“Unbelievable” is the only way to describe the scene at the County Council chambers this morning in Upper Marlboro. The developer of the proposed 630 bed graduate student housing project Mazza Grandmarc (LOCATION) finally came before the Council almost a year after Councilmen Dernoga “called up” the project for review. They poured over the Detailed Site Plan in painstaking detail – covering everything from architectural critiques to storm water management and (unsubstantiated) traffic concerns. The talks at times became extremely heated – especially between Dernoga and the applicant’s lawyer.
What the Council came to realize is that the their Planning Board Staff (as is their job) and the City of College Park had already brokered a series of laudable and complex compromises with developer since 2004. The meeting also confirmed what everyone else in attendance already knew – there was no conceivable reason to stall the project in May 2006. The Council seemed to be desperately trying to justify the yearlong delay of the project, but in the end they came up woefully short.
Still, they decided to take the project “Under Advisement” which means that they can review it for a maximum of 60 days to determine: (1) approval of the project, (2) approval with conditions, or (3) outright rejection of the project. Several issues were raised, but the most serious for the Council seemed to be:
- The project’s failure to meet minimum (at least 75% coverage) brick facade requirements as laid out the Sector Plan
- The project’s lack of “green” building standards
The Council’s contention was that the developer’s proposed brick coverage (45% total and 100% on the visible portions) is not sufficient and that the Planning Board erred in waiving the Sector Plan’s 75% brick coverage requirement. The developer agreed to make this costly addition to their plan although some members of the council indicated that they expected 100% coverage on all sides. Portions of the building which the council argued should be bricked are completely hidden by a dense forest leading many to wonder: what is the point of such a wasteful use of money and natural resources? Ironically, the brick will replace what was proposed as Hardiplank – an attractive and environmentally sound cement siding product made from ground sand and cellulose fibers. Not even the University View was required to have 100% brick coverage and that project is actually visible on more than just one side.
Councilmen Dernoga was particularly adamant about Mazza’s lack of “Green” Building standards. He pointed again to Route 1 Sector Plan Guidelines which suggest developers explore green building practices. Yet as College Park Planner Director Terry Schum rightfully noted, that section and many other sections of the Sector Plan are simply guidelines that cannot be enforced as mandates. Such a line of reasoning prompted Dernoga to ask if “the sector plan counts for anything?” It’s widely expected that the county will require at least a Silver LEED rating for new buildings, but no such law is on the books at this time and the Mazza developer probably can’t legally be held such a standard. The Council certainly didn’t have to wait until today to indicate that they expected either of these changes to the project.
So what’s the takeaway point from this mess? We’re not sure, but it’s definitely concerning when one man (Tom Dernoga) can stand in the way of a major student housing project in the height of the University’s worst housing crunch in 20 years. Not only is Dernoga delaying woefully needed Graduate Student beds, but he used the project force a change to a State law that gives incentives for other student housing projects in College Park. When the Mazza developer first stepped foot on the project site in the Summer of 2001 he never could have predicted that it would take 6 years to come to this point. In the interim he had to deal with an unimaginable number of site constraints (common to College Park) and political hurdles. While it appears that the project will eventually go forward, it won’t open for students until Fall 2009 or 2010 if all goes according to plan. Of course things never go according to plan in College Park.
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
-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).
The Diamondback picked up today on the Mazza Grandmarc graduate housing story that we posted last Wednesday. We’re glad to see this project gaining some attention after languishing since last May. The Graduate Student Government is also poised to act. Apparently the developer, TDL Multifamily Developers of South Carolina, navigated 5 years of approvals before the project got sidelined.
The Diamondback article repeats county Councilman Dernoga’s issue with the Mazza developer’s eligibility for the public school impact fee waiver. They did get one important thing wrong about the fee waiver – it already exists and it is perfectly within the law for this project to receive it (the Mazza site is within 1.5 miles of the university).
In addition to the 630-beds, the developer was quoted as saying that he hopes the retail planned to front Route 1 will include a bank and restaurant (not represented in the site plan below).
Parking lot in the bottom of this image fronts Route 1 here:
From an accompanying Diamondback staff editorial:
The Prince George’s County Council is holding back approval for the construction of a 630-bed apartment complex at a ransom of nearly $1.7 million.
Given the circumstances, we find it difficult to disagree.
After significant digging this is the information we have come up with:
The Mazza Grandmarc is a proposed four to five story 231-unit (630 bedroom) student housing project (here) that received preliminary approval in November 2004 and final approval from the PG County Planning Commission in May 2006. It would have been exclusively reserved for UMD graduate students with undergrads filling any vacant beds. County Councilman Dernoga (in who’s district the project would reside) exercised his right (in late May 2006) to have the project reviewed before the County Council and as yet the case has gone unheard. The project would be located in North College Park, provide a bike path to the Paint Branch Trail, convey 6.5 acres of parkland to the county, and would contract with Shuttle UM to bring students to the university. It also contains retail that fronts Route 1.
Mr. Dernoga is barred by a county rule from talking with us, since he may eventually hear/vote on the case. From what we can surmise, Mr. Dernoga disagrees that the developer should be eligible for a $1.7 million fee waiver ($7,000 per unit) that student housing within
3 1.5 miles of the university is legally eligible for. The principle behind the impact fee waiver is that since student housing (for university students) doesn’t burden the local public school system (few student have children), student renters shouldn’t have to foot the bill for local public school construction. This fee waiver is apparently essential for the financing of the project.
The City of College Park, the North College Park Citizens Association, and the university are all in support of the project. As we’ve reported in the past, UMD lags far behind its peer institutions in terms of graduate housing and the City of College Park has had real difficultly in holding on to graduate students. UMD maintains a private partnership with Southern Management Company that guarantees 476 units (740 bedrooms) in Graduate Gardens and Graduate Hills for Graduate students and their families. While the Mazza Grandmarc project will not be “University-Provided Housing” it will nearly double the amount of beds guaranteed to UMD grad students.
The following is from an extensive report that examines the dearth of guaranteed graduate student housing in College Park:
Rarely will we take a strong editorial stance on a project. In this instance we must: Any further delay of this project by the County Council is absolutely unacceptable and completely at odds with College Park’s aspirations to be a vibrant, dynamic city.
Read the Mazza Grandmarc:
>>Detailed Site Plan