Mazza Saga Continues

Mazza 11x17 Site Plan“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. TheMazza Front Elevation 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.

17 thoughts on “Mazza Saga Continues”

  1. Obviously he wants to delay the project until a time when it will be subject to laws of his liking. However, suppressing supply as Mr. Dernoga is successfully doing will only increase demand on College Park’s existing neighborhoods. Alas, I suppose Mr. Dernoga believes hidden brick façades are more important for College Park!

  2. If the university community, and students in particular, became a large and active voting bloc in local politics, then we might hope that certain local politicians would show a less obstructionist attitude towards student concerns.

  3. Sorry if I conveyed that Dernoga gave Mazza some sort of special treatment. Indeed, he is well known for changing the course of projects midstream.

  4. College Park already has a councilman who is a friend to students and residents alike in Eric Olson. Getting the rest of the council to care about student housing and College Park development isn’t something that can be solved through elections.

  5. Asad: what is Dernoga’s motivation for stalling you ask…..and Im making this comment as someone who hails from the Public Corruption state (NJ)….perhaps he is holding out for some good old fashioned $$$

    Sorry – could not resist. Jersey makes one ridiculously cynnical when we see unexplainable actions by politicians. Sorry. Not trying to lower the civility of this board – but….

    Serious Question though: will this project eliminate those shanty looking motorcycle/autoparts/car stereo shops just south of the Econo Lodge and north of the piano store?

    Heck – if so, maybe I’LL go give a suitcase full of what Dernoga is looking for. Sorry. Just trying to make you all laugh.

  6. If a politician is looking for money they would normally look to developers – so it doesn’t appear that that is the case. Those shanty stores are supposed to eventually make way for Hollwood Rd extended (the true planned access to this project). Apparently the man that owns them is unwilling to sell as he was relocated there during the Green Line construction and has little trust of bureaucracy as it is.

    Unfortunately, Mr. Olson is unable to participate in these discussions as he voted on Mazza when he was on the city council.

  7. I never got the obsession with brick around here. Don’t you already have enough brick? It’s getting boring! 🙂 Think glass or stone.

    But, OK, for which laws is Dernoga waiting that he stalls and/or diverts projects? Surely he must know the consequences of holding supply down, which is more absentee landlordism…

  8. The site plan has me thinking this community would sit way back off of the highway nestled in the woods, near the stream (very nice by the way – sign me up, Im interested) and if that is in fact the case then I just dont get the hang up on the brick.

    Granted, I want quality materials (to avoid more chintzy looking vinyl clad aesthetic abortions like the one on the north east corner of Rte 1 and the Beltway across from the holiday inn…..you know what Im talkin about) but this seems odd.

    I would think wed be hung up on flood plain issues or the development’s proximity to the stream and the possibility of silt run-off during construction. Now that I would understand.

    If I had my way – being the tree hugger that I am – we would redevelop the East campus and Knox district (then the Town Hall / Berwyn district) into a high density urban land use pattern and make the Mazza site a forest preserve / park (along with the rumored whole foods site down south) but unfortunately I am a realist.

  9. he isn’t waiting for any laws. they are already passed.

    Then what’s up? The mystery deepens…

  10. If the developer wants his project to be approved, he should comply with the Sector Plan, including voluntary guidelines. Period. His attempts to circumvent these community established criteria is the reason this project was delayed last May and was not approved this week. Bricks are the historic facade in our area–if we want to encourage the development of buildings that look like a community, as opposed to the random mess that currently characterizes Router 1 for instance, we need to get back to bricks. And LEED certification makes all the sense int the world. Re-do the plans, and the council will quickly approve them.

  11. Unfortunately you can’t hold people to unwritten laws. Most developments “circumvent” the sector plan in some way. Using brick on a completely unseen part of a building (the building doesn’t even front Route 1) is pretty unreasonable. The PG County planning board waived this requirement precisely because it doesn’t make sense for this project.

    LEED certification is great, but the county should pass a law requiring rather than holding a project back a year (without any communication whatsoever) and then trying to strongarm a LEED certification after the building has already been designed.

  12. Bricks are the historic facade in our area–if we want to encourage the development of buildings that look like a community, as opposed to the random mess that currently characterizes Router 1

    I don’t actually think that the “random mess” is what makes Route 1 what it is. What makes Route 1 what it is happens to be the overall dilapidation of much of the properties there. And the fact that the non-dilapidated ones aren’t very interesting, brick or no brick.

    I came here and was first enamoured of the very pretty University of Maryland brick style, but it got old and boring real fast. Just my tastes. But I hear that people have criticized how artificial some of the (very nice) Downtown Silver Spring seems.

  13. Did anyone think that Mr Dernoga is looking out for his constituents in North College Park. A fair number of the people living in Hollywood and off of Cherry Hill Road are not happy with the redevelopment of Route 1. Traffic is horrible now and adding more buildings will make it worse. The nit picking about the brick might be the only avenue left to try to mitigate size etc. The plans for the building now may be nestled in the woods, but future plans for that area are build build build. The previous council was very developer friendly. They pretty much gave them what they wanted and hell with the people. We now have a council that has at least 4 very green members, Mr Dernoga is one and Eric is another.

  14. I have no doubt that Mr. Dernoga is looking out for his constituents to some degree. I do question the way he has gone about doing this because it gives the appearance that this is more about proving his efforts to his constituents then allowing for practical time lines. Route 1 will be redeveloped extensively because the democratic process allowed a change is zoning code for higher density. I can’t imagine that the people in these neighborhoods are happy with what’s there now. We’re not talking big ugly development. We’re talking walkable, environmentally conscious, smart development.

    Mr. Dernoga favors a reactive position rather than a proactive one. I think the majority of people have the same ends in mind for CP, there is just a difference of means here.

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