TOD Plans for College Park, M Square Purple Line stations

Back on April 4th the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission presented the results of their Purple Line community workshop at a public meeting. I attended, and while M-NCPPC’s delay in posting material has delayed this writeup, there’s still quite a bit to talk about. The Prince George’s County Planning Department within M-NCPCC established five Station Planning Areas to address stations areas not covered by another plan of some form.

M Square and College Park station areas, looking West.

Continue reading TOD Plans for College Park, M Square Purple Line stations

UMD Continues M-Square Transit Dis-Oriented Development

Taking cues from 1980s-style office parks, UMD is forging ahead with the next phase of M-Square (see interactive map) – its suburban office complex steps from College Park’s metrorail Green Line station. Not only does the proposed three 150,000 square foot building, 1,114 parking space development ignore its relationship to the Green Line, it fails to acknowledge a planned Purple Line light rail station directly at its front door. The plan misses or puts off indefinitely several opportunities to make critical pedestrian, bicycle, and vehicle connections in the area. The College Park City Council will discuss the plan in Tuesday’s work session and the Prince George’s County Planning Board will hear the application March 8th.

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While the proposal conforms to the 1997 College Park-Riverdale Transit District Development Plan (TDDP), it stands in direct contradiction to the University’s sustainability goals. The design is completely legal and within the bounds of current zoning, but it abandon’s UMD’s moral obligation to Prince George’s County, College Park, and Riverdale. UMD should immediately remove this detailed site plan from consideration and wait for the completion of TDDP update (which will begin this summer) and M-NCPPC Purple Line TOD Study. According to M-NCPPC, these studies seek to address several issues confronting this area of town:

  • Most of the properties near the station are within the Aviation Policy Area (APA) 6 portion of the College Park Airport, and are subject to certain height and notification requirements.
  • Existing and proposed development in the M Square research park is not transit oriented or supportive, and lacks cohesive pedestrian- and transit-friendly design.
  • Federal tenants (FDA, NOAA, Center for Advanced Study of Language) require secure compounds detrimental to pedestrian and bicycle connectivity.

See the current M-Square Master Plan HERE.

 

Purple Line Receives Green Light for Next Phase – CP Open House 11/1

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The Purple Line, a proposed light rail line that is a critical part of College Park’s future development, has cleared an important hurdle on the way to becoming a reality. On October 7th Governor Martin O’Malley announced that the Federal Transit Administration has given the go ahead for the project to proceed to the “Preliminary Engineering” phase. This means that the project now can move on to developing more detailed plans, construction schedules, and cost estimates, and can complete the relevant environmental studies. This latest approval is no guarantee of ultimate federal funding for the project, but it moves the project an important step closer.

The Purple Line is a planned 16 mile light rail line that will run from Bethesda in the west to the New Carrollton Amtrak station in the east. The College Park/University of Maryland area will be one of the main beneficiaries of the project, with 5 planned stations (University College, UMD Student Union, East Campus/Route 1, College Park Metro, and River Rd./M Square). Important progress was made earlier this year when University of Maryland President Wallace Loh announced that the university was dropping its opposition to a route that passes through the middle of the UMD campus. That route received strong support from the Maryland Transportation Administration (MTA) and from the local community and officials.

The MTA has announced a series of Open Houses to update community members on this next phase of the project. The first of these will be held in the Prince George’s Room at the Stamp Student Union, in the middle of the UMD campus, on Tuesday November 1st, from 5:30 – 8:30 pm. All are welcome.

Event: Neighborhood Work Group on Purple Line this Thursday

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You are invited to a Neighborhood Work Group meeting for the Purple Line at College Park City Hall on Thursday September 8 @ 7p.m. These meetings cover very specific and targeted areas and this meeting will focus on the proposed station at the current College Park Metro Station. Work groups provide an opportunity for community members to participate in targeted discussions on issues such as station location and access, specific design, and engineering issues. For an overview of the evening’s topics, check out this powerpoint. We hope to see you Thursday evening!

University Drops Campus Drive Alignment Opposition

The Washington Post is reporting that University has officially dropped its long opposition to the Campus Drive alignment to the Purple Line.  The debate has raged on since 2007 but in the end University officials have agreed with the steps MTA plan on taking to address their concerns.

Frank Brewer, the university’s vice president for administrative affairs, said Wednesday that the MTA had addressed those concerns.

“We wanted to make sure the university is not in MTA’s way in any way, shape or form to make the Purple Line happen,” Brewer said. “We’ve always wanted the Purple Line to come across campus. It was just a question of where.”

After meetings with university officials over the past year, the state agreed to bury part of a light rail system’s overhead electrical wiring on campus and to install equipment that would reduce electromagnetic interference in particularly sensitive nearby labs.

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At UM Forum, Same Issues as Usual Plague Purple Line’s Progression

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I wasn’t able to attend last Tuesday’s Purple Line forum, as I was happily riding a crowded Amtrak train. But the university helpfully posted a high-quality video of the event online. You can watch it here. If you don’t have  2 hours to spare, here’s what you missed:

This forum had a lot in common with  similar forums in recent years. There was a large turnout—the Purple Line is something that the community feels strongly about. As usual, MTA’s preferred Campus Drive surface alignment was pitted against the latest version of the university’s preferred anything-but-Campus-Drive alignment. In this case, a new incarnation of the southern Preinkert Drive alignment that includes a tunnel that starts near the Chapel and runs under Morrill Quad. As usual, audience input was overwhelmingly skewed in favor of the Campus Drive alignment. In the discussion period 10 people spoke in favor of Campus Drive, and 3 against (a further 6 raised other issues).

There were also some clear differences. There was a wider range of voices, including former Gov. Parris Glendening, who was Prince George’s County Executive when Metro’s Green Line alignment was being disputed, and Beth Day of the Federal Transit Administration, who offered some sobering truths on what it takes to compete successfully for federal funding. The event was kicked off by new UM president Wallace Loh, who continues to give no indication that he shares Dan Mote’s very strong views on Purple Line routing. It may be no accident that the university did not make the case for the Preinkert alignment as aggressively as it has in the past. There was a presentation from HMM, the authors of the university’s not-so-neutral recent report on the competing alignments, but it was not clear whether they were representing the current university administration, or Dr. Mote’s shadow. Overall, the tone of the meeting seemed less contentious than previous meetings.

Continue reading At UM Forum, Same Issues as Usual Plague Purple Line’s Progression

Purple Line Town Hall Meeting 2-1-11

3 Proposed alignments

From: President Wallace Loh

Dear University of Maryland Community:

Faculty, staff and students are invited to a town hall meeting, hosted by the President’s Office, to discuss the Purple Line light rail system.  As you may know, the proposed transit line would run between Bethesda and New Carrollton, passing through Silver Spring, Takoma Park, the College Park campus, and Riverdale.

The town hall will be held on Tuesday, February 1, from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m., in the Colony Ballroom, on the second floor of the Stamp Student Union.

A formal program will open the meeting, providing information about the federal competition for light rail funding, factors affecting the decision about the University alignment, and the pros and cons of at least two campus alignments.   A panel of experts will include representatives from the federal government, the Maryland Transit Administration, Hatch Mott MacDonald (engineering consulting firm), and our faculty and staff.  Don Kettl, Dean of the School of Public Policy, will serve as the moderator.  Following the short formal presentations, we will welcome questions, suggestions, and comments from the audience.
Because of limited time, we ask that questions and comments be kept to two minutes.

Proceedings of this Purple Line forum can also be viewed live via web stream (www.umd.edu), and a videotape of the meeting will be posted on the University website.  Those who cannot attend the meeting can also submit their comments to president@umd.edu.

We look forward to your participation in the town hall.

Sincerely,

Wallace D. Loh
President

UMD Releases Purple Line Consulting Study

UMD just released its much anticipated consultant study of Purple Line alternatives through campus. The study, produced by Hatch Mott MacDonald (HMM), a Canadian-based engineering firm, sheds light on UMD’s current feeling on a controversy that has consumed the campus for nearly four years.

We reported a couple weeks back about our cautious optimism that President Loh may be preparing for a workable resolution to the Purple Line debate. We’re still digging into the 169-page document, but its important to note up front that the document was commissioned well before Loh was tapped for his new post. Indeed, President Loh is scheduling an open forum on the alignment issue on Feb. 1. We commend him for this step. He has invited Garth Rockcastle, former dean of the UMD College of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, to speak on the benefits of the Campus Drive alignment, which Rockcastle believes in completely. The Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) will speak as well. We are unsure who else will attend, but aside from MTA, we expect the majority to be campus administrators and staff.

Some of the items in the report are quite technical, but overall the study seems to suggest that UMD continues (at least as far as we can tell) to grasp at straws: Choosing to focus primarily on pedestrian safety and unworkable south campus alignments rather than the realistic and fundable Campus Drive alignment.

MTA’s written response towards the end of the report is quite revealing. The fact that they had a limited role in the production of this document only confirms the report’s single-purpose nature: to poke holes in the Campus Drive alignment while building the case for the report’s pre-determined conclusion. HMM ignores that a Preinkert Drive tunnel is neither prudent nor feasible…and never mentions that such an alignment is fundamentally unattainable from a funding perspective. UMD has succumbed to one of the most pervasive pitfalls in all realms of transportation and land use planning: The lure of fantasy alternatives and “visions” has thus far obscured the path to pragmatic, achievable compromise.

HMM should have at least acknowledged that Campus Drive is the most likely alternative to reach fruition. In ignoring this basic fact, UMD missed a great opportunity to suggest ways to tweak the Campus Drive alignment to make it more compatible with the pedestrian activity on campus. Pedestrian safety is a legitimate concern, but the issue can’t be adequately adressed without a true partnership between UMD and MTA.

Despite a few promising steps towards collaboration along the way, UMD long ago forfeited any real opportunity to take on a leadership role. Astoundingly, UMD’s consultants now underestimate the time and resources MTA has invested in studying various proposed alignments which UMD itself put forward. We hope that President Loh can help reverse the unconscionable course that his predecessor set and forge a new transportation future for the the state of Maryland’s flagship campus.

Purple Reign: President Wallace Loh and the Purple Line

“This may be the most important decision of your presidency.”

This is how new University of Maryland President Wallace Loh reports a piece of advice that he received from the federal Department of Transportation, when discussing the preferred alignment for the Purple Line. No pressure. The DOT only holds the keys to hundreds of millions of dollars in potential funding, without which the light rail project is unlikely to ever get off the ground.

Based on his remarks at a recent faculty forum, it appears that Loh is taking the Purple Line alignment very seriously. Although he has not yet recommended a specific alignment, his comments should be encouraging to many readers of this blog. According to Loh, “whether you choose Campus Drive or some other alignment is fundamentally a question of your vision for the next 50 years.” He regards the Purple Line as essential to the future of the university, the region, and the state. He expects that 20-30 years from now College Park will be a less suburban environment than it is now, fewer students will be driving cars, and fewer faculty and staff will want to drive cars, as the region becomes increasingly congested.

Interestingly, Loh reported that he compared notes with officials at Portland State University, which recently saw the opening of a TriMet MAX line that goes right to the center of its campus. It seems that the folks at PSU are quite proud of their new accessibility, and the train is so attractive to students that the university is updating its promotional materials to highlight the light rail. Loh recognizes that students increasingly want quick, sustainable access all over the region.

Loh also commented that the state’s case for federal funding for the Purple Line would be helped by a unified vision from the university and the surrounding community. Community support for the Campus Drive alignment is overwhelming. The protracted dispute between the local community and Loh’s predecessor C. Dan Mote over the choice of alignment probably would not meet the definition of “unified vision.” Loh’s official recommendation to the Chancellor and Governor is not due for a couple of months, but these signs are encouraging.

Loh offered other hints at his vision for the future of the city and the region. More details to come in a future post!

East Campus Public Forum Builds Hype, Leaves Questions

Around 150 people filled the bleachers in Ritchie Coliseum on Tuesday night to learn about what the Cordish Companies and the Design Collective (C-DC) plan to do with East Campus. There was a mix of anticipation and weariness, as many in the audience were veterans of the ultimately aborted East Campus planning process led by Foulger-Pratt (FP).

Did the new guys in town have better ideas? Had they done their homework? Do they have what it takes to get the project off the ground this time around? The answer is a definite “maybe.” C-DC have a good track record and some clear ideas of what they want to do, but their plans remain embryonic and it is not clear how much thought has gone into the unique features of College Park and the East Campus location.

If you’re new to this process, or if your memory is as shaky as mine, you might want to check out RTCP’s digest of East Campus articles and RTCP’s list of East Campus talking points. And, check back soon for conceptual drawings (we hope!). Read on for more specifics.

The forum was led by Blake Cordish, vice president of the company that his great grandfather founded. Together with two colleagues from C-DC he gave a brief presentation on the background of the company and the goals for the project. Most of the goals were fairly familiar: building a sense of community, integrated architecture, mixed-use, pedestrian and transit friendly, etc.

Most revealing were some pointed criticisms of the plans that Foulger-Pratt had developed for the project. This gave the clearest insight into what C-DC sees as most important. The presentation was rather short, and most of the forum was used for break out discussions with C-DC staff – the kind with slick posters and easels where people can write about their pet peeves or favorite wine bar.

Cordish Companies and the Design Collective are closely related Baltimore companies that have coordinated redevelopment projects locally and around the country, some much smaller than East Campus, others somewhat larger. Some of their work can be found here; it includes the Inner Harbor Power Plant in Baltimore, a small but effective redevelopment on the Johns Hopkins Campus, and larger projects such as Kansas City’s Power and Light District. A note: The company has an alarming habit of naming developments “X” Live!” At least 5 projects have the same name. Let’s hope that this won’t turn into “Route 1 Live!”

Like Foulger-Pratt, Cordish emphasized that the company owns and manages most projects that they have developed. This is reassuring, as it encourages long-term investment. Cordish claimed that the long-term strategy made it attractive for them to use high-quality building materials, suggesting an upgrade over the materials in the Foulger-Pratt plans. Cordish said that his team’s goal is to change the way that people perceive the area, and they would like to create a “nationally acclaimed” college town development.

Scope
The scope of the new project is smaller than the earlier FP plans. It includes the north part of East Campus, covering all of the area to the north of Rossborough Lane, plus one line of buildings on the south side of Rossborough Lane. Plans to demolish and replace Leonardtown and surrounding areas are not part of the current plans, but could be added in the future. Within the current area, the plan is to first develop the area closest to the Route 1/Paint Branch intersection, as that will be the first to be empty, and the area closer to the Power Plant/Service Building will be built out later.

Streets
C-DC strongly believes in smaller street blocks and good sight lines from the exterior. They were critical of the large blocks in the FP plans and the unbroken façade that had been proposed for the Route 1 frontage. The concept sketch shows one new east-west street north of Rossborough, and 3 new north-south streets in the development. Additional pedestrian/bike only routes will further break up the buildings. The centerpiece of the development is a new open space/town square, roughly one city block in size, towards the northern tip of the development. The northern focus of the development is apparently motivated by the development schedule and by the noise of the power plant. This also means that the new center of activity will be as far as possible from College Park’s existing downtown, and surrounded by major roads, green spaces, and parking lots. It’s not clear how this could foster synergistic development of a unified downtown College Park.

Rossborough Lane will be kept wide, to allow for Purple Line trains.

Mixed-Use
The concept designs included a variety of mid-rise buildings, with residential only on the east of the project and a mix of retail/office and residential on the west side of the project. As in the FP design, C-DC plans an anchor hotel at the corner of Route 1 and Paint Branch Parkway. Plans for the retail/office component were not yet developed. The developers made the standard nods to a mix of national and local retailers, but it’s not clear whether they had thought through the reasons why so many businesses fail in College Park. Amenities for childcare and other family-attracting features were not yet in the plans.

The housing plans sounded like a departure from the FP plans. Instead of a mix of market-rate and graduate student specific housing, C-DC only has plans for market rate housing (i.e., catering only to those precious young professionals and undergraduates with deep-pocketed parents, but no graduate students). The emphasis on bringing a year-round graduate student population into the center of College Park was a well-conceived part of the university’s original vision, and it’s disappointing to see this idea dropped. UMD is currently working to provide 650 graduate beds on East Campus through a state bond, but details on that project have yet to emerge.

The Birchmere Music Hall still appears in the concept plans, but it remains unclear whether this part of the development will move ahead.

Sustainability
The C-DC team emphasized their seriousness about sustainable building practices, and noted that around a third of their staff are LEED-certified. They claim to have a record of innovation in the use of sustainable materials. Many readers will be eager to see more details in this area.

Moving Forward
The plan to first build out the northernmost tip of the development is questionable from the perspective of integrating College Park, but it does suggest that C-DC is eager to move ahead quickly. They plan to seek public tax increment financing for some aspects of the project (see RTCP’s TIF 101 guide here). That process has the potential to delay the project, depending on the politics of the new Baker-led PG County Council.

No specific plans for future meetings or updates were given at the meeting, but you can read about them here as soon as they are available.