In response to Robert McCartney’s Op-Ed yesterday in the Washington Post, I decided to throw together the following as I continue to ruminate over the massive amount of debate surrounding the proposed development (also see savethehillock.com) of 9 acres of the 22 acres “Wooded Hillock” behind the Comcast Center:
As an environmentalist and former land conservationist, I mourn the proposed loss of trees as much as the next person. Also, I’m usually less than inclined to side with the University on most issues related to development in College Park. These two things being said, I continue to see no better alternative than the Wooded Hillock for the relocation of facilities on East Campus. I don’t understand how McCartney can say UMD’s examination of alternative sites for these facilities was an “apparently insufficient study”. Somehow studies always seem to be insufficient if the conclusions they reach aren’t in accordance with your own.
UMD did plenty of research and determined the Wooded Hillock was the cheapest to prepare for construction and one of the least visible places close to campus to put these facilities of all the alternatives. The employees in these facilities will constantly be coming back and forth between the (relocated) facilities and buildings that they work on all over campus. Do we really want to have them constantly deploying from across town by M Square (the Golob Property) or up Metzerott Road thus increasing local traffic?
The Wooded Hillock is an ecologically insignificant isolated forest that lays inside the beltway and is itself bordered by several roads. It has little importance for water quality and next to no habitat value. If the property were privately owned, the State wouldn’t even consider purchasing it for ecological reasons with Program Open Space money. The best argument against the destruction of this forest is its educational value as a second-growth, tornado-damaged ecosystem. Unfortunately for UMD’s opponents on this matter, just a portion of the on-campus forest that exhibits those characteristics will be destroyed. Indeed, the 2001 tornado ripped the forest apart all the way up to the Denton Community. If research groups want to go further afield they could look at much larger tornado-disturbance areas north of campus where the county owns thousands of acres of protected stream valley land along the Paint Branch Trail.
Let’s put the sentimentalism aside and focus on much more significant environmental issues in College Park like ways we can cultivate smart, dense infill development and reduce carbon emissions from transportation by promoting biking, walking, and transit. It’s ironic that activists were fighting these facilities being relocated to the Wooded Hillock when they should have focused their efforts on FP-Argo’s proposal to put a whopping 5,500 parking spaces under and around East campus: a move that would have forever cemented the development as a car-oriented suburban mega-development masquerading as a new urbanist “smart growth” success story. At least one benefit to the delay of East Campus is that we may never see quite that level of parking as it would rely on unheard of amounts of public money. Activists should set their sites on the University’s 2-year intransigence when it comes to the Purple Line alignment on Campus Drive. Better yet, they could demand a near term closure of Campus Drive to private automobiles as the UM Facilities Master Plan envisions (see RTCP’s proposed resolution).
College Park’s environmental community can achieve much more and should get out of this small-bore moral fight over 9-acres of forest. They would be wise to extract themselves from their standing up for the trees against the big evil University position. There are much bigger fish to fry.