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.

2 thoughts on “Dernoga yields, Mazza to go forward”

  1. Interesting headline.

    Interesting set of posts and comments on some of the previous stories.

    Since I find this blog site to be an interesting approach to local development issues, I will post some stream-of-consciousness comments for you to ponder and shoot back at.

    FWIW… My “amendments” did not kill the project and were not intended to. Those who claimed as much spoke/wrote prematurely and without full knowledge.

    Also, those are not “amendments”. Cases such as this come before the County Council as recommendations from the Planning Board, which itself receives recommendations from affected municipalities (such as College Park). I agreed with many of the recommendations of the Planning Board, but I proposed adding what I believe are important conditions to the Planning Board’s recommendations.

    I hardly believe that I “yielded” (as if this was a contest and the question was whether I would crumble to the opinions of UofMd students). The essence of the conditions – that I believe are very important – stayed intact. Some wording was revised so that potential confusion would not drive away investors. If it makes some advocates feel better to believe that I yielded, then so be it. The final language achieves the intent of the original language.

    I find a couple of things to be interesting. There is a claim that LEED standards were added at the 11th hour. For those readers who care about the future of their environment, you might want to inquire why goals that have been in the Route 1 Sector Plan since 2002 were ignored all the way up until the project reached the County Council. I am not about to apologize for demanding more progressive approaches to development and construction. I am trying to set a standard and I am hopeful that this standard will be turned into legislative policy in the near future. Until then, where a Sector Plan sets these environmental goals, I feel compelled to require that applicants address the issues.

    Also, I believe that some Student leaders believe that I am anti-student. On the other hand, I believe that some Student leaders fail to appreciate some of the larger issues that I have to balance. I cannot fault advocates for being focused on their principal issue(s). However, I would hope that they can appreciate the broader issues that the County has to take into account: school funding, transportation impacts, mix of types of development, tax base, environmental impacts, etc.

    In terms of being anti-student, FWIW, I am graduate of UofMD (having resided in Alleghany) and my son is presently a sophomore who cannot obtain on-campus housing (please don’t blame him, he’s stuck with me).

    I do support student housing, but I believe that it will be better if it’s closer to the campus. Some of us will have to disagree as to whether Mazza is close enough to be “Smart Growth”. Clearly, I am somewhat skeptical.

    For those readers who are curious about my “motivation” please refer to my bio: http://www.princegeorgescountymd.gov/Government/LegislativeBranch/CountyCouncil/District1/index.asp?nivel=subfoldmenu(0,0,0)

    I would argue that this County has rolled over for developers for far too long. I am sure that many readers have complaints about County crime, traffic, schools, etc. Well, many of those complaints derive from 30 years of poor development policies and practices that have led to accumulation of bad housing, retail and a limited employment base. For that reason, I try to set some higher standards. If that threatens to impede a development that you are fond of, then that is unfortunate. I believe that if County officials demand better, we will get better development.

    I would note that Mazza did not die, and the conditions that I believe help make the project better for County residents are in place. So… there you have it.

    🙂

    Your turn…

  2. Semantics aside, it would be quite incredible for you to claim that the Mazza development was handled with any grace whatsoever. A few issues:

    1) The city and the mayor in cooperation with yourself and Senator Rosapepe actively tried the narrow CP’s impact fee waiver zone and (on more than one occasion) the approval of the Mazza project was explicitly used against students to come to the eventual waiver zone “compromise”. Amazing how one development project and the fate of a 3 year process can be tied to a bill in Annapolis. So much for predictability for developers. (Serious ethical questions come to mind on this matter)

    2) RTCP has been unable to find any sector plan language on environmental design standards, but it is our understanding that the language that does exist is not specific (please feel free to provide the language). Student leaders strongly support LEED standards and any other county policies that benefit the environment. What they don’t support is 11th hour conditions that dampen College Park’s investment environment for proposed and future student housing projects. Nothing you say can justify LEED standards applied after a yearlong delay of a project with absolutely no notification to the developer in the interim that a LEED standard was expected. We look forward to county legislative action on this issue as such action will benefit the environment and improve predictability for developers. From a fairness perspective, RTCP does not see how LEED standards (nor any of the other major modifications to the project) can be justified in the case of Mazza.

    3) Yes, the ideal is to have all student housing directly adjacent to campus. Unfortunately, that just isn’t happening at the necessary rate for UMD students to have decent, affordable housing. Mazza is Smart Growth because (just like UTC) the vast majority of its tenants will ride the shuttle UM bus (this is helped further by one of your new conditions which RTCP wholly agrees with – see below). The alternative to a student housing project at the Mazza site would have been a beltway-oriented condominium or office building (Maybe luxury!). We prefer Mazza and so did the City of College Park and so did seemingly everyone else that weighed in on the project. We all want perfect growth but the market doesn’t always want to give it to us.

    Brilliant! Why didn’t anyone think of this before?:
    “In consultation with the City of College Park and the District Council, the applicant shall make a good faith effort to execute a memorandum of understanding with the University of Maryland that prohibits University students residing in the project from obtaining on-campus parking permits. Also, in consultation with the City of College Park and the County Council, the applicant shall make a good faith effort to discuss with the University of Maryland methods to discourage faculty and staff residing in the project from driving their personal vehicles to the campus in the weekday morning and evening peak periods.”

    We’re sorry that there was some implication that you crumbled (yielded) under the opinion of UMD students. What I really meant was that you yielded to reason and (finally) worked with the developer to come to a set of conditions that everyone can live with. All we ever asked for was that the county work proactively and collaboratively with the developer.

    It’s reasonable to expect to see some economic development on Route 1 in College Park. Instead, when it comes to economic development, what we continue to see from Upper Marlboro is more waffling, more political shenanigans, and more expectations of non-earmarked developer funds.

    Yes, demand more of developers, but do it in a way that we actually see some development and make the expectations clear FROM THE BEGINNING. You showed a complete disregard for process in handling this project and it won’t be soon forgotten by the development community, student leaders, the University, or the City of College Park.

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