Turning the Page – Critical Sept. 14th Local Primaries

The views in this post do not necessarily reflect the views of Rethink College Park or its other contributors.

Election season is upon us. Because of term limits, 5 of the 9 Prince George’s county councilmember seats and the county executive’s spot are incumbent-less and up for grabs. While the general election isn’t till November, winning the Sept. 14th primary in the heavily democratic county usually ensures victory.

This fresh start couldn’t come at a more important time for a county that has a (as the Post puts it) “political culture marked by cronyism, highhandedness, factionalism, and a lack of accountability.” At 850,000 people, Prince George’s boasts a population about 45% larger than DC and many locational and infrastructure advantages compared to similarly situated suburban counties nationwide. Yet it faces a “pandemic of home foreclosures; poverty, crime and unemployment; struggling public schools; an anemic commercial tax base; and Metro stations bereft of the surrounding development that such sites have attracted elsewhere in the region.” Greenfield developments like Konterra and National Harbor abound in the county and sprawl is leapfrogging it’s way towards Upper Marlboro and Charles County, but inner ring suburbs continue to deteriorate. Billions in heavy-rail metro investment (15 stations) sit underutilized decades after construction. Developers avoid the county for fear of a shakedown and hyper-gentrification in DC forces the least economically mobile in the DC region to locate here.

Marcus Afzali pointed out last month that whoever gets elected to the County Council basically reigns king when it comes to proposed development in their district. One person can literally make or break development in their district. The County Executive election is also critical in shaping the direction of the county in the coming years. Who can help make College Park a national model of smart growth and change the course of the county for the better?

District 1 (College Park north of 193, Laurel, Adelphi, Beltsville) – Frederick Smalls endorsed by the Washington Post for his 8 years of experience on the Laurel City Council and time as a state administrator which includes substantial planning experience. The other candidate, Mary Lehman, is a dedicated community activist who was a staffer for Tom Dernoga – the outgoing office holder.

District 3 (College Park south of 193, UMD Campus, Riverdale, Lanham-Seabrook, New Carrollton) – Eric Olson – it’s hard to imagine anyone who has done more for smart growth in College Park than Eric. He has the temperament and clear focus to see the East Campus Redevelopment through to groundbreaking and the chance to further revitalize much of Route 1 near UMD.

County Executive – Rushern Baker – I concur with the Washington Post and Greater Greater Washington. GGW put it best:

“Mr. Baker is the only candidate who puts development around the county’s underutilized Metro stations as a top priority and leading asset for economic development. He also stresses the need to invest in the county’s inner Beltway communities.

After education, Mr. Baker puts development around Metro stations as his top priority. He says that the attention that went into National Harbor should go into development around Metro stations and inside the Beltway forgotten areas.” He also cites the need for mixed use development at Metro and inside the Beltway to include affordable housing.

Mr. Baker often talks about the County’s recent forfeiture of unspent funds that were sent back to HUD and how developers are reluctant to develop in the county due to a perception that they will be “shaken down” by politicians. He calls for leadership that sets a new standard for ethics as critical to attracting quality businesses while helping local businesses thrive. Mr. Baker is the only candidate who can begin to tap the potential of the county and its 15 Metro stations.”

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that our old friend Tom Dernoga will be on the ballot. This time he’s running for Prince George’s state’s attorney – the most important elected law enforcement job and the second highest office in the county. While Dernoga is well-financed and  seems to have a strong following (including in northern College Park’s NIMBY quarters), I’m hard pressed to think of anyone with a worse temperament to hold this or any other elected office. The Post went so far as to say that he’s not qualified for the job:

“…Thomas Dernoga, a term-limited member of the County Council. He is simply not qualified to be the state’s attorney. Although he knows the county’s budget and land-use laws well, Mr. Dernoga has never worked as a prosecutor, nor even as a criminal defense lawyer; in fact, he hasn’t practiced law of any sort in almost a decade. Lacking that basic background and familiarity with criminal law, Mr. Dernoga has no business running a prosecutor’s office in one of Maryland’s biggest and most crime-ridden counties.”

What’s your take?

8 thoughts on “Turning the Page – Critical Sept. 14th Local Primaries”

  1. Eric Olson as the smart growth guru – you must be joking. He has killed numerous projects, including a Whole Foods combined with a mixed use development in walking distance of the Metro, killed mixed use development in downtown College park and is unrealistic about the redevelopment of multiple vacant sites in the city. He is so afraid of losing his public paycheck that he cannot make a single, rational decision. I will vote for anyone except Eric Olson.

  2. ALL career politicians are in it to line their pockets, ESPECIALLY in our back-water county. We could be a world-class county along with MoCo, Fairfax, and Howard, but we have bumbling corrupt people “representing” us (who are really looking out for their own best interest). Yet, voters in ol’ PeeGee will keep pulling the lever for whoever has a “D” next to his or her name. Not saying Republicans would be better, but if you keep voting for the same party who treats you like nothing more than an ATM, and gives you nothing in return, you might try voting for a different party.

  3. If College Park gets “planned” like Laurel did, then I don’t want Mr. Smalls. Laurel is one continuous line of strip malls and drive-thrus through the entire city. Even the newer developments that have, no doubt, been built during Mr. Small’s tenure. Every single property has an ocean of empty surface parking that fronts route 1, with a single story strip mall at the back – the very antithesis of what I want to see in CP. Don’t know who to vote for here, but I can’t imagine anyone hyping their Laurel planning experience.

  4. David, thanks for the kind words. Regarding the first comment, I know lots of people would like a Whole Foods, but that doesn’t mean we should take a developer’s claim at face value. I was initially open to the possibility of development at the Cafritz property and sent out several letters to our community to invite attendance to public meetings on the subject (and I even said some nice things about what I perceived as the developer’s willingness to work with the community). But as the public process moved forward, I contacted Whole Foods to verify the developer’s claims. What I found was quite different from the official line. On top of that, local officials and I were given seriously flawed traffic analysis from the development team, and other questions emerged as well. I worked closely with the municipal leaders of Riverdale Park, University Park and College Park – and all of these local officials shared serious concerns about the proposed development and, ultimately, were not willing to support the project as proposed. Setting aside the “Whole Foods” talk (which the developers knew would get the most support), the site is not even zoned for such development, and Route 1 could not handle the thousands of cars per day that the development would bring. Beyond all this, people contacting me opposed the project by wide margins. I’m willing to support good, well thought out projects that enhance our community even if there is some opposition – that’s the nature of redevelopment, and my record supports that. However, when the flaws are so great, like at the Cafritz property, I cannot be a party to such development. I confess I have high standards for the vacant properties on Route 1 and won’t just accept anything that comes along – otherwise we lose in the long run. But I’m not just waiting, I direct developers to sites all the time … I even put 30+ developers on a bus recently to show them all the opportunities. I am not going to sell College Park out for the wrong development, I’m going to keep working for high quality development at East Campus and throughout the corridor. Lastly, back to the “Whole Foods” discussion, see: http://www.newsline.umd.edu/business/specialreports/townsinflux/cafritz021009.htm. First, the letter of intent referenced in the article was not news, it was several years old, and second, a letter of intent means little beyond that they would talk with a developer. Whole Foods probably signs dozens, if not hundreds, of these each year. In the article, the developer’s message was essentially, “trust us – build it and Whole Foods will come.” And what did Whole Foods’ spokesperson say? “No comment.” That speaks volumes. Normally, the spokesperson would say, “we’re very excited…” It is very simplistic and misguided to say that I killed a Whole Foods, but I do not apologize for scrutinizing the project. That is my job. If the 38 acres were rezoned from single family to mixed-use, the developers would have had a free hand to develop it to incredible density by right.

  5. Definitely agree with Eric here. Developers will throw the “whole foods” claim out all the time. It’s a great way to garner community support, but it’s often a hollow promise. Hopefully the property won’t be built as single-family detached housing as it’s currently zoned. That would be a terrible tragedy given its proximity near a metro station and inside the beltway. Instead I’d like to see an innovative, outwardly-oriented new urbanist community built there at a density that is acceptable to the community…. something like the arts district in Hyattsville.

  6. Your analysis of the upcoming primary candidates is an absolute farce. First, Fred Smalls has been a compliant following of Mayor Craig Moe and his, as mentioned earlier, strip mall development in Laurel. If Fred and his incompetent cronies on the city council are not careful, Laurel will one day be nothing but concrete and asphalt.

    As far as Eric Olson, although I must agree he is one of the most “civil” members of the county council, and his staff has worked hard to bring order to many of the communities in D3, Eric in his retort fails to mention his close ties to MOMS (My Organic Market), which is probably the single most important reason he killed Whole Foods. Yes, there were letters against that development from “community leaders”, but hey, when you’re connected like a councilmember, you can have any letter you want produced from your allies. I’m not saying I would support Eric’s opponent, but I will say Mr. Olson needs to balance his approach to smart growth and not let a development be hindered by his past campaign contributors.

    On to Mr. Baker- despite widespread support for a chronic loser in the County Executive slot, the real concern is Baker’s cronyism with Wayne Curry and his ties to Southern Management, which has been funding his do-nothing non-profit for years. If Mr. Baker gets in office, you’ll see the cap lifted on Section 8 housing units in the county, and a rush of dependent residents rushing in per Southern Mgmt’s scheme to build in PGC and rake in tens of millions. By the way, you can thank Tim Maloney’s ties to the Post for their Baker endorsement; I used to respect the Post, but they committed a real blunder in endorsing Rashern- if you believe he is the best qualified candidate, you don’t know him well enough.

    Ditto goes for the Post’s comments on Dernoga. Few people have as much passion for the county as Tom, and yes, he has a temperment which turns many people off, but so does Fenty. If you want a county that is chronic with high crime and lacks a good business base because corporations won’t move into less-than-safe jurisdictions, vote for a pretty air-brushed face like Alsobrooks, which by the way is aligned with Baker (and Maloney), thus the endorsement. But if you want a passionate hard-*ss that gets the job done, give Dernoga your vote. You may not like him, but put your silly little bias away and vote for competence.

  7. Yes, MOMs contributed to my campaign … and Cafritz and members of their team have also contributed to my campaign or election slates I’m on. My perspective is based on rigor, scrutiny, and collaboration with my municipal officials.

  8. Eric Olson steers the local residents to do the speaking for him. He will send an email to the local residents on his mailing list and describe the problems he has with the development. The same individuals show up to a public hearing, time and time again, and voice the same scripted objections (traffic, to big, no parking, the trees). The project gets killed because “the community doesn’t want this”. Fact, Eric Olson did this as a city councilman with Commerce Bank on Rt 1 and he did this as a county councilman with the Cafritz property on Rt 1.

    Finally, in response to Eric. How can East Campus on Rt 1 “handle the thousands of cars per day” and not the Cafritz property. The zoning issue is not valid, zoning changes happen, and should happen as changes or needs arise. The Cafritz property should have been rezoned as part of the just completed new sector plan amendment that accomplished nothing. In the last 10 or so years zoning changes been made, over and over, on the same parcels located on Rt 1. These changes were made to bring student housing to Rt 1 when efforts to bring office space failed. The buzz word for the student housing development is mixed use, but this is not mixed use. It offers nothing in the form of amenities to the residents of College Park. It will have a minimal effect on student housing in the traditional neighborhoods, just like rent control will have no effect on student housing in our neighborhoods.

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