College Park to Host Four Cities Meeting Tonight

Four cities around College Park

College Park City Council will not be having its regular meeting or work session tonight, instead it will host a four cities meeting at the Council chamber.

College Park and three other neighboring cities Berwyn Heights, Greenbelt and New Carrollton have been have been this kind of meetings for the past several years.

University of Maryland president Dr. Loh and Mayor and Mayor and council members of all four cities are expected to be there.

Dr. Loh will discuss the collaboration with surrounding communities on the issues being addressed by the College Park City-University Partnership. They include transportation, housing and development, public safety, education and sustainability. He will also give an update on the East Campus development.

We will also discuss an update on the dog park at Lake Artemesia, Intermodal facility and strategies to make our Metro stations safer.

The City of Greenbelt will lead discussion on its 75th anniversary celebration, county fire commission, Greenbelt station south core update, 295 Parkway widening feasibility. There is a meeting scheduled on this matter on Thursday, Feb. 16, 6:30 pm at the Greenbelt Community Center.

The City of New Carrollton will lead a discussion on the SHA and sound barriers

If you want us to discuss any thing else, please let me know.

Harris Teeter Eyes to Open in College Park

Harris Teeter store

A prospective developer is exploring an option to open up a Harris-Teeter store on the site at Baltimore Ave. and Hartwick Road. Currently the site is occupied by Applebee’s and Fed Ex/Kinko’s.

The developer has however said that they can only be able to come to College Park if they are allowed to sell beer and wine. This prompted District 3 council members Mr. Day and Ms. Stullich to bring a motion in last Tuesday’s council meeting. The motion asked to add College Park to be added a Bowie bill that would allow them to sell beer and wine to all local grocery stores. Council passed the motion with a vote of 5-2-1. District 2 council members Bob Catlin and Monroe Dennis had their dissenting votes. I abstained from voting, because I wanted to know the views of the members of north College Park Civic Association. Many members had major concerns when Shoppers in north College Park wanted to sell beer and wine several years ago.

Interestingly enough, some found the support for the Harris Teeter store by the council contradictory to its opposition to the Cafritz development that includes a Whole Foods market. For example, the Diamondback recently questioned City Council’s these two development votes.

PGPOA Objects Rent Control Enforcement, City Responds

Prince George's Property Owners' Association

Recently, the City of College Park started to enforce the rent control ordinances on the rental housing units in the City. This came after a long legal battle between the City and the PGPOA – the Prince George’s Property Owners’ Association. The City finally won the case.

Once the enforcement started, the PGPOA started to complain, alleging that the City failed to establish a process for challenging the rent stabilization violation notices. Here is a letter they sent to the City with those complaints.

In response to that letter, the City also sent  a letter, which the Council approved in last Tuesday’s Council meeting. Please see that letter here.

Commercial Robbery at Hollywood Car Rental

Shen Yang / SOS Rental at Hollywood commercial district

A commercial armed robbery occurred on January 26th, 2012, at approximately 1707 hours, at SOS Towing, Transport and Rental Car located at 9903 Rhode Island Ave, College Park, MD.

SOS Rental is located on top of Shen Yang Restaurant at the Hollywood shopping complex.

CID-Robbery is investigating the robbery.

The suspects are believed to have fled the scene in an older model black Chevy Malibu with unknown Maryland “1812” style tags.

The Police has the following descriptions of the Suspects:
SUSPECT#1: H/M/20-24yoa/5’4”/160 lbs/green military style jacket/blue pants / black baseball cap/ tan mask (NFD)
SUSPECT#2: B/M/20-24/6’0”/160 lbs/black Northface jacket/black pants/black baseball cap/black mask (NFD)

If contact is made with this vehicle or people matching this description please notify the Robbery Division (301-772-4905) or the on-duty investigator through PSC.

January 2012 College Park Development Update

Please see below the January College Park Development update. The Development Update is a bi-monthly newsletter prepared by the City of College Park Planning, Community and Economic Development Department covering development activity in the City. Please feel free to distribute this information as you see fit. Questions or comments can be directed to Economic Development Coordinator Michael Stiefvater, he can be reached at (240)487-3543 or msteifvater@collegeparkmd.gov.

PLANS FILED (2) 

MARYLAND BOOK EXCHANGE (DSP-10028)  7501 BALTIMORE AVENUE
The property at 7501 Baltimore Avenue, the current site of the Maryland Book Exchange, was purchased in November 2010. The project is being developed by Ilya Zusin and Josef Mittlemann (R&J Company. LLC.), who have submitted a revised plan for a 6-story building that steps down to 4-stories along Yale Avenue. The revised plan includes 313 apartment units (946 beds), 14,300 square feet of ground floor retail and 297 parking spaces. The majority of the beds would be for undergraduate students with the remaining beds for graduate students and young professionals. The Maryland Book Exchange is expected to be relocated during construction and moved back to the site upon completion.

At the City Council worksession on January 3, 2011 the city’s planning staff believed the applicant’s revisions were not significant enough to warrant a change in the city’s position of disapproval. The City Council followed this recommendation and voted 8-0 in favor of denial on January 10. The Prince George’s County Planning Board continued its hearing on January 19th with the Planning Board voting 4-1 to approve the revised design with conditions. An appeal could be filed, which would result in the Prince George’s District Council hearing the case.

M SQUARE, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND RESEARCH PARK (DSP-09028) 4400, 4500, 4600 RIVER ROAD
.This project is being developed by COPT and the University of Maryland. This latest addition to the research park will consist of three 5-story, 150,000 square-foot buildings for general office and research use, surface parking lots and a three-level parking garage. The project was pulled 2

from the City Council’s September 20, 2011 worksession, as the applicant is in the process of revising the plan. A new date to appear before City Council has not been set at this time. Visit their website at: http://www.msquare.umd.edu/

Read more »

Opportunity to Learn Law Enforcement and Crime Prevention

Citizen Academy

This training opportunity allows Prince George’s Police community partners to become familiar with the County Police Department and provides exposure to officer related training such as investigations procedures, conflict management, crime scene investigations, less lethal weapons, judgment enhancement training, and much more.

In order to participate in the training program, participants must be nominated by a law enforcement officer and approved by the district/division commander or civilian manager. Nomination forms and instructions may be obtained at any of the six district stations.

This course requires the full 12 week commitment for successful completion. For more information, contact your local district station or Sgt. Nancy Jackson at 301-794-1106 or via e-mail: nqjackson@co.pg.md.us.

Dates: March 26 – June 12, 2012
Time: 6:00 – 9:00 PM (Monday Nights)
Location: Training & Education Division, 4380 Forbes Blvd., Lanham, MD 20706, (301) 794-1000

Council Supports Bag Fee and Same Sex Marriage Bill

In last night’s council meeting, the City Council voted unanimously to approve sending a letter in support of PG 402-12, a bill in the General Assembly that would permit Prince George’s County to impose a fee of $0.05 for the use of most paper or plastic disposable bags in retail establishments.  This fee would be similar to the fee imposed for use of plastic bags in Washington, DC, and Montgomery County.

The Council also voted to send a letter to support the Same sex marriage bill, which was introduced yesterday. I’d like to talk a little more about my vote on this, because  I was the only one who cast the dissenting vote.

Personally I felt the bill was too controversial. Soon after residents came to know that the council will take a position on a same sex marriage bill, residents started discussing it and sending emails. And this happened even before they did not see the content of the bill. I’ve received some emails supporting the bill, but many more emails opposing it. Out of 8 items we voted, this was the only item that received dozens of emails.

I also felt that the Council acted too quickly to get the motion passed. On Friday evening, I found this letter of support that  we voted last night. When I first saw this letter, I asked myself  - how will I vote on a bill that does not exist? So next day, I asked our staff to send me a link or reference to the bill. On Monday, I was told that the City does not have a reference, but one will be given to me  as soon as it is available. The bill was introduced yesterday morning, thus Council members could only get the first look at the bill until before the council meeting started. At the time, I’d assume that most council members did not have the time to study the bill nor did they have any time to consult their constituents.

Because of this highly controversial and complex nature of the bill that deals with social issues such as marriage, relationship, faith and religion, and because I felt a large number of my constituents could not be consulted within very short time, I didn’t feel that a few of us on this Council should be imposing our  own opinions on thousands of City residents.

I however suggested that if we really have to send a message to the State from our City – let’s put this issue to a referendum, let’s ask our city residents to decide what they think about it. Our City has  a history of putting controversial issues to ballot, like we did in 2007 when we asked what residents feel about having our own Police force.  Council members at that time did not feel comfortable to vote on the issue. But, in this case, we didn’t have to, because the State is not asking us to take a position on this.

I thank everyone who wrote to the Mayor and the Council either for – or against the bill  and testified at yesterday’s hearing before the vote.

Ah! Those Big, Bright Lights

Flood light outside of Greenbelt Metro's north college Park entrance

Those of you who take Metro at the Greenbelt station, you must have noticed a portable light trailer was set up near the pathway bridge, facing west towards the Lackwanna and 53rd Ave intersection.

For the past few days, the lights were on entire night and also late in the morning. The lights were extremely bright and was powered by gasoline generator. It looks like they are the kind of lights which are used in highway work.

We already have enough discussion and controversies on the Lackwanna lights several months ago. This new flood lights just added more questions from many residents.

The lights did not only shined the entire path towards Lackawanna Street, but also the south end of the park. The nearby homes were also flooded with brilliant light. The light went through the bedroom and kitchen of many residents. living in the nearby houses.

We asked Metro what is the reason for causing this unwanted light pollution. They are saying this is a portable unit that they bring around to the different crime hot spots in the Metro system, and there wasn’t anything that triggered it specifically. They said the next time they bring the lights in, they will not be directed at people’s homes. They also said that they’re looking at new lighting options along the path, including brighter LED lights to promote safety on the path without disturbing nearby homes.

The good news is that they lights are gone, at least for now.

City Council to Vote on Controversial Same-Sex Marriage Bill Tomorrow

Set to Change.. Definition of traditional marriage in MD

In tomorrow’s Council meeting, the College Park City Council will vote if it should send a letter of support to the General Assembly in support of a proposed controversial same-sex marriage bill.

The bill has not been introduced yet, and no bill number is available at the time of this writing, however there have been much talk around and a draft of the letter that the City plans to send in support of the bill is already in the works.

By any measure, the proposed bill is extremely controversial and has generated highly emotional and complex debate among residents living across the state.

The State does not require the City to take a position on a bill. The municipalities do not normally take positions on controversial social issues like this one.

Opponents argue that the bill would change the definition of traditional marriage as defined in Maryland’s State Law Article 2-201: ”Only a marriage between a man and a woman is valid in this State.”

Supporters think the proposed bill would ensure that rights and responsibilities extend to all qualified couples in the State of Maryland, regardless of their gender. Although opponents argue that business owners could be forced to supply materials for same-sex marriage union or risk accusations of discrimination. In a recent statement, a group of Catholic bishops said other business owners could be forced to supply materials for such a union or risk accusations of discrimination. Employers could also be forced to honor same-sex marriages through health care laws, they said.

If the Maryland proposal had passed this year, “Religious business owners like florists, bakers, musicians, or photographers would not have been able to decline to participate in a same-sex marriage ceremony,” the statement says.

Supporters however think that Maryland State law already prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, and this bill would have no impact on the requirement that businesses provide equal services to same-sex couples without discrimination.

Supporters also point to a religious exemption that would prevent religious officials and churches from having to recognize any relationship that does not conform with their religious beliefs. However, many opposed to the bill say that the acceptance of a “marriage” between a same-sex couple would be against the teachings of their faiths.

Please email me or drop me a line on how you see the bill and your thoughts on the City Council  sending a letter to MD State assembly in regards to this bill.

Council Set to Change Meeting Start Time

College Park City Hall

The City Council is set to make an important change to the meeting starting time.

For several decades, Council meetings have started at 8:00pm. After a review, the Mayor and Council have determined that a general start time of 7:30 p.m.

In last week’s council work session, the Council discussed the Council rules and procedures.

The Council is required to review these rules, by our charter, to review  every two years.  These are the rules that set forth the conduct of our meetings.

This change will allow more time to complete the Council’s agenda at times when the residents may attend and participate.

The Council will vote on this Tuesday to make this change.

Most of the neighboring cities start their council meetings and work sessions at 7:30pm

Snow and Ice Control – Please Park On The Even Side!

Snow Sign

We had our first snow of the season last night. Please note the following advisories from the Public Works in regards to parking on city streets and clearing snow during this season.

Public Works crews plow and salt City streets and parking lots to clear snow and ice. Things you can do to help include:

Move parked cars off the street so the snow plows can clear snow to the curb.

If off-street parking is not available during predicted snowstorms, park on the EVEN side of the road (EXCEPTION: if your address is odd-numbered and the area across from your house is undeveloped, park on the odd side of the street)

Clear snow and ice from the sidewalks in front of your residence. THIS INCLUDES STORMDRAINS! The City is responsible for clearing the streets; residents should work together to help keep driveways and storm drains clear.

Crews work around the clock during snow emergencies to clear the streets. Your patience is appreciated during these times.

Always plan to set your refuse and recycling carts out for your regularly scheduled day during snow events. Refuse and recycling collections may occur later in the day than normal, but you should not expect collections to be delayed until the following day.

Planning Board Approves Book Exchange Design, Will it Pass District Council?

College Avenue and Yale Avenue - Closeup

Yesterday, Prince George’s Planning Board approved the Book Exchange student housing complex near University of Maryland.

Earlier, College Park City Council unanimously voted against the design, citing developer’s failure to comply with the Route 1 sector plan.

The plan will most likely go to the County’s District Council, who will make the ultimate decision.

Read more on today’s Washington Post here.

College Park Patch did a nice live blogging on the hearing yesterday. You can read that here.

City Budget FY2013: What Do You Want See?

City Budget - solving the puzzle

Although we are only half way through fiscal year 2012, it is time to begin preparations for the fiscal year 2013 budget process.

On last Tuesday night’s worksession, the Council discussed the tentative schedule for this year’s proposed budget.

According to the FY2013 tentative budget schedule, there have been two budget worksessions scheduled – one on Saturday, April 14@ 7:30am Saturday, and another on April 21 @7:30am (if needed).

The budget ordinance will be introduced on Tuesday, April 24, which will be followed by a budget public hearing on Tuesday, May 8. The FY2013 budget is expected to be adopted on Tuesday, May 22 with the effective date of July 1.

Please see the detailed tentative budget schedule below.

Council member Wojahn and I plan to hold a community meeting sometime before these worksessions to discuss the proposed budget with district 1 residents. At that meeting, you can talk about items that you want to see in the proposed budget.

The North College Park Civic Association (NCPCA) is also expected to discuss the proposed budget in its February meeting on Feb 9. If this happens, please try to join and have your thoughts know.

As always, you can send me an email with your own wishlist.

College Park to Vote on Bag Fee Bill Next Week

Skip bag, Save the river

Skip bag, Save the river

In last night’s work session, the Council decided to have a vote on a proposed Prince George’s County that seeks to impose fees for Use of Disposable Bags.

The bill enables the County to impose a fee for plastic bags in the County. The fee would apply to retail establishments that provide disposable bags to its customers as a result of the sale of a product.

It excludes restaurant bags, medication bags, newspaper/dry cleaning bags, flower bags, and frozen, bulk and baked goods bags. If this legislation passes, the County would likely set the bag fee at $0.05 per bag, similar to Washington, D.C.

Delegate Barbara Frush and Senator Paul Pinsky have sponsored the bill. County Councilwoman Mary Lehman strongly supports this legislation.

City Considering Revitalization Tax Credit Program

Tax credit boundary in District 1 (in shaded lines)- Hollywood commercial district is not included

A few years ago, the Council considered the possibility of enacting a revitalization tax credit program. Such a program would give developers who revitalize certain commercial or residential property in an established revitalization district in the City the opportunity to apply for a credit on their City property taxes.

The City could provide such a credit if the development met certain criteria – for example, focused on green building, focused on renting to local or small business, provided certain types of neighborhood-serving retail, fixed up old and abandoned properties, etc. Until last year, State law prohibited municipalities in Prince George’s County from enacting tax credits like this.

The City lobbied to pass a law permitting municipalities in Prince George’s County to do this. This especially impacts the Hollywood Commercial District, which was the only commercial district in the City to not qualify for the County’s revitalization tax credit program.

The staff is now proposing a revitalization tax credit program for the City, which would make commercial developments in any of the City’s commercial districts eligible for 5-year tax credit program, where the credit would start at 75% and be phased out over five years of the development (it would be a 60% credit the second year, 45% the third year, etc.)

The goal of the project would be to encourage redevelopment of vacant land and assembly of smaller parcels, and developments that involve expensive infrastructure improvements. Projects located along the Route 1 corridor or near the College Park Metro would have to improve the value of the property by at least $5 million, while properties in the smaller commercial districts (Hollywood or Berwyn, for example) would only have to improve the property value by at least $100,000.

All property tax credits would have to be approved individually by the City Council. This is a potential tool that the City might use to redevelop some of the neglected properties in the City.

In tonight’s worksession, the Council will be considering the parameters of such a program.

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