Former city councilmember John Krouse recently gave us an interview on why he is so troubled by the proposed Greenbelt development and why he thinks north College Park residents should get more involved in the process.
Along with other City officials, he is organizing a town hall meeting this Thursday (7 pm, March 31, 2011) at Davis Hall. Please spread tthe word and try to attend.
In terms of proposed Greenbelt development, there seems to be a lot of ambiguity. Can you please elaborate this?
The process of discussion and planning really only ends when something is built (and even then, it’s never really ‘over’). So far, nothing has been built.
Greenbelt, Berwyn Heights and College Park (including NCPCA) all supported the 2001 Sector Plan. Since that time, the County supported a different ‘vision’ for the area near the station that did not conform with the Sector Plan that we all worked on, and agreed with.
The approved conceptual site plan of the Developer allowed much taller buildings than the Sector Plan, and did not conform to the step-back in building heights required by the Sector Plan. Thus, the conceptual plan allowed much greater sight impacts and reflected noise impacts on the community. It also proposed greater density, and had greater traffic impacts.
The issue of the enormous parking garage at the end of Lackawanna Street was another major problem. Metro insisted upon construction of it’s own garage, just south of the station, which ended up as a proposed building about the size of the Washington Post Plant (!)
Is that the kind of building that we all want to see at the end of Lackawanna Street Street… and all the way down to Iroquios Street and beyond?
If not, then we might have to be involved in a process to ‘encourage’ the construction of smaller garages on the property, and less enormous buildings right next to our homes.
And there were other problems, too. It’s a long list, really.
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.
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.
“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.
**REMINDER** College Park US 1 Corridor Sector Plan community meeting: Wednesday 7-9pm @ Lakeland/College Park Community Center [5051 Pierce Ave]
The updated Sector Plan, once initiated, will be a PG County Planning document containing legal stipulations and overall vision for development of properties within its boundaries. There is currently in place, an older version of the Sector Plan. It is thought to have problems since it has been around for a while and the Rt.1 mixed-use development it envisioned has not been realized. A property’s ultimate inclusion in the Sector Plan will ensure its rezoning and development [both if any] conform to specifications and vision of the Plan.
The updatedSector Plan is still in its planning stage. Wednesday’s meeting is part of a public process where updates to the Plan will be discussed. A public design charrette [interactive community workshop] will be held in December for the same purpose. More information about the Sector Plan @:
M-NCPPC proposed to amend to the updated Sector Plan, properties in two separate swaths north and south of the current Sector. The northern swath includes parts of the Ikea, Hollywood, and Cherry Hill Rd. neighborhoods.
The southern swath includes Rt.1-fronting properties between Guilford Rd. and East-West Hwy. (including Cafritz Property). College Park and University Park both oppose this addition. County Councilman Eric Olson is planning to not include the southern swath in October when time comes for him to motion initiation of the Sector Plan amendment to voting by County Council. Once he does that, no one can make a backdoor effort to re-include the controversial properties.
The Sector Plan will also be discussed at a tentative M-NCPPC Planning Board meeting October 2nd, and at a tentative County Council public hearing (where Sector Plan update/amendment is initiated) October 21st.
County Councilman Tom Dernoga came to the City of College Park Council in September to present a road improvement project for Rhode Island Avenue. The project’s goal is to use traffic circles and install traffic lights to better manage the surge of traffic on the avenue. Residents have made it clear that they do not want Rhode Island Avenue turning into a four lane roadway for commuters to zip through, but would like to maintain the residential character of the neighborhood.
Dernoga and staff presented the three phases of the project: 1) installing a traffic light at Edgewood Road, 2) facilitating pedestrian and bike access, and overall safety north of College Park at Sunnyside Road, 3) burying utility poles and building traffic circles at the intersection of Rhode Island Ave, Indian Lane and Fox Street, and Rhode Island Ave and Hollywood. The plan includes building sidewalks only at the intersections, and continuing the bike trail north of College Park, where it abruptly stops.