s county.

You can see the original Jack and Leslie Johnson affidavit here.

From North College Park Comes Support for Book Exchange Development

Unlike their neighbors to the south, most of whom oppose the undergraduate housing component of the Book Exchange redevelopment proposal, most North College Park residents gave their blessings to the project.

With a few exceptions, that was the general tone of the North College Park Citizens Association’s (NCPCA) monthly meeting last Thursday at Davis Hall. The project’s developer, Mr. Ilya Zusin, made a presentation about the plan and took questions from NCPCA members. Some 35 residents attended the meeting.

Earlier, the residents in Old Town College Park rejected the proposal due to concerns of excessive noise that undergraduate residents of the building might bring to the surrounding neighborhood.

Though the noise concern worked against the proposal in the south, it seemed to work in favor in the north—but for a different reason.

“You want these students to be present near the campus, and be watched by their managers, you want them to be out of the neighborhood and you don’t want them to drive (in the neighborhood), right?” asked Mark Shroder, supporting the plan. Mr. Shroder is the North College Park Citizen’s Association President and has previously served on the City Council.

Though in minority, not everyone agreed with Mr. Shroder. “I’ve been there with our code enforcement officers in the Friday nights, and I haven’t seen so horrible things in my entire life: Waves of students going down the streets, singing, partying, and making noises,” said Mary Cook, former District 4 councilwoman, as she voiced her concerns with the Old Town residents. “I don’t want to be living next to that place [proposed housing]. I’ll have to move out from that place,” added Ms. Cook.

Marcus Afzali, Ms. Cook’s successor in District 4 and UMD graduate student, is also skeptical about the plan. “Something better can be built in this place” commented Afzali.

Afzali’s comment provoked sharp question from Mr. Zusin: “What better option do we have?” Mr. Zusin asked.

“There are a whole lot of them. How about a hotel?”Afzali answered back.

“Having a hotel is not a viable option. We’ve also approached several grocery stores, none has expressed interest yet. Trader Joe’s said they are not interested but that doesn’t mean that another operator won’t be,” Mr. Zusin responded, refering to his attempts to draw a grocery store for the ground floor retail component of his project.

During his presentation, Mr. Zusin was asked to explain the reasons for oppositions against his proposed development. “They [the Old Town residents] do not want to put more students in their area; they don’t want this [development] in their backyard”.

“But we don’t want it in our backyard, either,” commented North College Park resident Marcia Booth, drawing a laughter from the audience.

“The plan does not affect us. I think he [Mr. Zusin] has a damn good plan. I’m all for it,” commented Bill Robertson, another long time North College Park resident. Mr. Robertson’s comment was greeted with applause and later echoed by a few other neighbors in attendance.

Some residents supported the proposal citing the economic aspect of the development. “I fear if someone else, such as UMD, can get the property, the city will lose important tax revenues [from the development],” commented Sarah Jasz, another North College Park resident.

At least one North College Park resident wanted the students moved deep into the campus. “Why has somebody not brought the idea of building more student housing inside the campus?” asked Hollywood resident Peter Lakeland.

Some also spoke about the proposal’s compliance with the Route 1 sector plan. “I believe in a land owner’s rights and as long as the project is within the constraints of the sector plan and the zoning then they [the developers] should be allowed to move forward,” said James Woodhouse.

Responding to Mr. Zusin’s proposal, District 1 councilmember Patrick Wojahn said, “What we’re hearing is only one side of the story. I propose that NCPCA invites someone from the Old Town neighborhood to speak to this audience in next month’s [NCPCA] meeting.” Mr. Wojahn strongly opposes the proposed development.

Council members Chris Nagle and Bob Catlin were also in attendance, but refrained from speaking.

Unlike the Old Town Civic Association, The NCPCA did not make an official resolution on the proposed development.

North College Park to Discuss Proposed Book Exchange Development Tomorrow

The proposal to turn the Book Exchange site into a 6-story mid-rise apartment building for students and professionals has stirred quite a bit of discussion among City’s southern inhabitants – University students and Old Town residents. Being so close to the campus, UMD, smart growth proponents and students would love to see this proposal go through. On the other hand, some long time residents fear that the proposed development is an invitation to more trouble for them – stuff like “late night parties, noise ” etc. will be very common, they think. While the project appears to be in line with the recently updated zoning for the property, but political opposition could delay the project considerably and ultimately quash it.

Does north College Park have anything to do with this property development? Directly the answer may be no, but indirectly, definitely yes. North College Park has a sizable student populations living in its houses. If more and more rental housing is built in the south, students will likely to leave north and concentrate closer to campus. This may or may not have an effect to the northern neighborhoods.

In the meantime, the four council members representing the north part of the city have been divided on the proposal. While District 1′s Chris Nagle supports the proposal, her counterpart in District 1 Patrick Wojahn does not. District 4′s Dennis Michelle is also against the proposal. The other District 4 council member and UMD graduate student Marcus Afzali is publicly undecided but skeptical.

Ilya Zusin, the developer of the proposed development will be at tomorrow’s North College Park Citizen Association (NCPCA)’s meeting (Oct 14). The session will start at 8:10pm. A detailed agenda can be found here.

Earlier this month, the members of the Old Town Civic Association overwhelmingly rejected the proposed development. Tomorrow’s discussion has been billed as an informational session for NCPCA’s members. This means that the members are unlikely to take an official position on the matter.