Arbor Day – Plant the Seeds of Tomorrow Today

Arbor Day

Today is Arbor Day - the nationally-celebrated observance that encourages tree planting and care. Founded by J. Sterling Morton in 1872, it’s celebrated on the last Friday in April.

For the homeowners, Arbor Day is an excellent opportunity to take stock of the trees on your property and plan for the future. Inspect your trees. Note any broken branches or evidence of disease or insect infestation. Think about how planting new trees might improve the look of your property or provide wind or heat protection

The City of College Park’s Arbor Day celebration will take place tomorrow at 9:30 am at Branchville Vol. Fire Dept.  A dozen trees are scheduled for planting.  The fire dept. will be providing morning snacks and a bbq after the program.  Please consider attending, if you are available.

North College Park Clean-up this Saturday

In conjunction with a series of cleanups around Prince George’s County for Earth Day, the City’s Committee for a Better Environment will be holding a community clean-up this upcoming Saturday, May 1, at 11 am.

Meet at the Hollywood Shopping Center (by MOM’s) to join in!  We have a lot of work to do around the Hollywood Shopping Center to help prevent pollution in the Narragansett Run and Anacostia Watershed, and make our community cleaner!

Please see the flyer attached. Feel free to download, print and spread the word.

Earn As You Recycle

I’ve recently come to know this cool recycling program called ‘Recycle Bank‘. Residents in many cities are saving bucks through this program. The way the program works is fairly simple – when the recycle trucks collect recyclable items from the residents’ houses, they weigh the items and award the residents with reward points. The technology is pretty cool – the recylable bins used in such programs have sensors that the trucks use to send the reward points to a remote sever electronically. The residents can later redeem the points in their local stores.

How recycle bank works

The City of College Park does not have any such program. I hope we’ll have this program in near future.

I like this program more than the other programs like ‘Pay As You Throw (PAYT)’ – something I blogged about earlier. While many may find the PAYT a kind of punishment for not recycling, I think Recycle Bank works the other way – it offers a sense of encouragement to the residents by giving them actual rewards.

April 2010 NCPCA Meeting Minutes

In case you missed this month’s regular NCPCA meeting, here is the minutes – please take a look.

http://myncpca.org/2010/04/08/minutes-3/

The next NCPCA regular meeting will be on May 13, Thursday at 7:30pm. Please try to attend. The tentative agenda has been posted on NCPCA’s website http://myncpca.org. It’s on the home page.

Test Silverlight

A Rain Garden in North College Park

I’ve recently come across a north College Park resident, who has started a rain garden in his own backyard (I’m sure others have done too).

The resident is Ray Caspari. Ray told me he started the garden after he attended the rain garden workshop organized by the Committee for the Better Environment (CBE) last year. What’s more, he started a blog with *cool* pictures of his garden. Here is the link:
 
http://organicfirdausgarden.blogspot.com/
 
Kudos to CBE for inspiring its residents.!! Thank you.

If you’d like to see his garden and get tips, Ray said he’d be happy to assist. You can contact Ray at RoyCaspari@yahoo.com (ph: 202 903 6419). Ray lives at 4802 Niagara rd.

MD Cities Mull Property Tax, Fee Hikes

When Maryland residents are hoping to have a relief in their property tax rates due to a drop in their assessed property values, many of their cities are considering to raise property taxes and fees as part of their upcoming budgets, according to this article in the Examiner. 

According to the report, Gaithersburg is considering a property tax increase for the first time in four decades, and Rockville is mulling fee increases. Bowie has proposed a 2.5-cent property tax rate increase to raise $1.6 million in the next year.

According to this Gazette report, the City of Hyattsville will keep its property tax rate at 63 cents per every $100 of assessed value.

Like Hyattsville, the City of College Park seems to keep the property tax rate at its current rate too, according to several council members.

No need for a City property tax increase for 2011.  We had the second largest percentage decline in assessable property in the County, but because we limited the growth of government in the prosperous years (2004-2008), we can manage the current revenue drop.  The continued loss of $600,000+ of state highway funds could result in a future 2-3 cents property tax increase, however, so we can afford to pay to fix our streets. - Council member Bob Catlin wrote to me in an email.

Mayor Andrew Fellows wrote to me in the same line:

In the near term I  believe our property tax will remain the same.  As I said during my campaign last year, I have no plan to raise taxes, though I believe that any responsible budget process has to consider potential revenue and expenses – and revenue include taxes

College Park is however proposing a raise in parking permit fees for city residents. The hike will be part of the city’s plan to make up $1 to 2 million budget short falls in the upcoming fiscal year.

The Maryland Municipal League(MML), the body representing the states’ Mayor and council members, is pushing to have more authorities in raising revenues to make up the state wide budget short falls. The city council members and the Mayors will be gathering in this year’s MML annual convention from June 27-30.

Town Hall Meeting on FY2011 Budget

[The following is an announcement request I've received from Disrict 1 councilmember Patrick Wojahn]

TOWN HALL MEETING

hosted by Councilmembers Christine Nagle and Patrick Wojahn

Saturday, May 1, 2010

1:30-3:30 pm

Davis Hall
9217 51st Ave.

Please bring your questions and comments!

Budget_Town_Hall_flyer

Residents Band Together in First Community-Initiated Solar Electric System

[The following news was submitted by Suchitra Balachandran , the president of the West College Park Civic Association]

Several Maryland citizens, with the help of Standard Solar, Inc. are celebrating the 40th Earth Day this week upon banding together to sign a community Solar Power Purchase Agreement for a 23 kilowatt photovoltaic electric system on the roof of local church in this leafy bedroom community just east of Washington, DC.

They’re called University Park Community Solar LLC and the system they are purchasing is believed to be the first community-initiated solar electric system in the U.S. It will benefit the 30-plus area participants and generate clean electricity on site for the Church of the Brethren at a predictable price, thereby reducing their region’s reliance on coal-fired power from the regulated utility, Pepco. Pepco burns coal to generate almost half of the electricity it supplies to University Park, the District of Columbia and other Maryland suburbs of DC.

While a solar system is not appropriate for their respective homes due to an expansive canopy of tall oak, pine and maple trees that dominates University Park, Standard Solar, Inc. helped the LLC members identify suitable sites in their neighborhood, designed a customized system for the Church roof and has begun to install it with completion expected next month and a formal unveiling in early June.

“By pooling members’ money, we’re displacing carbon with solar, offering a more sustainable source of electricity at a predictable price and we’ll be getting a return on our investment,” said David Brosch, one of the founders of University Park Community Solar LLC.

There are legislative efforts in states such as Connecticut to authorize community solar coops and at least one electric cooperative, in the middle Florida Keys, to lease a single solar panel in a large array but no program that has originated from this type of grass-roots effort as the University Park residents have succeeded in doing.

“This is a model for like-minded homeowners to benefit from solar for their community and for themselves, especially if a solar electric system is not suitable for their residences. Thumbs up to David and his neighbors for realizing their vision and leading by example,” said Standard Solar Chief Technology Officer Lee Bristol who began working with the Coop in the Fall 2008.

Brosch said the LLC participants also wanted to set an example by expressly choosing panels made in America from Sharp USA. The 230-watt panels were made and assembled at Sharp’s Memphis, Tennessee plant.
The Operating Agreement was drawn up pro bono by Caroline Gaudet in the Washington, DC office of Steptoe & Johnson LLP.

For more information, please contact: David Brosch, Co-Founder, University Park Community Solar LLC, 301-779-3168; davidcbrosch@comcast.net

Some Good Green Fun

On the Earth Day yesterday, I took my family to the clean-up event of the Guilford Run Stream, which runs alongside Guilford Road in front of the Lutheran church.

The event was organized by a coalition of interfaith group, comprised of Islamic, Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist and Episcopal religious groups in the city.

Some 25 members of the group attended the event. It started at 5:30pm and continued until 7:30pm.

After the event, I talked to Pastor Jim Vigen of the Lutheran church.

It’s great to see so many of the community members came together to make this happen. Our earth is a shared place – thus we all have the collective responsibility to take good care of our planet.

More on the event can be found here on the DiamondBack

Guilford Run Stream

Volunteers with collected trash

Keeping Environment in Mind on Earth Day

[Today is the 40th anniversary of the Earth Day. Rachel Hare of UMD for Clean Energy has sent this guest column on the Earth Day and an upcoming Town Hall meeting with the MD Senator Ben Cardin tomorrow]

It’s easy for America to be green on Earth Day.  It’s easy for us to support energy efficiency, encourage sustainability and demand emissions reductions on Earth Day.  The entire world is watching, and it is exactly what is expected.

But what about the other 364 days of the year?

Can America truly commit to strict environmental standards that will reduce emissions, create green jobs and promote renewable energy?

This Friday, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), will take up this question during a town hall meeting at the University of Maryland, College Park.  During the discussion, hosted by student group UMD for Clean Energy, Cardin is expected to address recent progress of federal climate change legislation that is making its way to the Senate.

The current climate bill is an important piece of environmental legislation that could solidify America’s commitment to a sustainable future and set a precedent for other countries to take further action. It must put in place strong, binding standards to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, promote renewable energy and create green jobs.

The current emissions reductions standards enumerated in the bill – 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 – are far too soft.  America also has the capability to develop many potential renewable energy resources, and this should be reflected in a strong Renewable Electricity Standard.

Ambitious standards for emissions reductions and efficiency would make America a leader in emissions reductions and give our country the necessary leverage to pressure other nations to further their own commitments.

As a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, Cardin has demonstrated his support for a strong bill and will have an important role in drafting the Senate bill.

This town hall meeting is an opportunity for us, as constituents, to show our support for a strong climate bill with strict sustainability standards; a climate bill that could work to solidify America’s commitment to innovative energy solutions.

It’s easy to be green on Earth Day, but Earth Day will come and go.  Will America commit to a strong bill that will reduce emissions, create green jobs and promote renewable energy for the other 364 days of the year?

‘Impediments to Development’ in North College Park

Proposed Amendment on the Form-based zoning

A recent set of amendments on the Rt. 1 sector plan has generated an interesting debate among the city residents. 

According to this Diamondback article, points of contention have emerged over County Council Chairman Tom Dernoga’s proposal to block the implementation of “form-based codes”  in the North College Park area, north of Greenbelt Road (Rt 193).  

Form based zoning puts the development process on a fast track by focusing on the form-factor of the development structures instead of their contents: 

Tradition has declined as a guide to development patterns, and the widespread adoption by cities of single-use zoningregulations has discouraged compact, walkable urbanism. Form-based codes are a tool to address these deficiencies, and to provide local governments the regulatory means to achieve development objectives with greater certainty – Wikipedia

Last November, I attended a seminar on the mixed use zoning.  In that seminar,  M-NCPPC planner Chad Williams said unless a plan is put through rigorous public hearings etc., the approval process may take as little as 7 months under the mixed use zoning law, as compared to a minimum of 2-3 years that it currently takes. 

District 2 councilman Bob Catlin is particularly unhappy with the proposed amendments. He states, “I’m not terribly happy with the revisions. In many ways, they make redevelopment more difficult.” Catlin also raised concerns about a proposed revision that would restrict redevelopment on parcels of less than half an acre. The DiamondBack reported, 

Successful implementation of form-based codes transformed downtown Arlington in less than a decade. Without a form-based code, it took nearly that long for a single apartment building, the Mazza Grandmarc, to earn the county’s approval, Catlin pointed out. In many cases, the proposed impediments to development seem like small snags. For instance, a zoning change in North College Park could add a cumbersome process for adding retail. 

The RethinkCollegePark blogger David Daddio is not happy either. David blasted amendments such as these and blamed it all on politics: “For the non-planners among us, form-based codes are a modern zoning tool that allows more consistency and predictability in the development review process while largely taking the opportunity for politicization by elected officials out of the planning process. They also force developers to stick to the plan.” David writes on his blog, titled ‘Squashing the vision’. 

“What we have now is a highly politicized process with all this grandstanding at the end, and it creates a situation where developers don’t want to build because they don’t know what they’re getting into,” Daddio said. “Developers don’t have faith that they can get anything through in College Park,” he tells the Diamondback in an interview.  

North College Park resident Bob Seward thinks that form based code is essential to create a walkable community: “I used to live in Arlington and now live in North College Park. Form based code also allows for the creation of actually walkable sidewalks and walkable communities. That was my experience from Arlington. We desperately need that and other things in North College Park. Supporting and using a form based code could help us more easily get there.”  

On the other side of the spectrum, District 1 council member Christine Nagle opposes the form-based code and is concerned about the lack of public input in such zoning process. “When I see a fast-food store, I want to know that it’s going to look like a fast-food store”  

Council member Patrick Wojahn also questions the applicability of the form-based code and thinks such zoning won’t have any application in north College Park anyway. “The two blocks between Indian Ln. and Lackawanna don’t really offer enough room for a form-based code proposal” – he wrote in an email.  

Irrespective of the opinions on the form-based code, no one seems to be happy with the ultimate Route 1 traffic even after the proposed changes are adopted. The county council had its public hearing on the amendments on April 6. The Gazette covered the event and reported an interesting remark made by a north College Park resident: 

Your plans don’t talk about congestion … yet you build more high-rises and bring more congestion in, said resident Winston Hazard, whose testimony was applauded by the more than 50 residents in attendance. “This makes no sense to people who live in College Park

Update [ 4/23/2010]

Chad Williams of the M-NCPPC emailed me with the following comments on the form-based zoning process. Thanks Chad.

A form-based code, and specifically Subtitle 27A, the Urban Centers and Corridor Nodes Development and Zoning Code of Prince George’s County (the subject of the seminar), does include a more administrative review process, but there is a substantial public input process leading to the implementation of these tools, and (especially in Subtitle 27A) there is still a public role, which may range from notification to active participation. There won’t be as many public hearings per se, but there is still a substantial public component for our new mixed-use tools.

On the property size restrictions during redevelopment, he said:

The amendment calls for one and one-half acres for this “restriction,” and it is more of a minimum acreage requirement to allow for developer-driven rezoning to the Mixed-Use Infill Zone; it does not preclude or restrict redevelopment on parcels less than this size.

Earth Day Cleanup, This Thursday

Join College Park residents, students, other faith communities and College Park Mayor Andrew Fellows in an effort to clean up the Guilford Run Stream.

The event has been organized by the Faith Community Network of College Park.

The event will start at Guilford Run Stream:
When: Thursday, April 22nd, 5:30 – 7:30 pm
Where: Hope Lutheran Church (4201 Guilford Dr.)

Gloves and collection services will be provided courtesy of the city of College Park’s committee for a better environment.

CPBGC Parade, April 25

CPBG Parade, courtesy of cpbgc.org

On Sunday, April 25th at 1:00 am, the College Park Boys and Girls Club will be hosting its annual CPBGC Parade. 

Participants are asked to meet at the REI parking lot, from where they will march towards Duvall Field. 

Activities include rock climbing wall, games, moon bounce, dunk tank (if it’s warm) etc. More on the parade is here.

Grow It, Eat It

Yesterday, I attended the vegetable garden workshop at the Old Parish House on teh Knox Road. The Commettee for the Better Environment organized the event. Some 50+ residents attended the event.

Dave Kneipp, master gardener with the University of Maryland Extension’s “Grow It Eat It” program, presented the 12 steps of starting a vegetable garden: planning, selecting a site, preparing your soil, planting crops, and maintenance. Linna Ferguson later made another presentation on how to grow own food locally.

From the discussion, it was obvious to everyone, no matter how little time or space they have, they can grow their own food.

I’d like to try out some of these techniques in my garden this Spring and Summer.

In case you could not attend, you can still find the resources in UMD’s “Grow It, Eat It” website.

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