KabirCares.org

City Releases Speed Camera Revenue and Expenditure Report

Recently, the City of College Park has released an annual report on how much the City earned as revenue and spent in its speed camera program.

The report is now required to be submitted to the Maryland Police Training Commission. This Is the first time this annual report has been required under state law. Please see the report below.

2015 revenue report

Whom Does the City’s Charter Belong To – You or the Council?

By: Suchitra Balachandran. President, West College Park Neighborhood Association.

At the West College Park Civic Association forum on October 16th, the candidates for mayor and council (D-4) in next week’s election were asked if they would support sending all future proposed amendments to the City’s charter to a non-binding or advisory referendum.

While current state statues stop a municipality from sending a proposed charter amendment to a binding referendum (read below for more details), nothing stops a municipal council from sending a proposed charter amendment to a non-binding or advisory referendum and using that information to guide its votes.

So who said what?

YES     Mayoral Candidate: Denise Mitchell

YES     District-4 candidates: Mary Cook, Alan Hew, Dustyn Kujawa and Oscar Gregory

NO      Mayoral Candidate: Patrick Wojahn

A municipality is formed when a group of citizens petition it into existence. The citizens who live within that municipal boundary write the charter, approve it, elect a council and empower that body to govern the municipality using the charter as a guide. The charter is the voice of the people and it should always remain under the control of the people. That is a fundamental pillar of Home Rule. In that respect, College Park’s Municipal Charter is not different from Maryland’s Constitution or Prince George’s County Charter.

In Maryland, any effort to amend the State Constitution must go through two steps. First, it requires the approval of a super-majority of both houses of the General Assembly. Then, it must be approved at a referendum of all the voters in the State. Amending Prince George’s County Charter also requires a two-step process.  It can be initiated either by a majority of the County Council or through a citizen-driven petition. Again, this must be approved at a referendum of the county’s voters (think of the recent effort by the Council to allow for three terms in office).

Unfortunately Maryland State Law does not afford a municipal charter the same protection. As written into law by the Maryland General Assembly in 1955 and not altered since, a vote by a simple majority of a municipal council is sufficient to amend a municipal charter (Section 4-304 of the Local Government Article – codified originally in Article 23 A). That law also prevents (that’s right, prevents) a municipal council from choosing to send a charter amendment to a binding referendum.

At the same time, the General Assembly sets a very high threshold for a citizen-driven petition for a municipal charter amendment: signatures from 20% of registered voters.  Contrast this to 10,000 signatures (2% of the current registered voters) needed to bring a petition to a referendum in Prince George’s County.

It could get even worse in a municipality. Let’s say that residents collect signatures from 20% of the registered voters, petition a charter amendment to a referendum and approve the amendment through a vote. All it would take is a simple majority of the council to reverse that decision at any time without referring the issue to voters.   Consider if this were to happen at the County level and again, take the example of term limits for the Executive and the Council in Prince George’s County. Term limits were brought about through a successful voter-driven referendum and upheld by voters despite several attempts by the Executive and Council to overturn them over the years. Do you think term limits would still be in place if the County Council could simply have reversed that referendum vote?

The combination of the statutes currently in place results in a system that prevents direct citizen oversight over the municipal charter, imposes an onerous burden on democratic initiatives, and allows those initiatives to be over-ridden by the municipal council.  The statistics say it all. In the 157 Maryland municipalities, there have been 421 charter amendments passed by councils in the last five years alone and only five citizen-driven petitions taken to referenda in the past 20 years.

A group of College Park residents brought this to the attention of Delegate Joseline Peña-Melnyk last Fall and requested her to introduce a bill to change the state statutes. The bill HB682 was simple. It would have permitted (not required) municipal councils to take a proposed charter amendment to a referendum and it would have allowed a municipality to set its own petition threshold anywhere between 5% and 20% of the number of its registered voters. The bill was strongly opposed by the Maryland Municipal League and failed to pass.   The reasons are obvious. When you have power, you don’t want to give it up, however unreasonable that power may be.

It is up to us to determine how much power we are willing to cede to our elected officials and how much we wish to retain with us. Control over the City’s charter should belong to residents, not the Council.

Mayoral and council candidates who have pledged to take all future charter amendments to a non-binding or advisory referendum, are saying that College Park is a truly progressive municipality that values input from its citizens before making fundamental changes to its charter.

So ask your city council candidate if he or she would take this pledge and I’ll update this page as the answers roll in.

And yes, some may tell you there are many “technical” amendments that the council makes and it would be onerous to have to take these to referendum. The best way to deal with technical amendments is to consolidate them and put them on the ballot every two years. It’s that simple.

Let the small stuff not stop us from doing the big stuff.

Responses to Pledge Request

YES    District-1 candidates: Fazlul Kabir, Christine Nagle

[reproduced from College Park Matters (www.collegeparkmatters.wordpress.com) with permission from the author]

Hollywood Community Health Fair

The Health Fair will feature a number of health related check-ups, such as blood pressure, glucose screening, breast cancer screening, etc. This is a family event with light entertainment, food and activities for residents. Carrollton Enterprise, the City of College Park, the Hollywood Farmers Market along with a number of organizations, hospital and health providers are sponsoring the event. Doctor’s Community Hospital will be bringing a mobile health bus and will offer free health check-up to College Park and area residents. Please see the attached flyer for more details.Thank you!
WHAT: Hollywood Community Health Fair
WHEN: Saturday, November 7, 9 am – 12 pm
WHERE: Hollywood Shopping Center
Hollywood Health Fair

Mayoral Debate Tonight, At City Hall, 7:30pm

This event will include an hour-long mayoral debate with candidates Denise Mitchell and Patrick Wojahn.

The debate will be followed by a half-hour forum with District 3 City Council candidates: Ryan Belcher, Robert Day, Robert McCeney, John Rigg, and Stephanie Stullich.

Sponsored by the District 3 civic associations, the event will be held at 7:30 p.m. on tonight at the College Park City Hall, 4500 Knox Road in College Park. Free.

The debate moderator will be Shawn Anderson, the afternoon anchor on WTOP and a College Park resident. He has previously moderated several state and local debates, including a 2014 gubernatorial debate between Anthony Brown and Larry Hogan.

“This is local politics at its very best,” says Anderson. “There’s rarely been a contested mayor’s race in College Park, and now we have two equals going against each other at a very important time in the city’s history. I’m looking forward to hearing what Denise Mitchell and Patrick Wojahn have to say.”

City Sponsors Community Health Fair and Winter Coat Drive

At tonight’s Council meeting, the City Council approved sponsorship for two great community events: (1) Community Health Fair and (2) Annual Winter Coat Drive.

I am very happy to introduce both motions, which passed unanimously.

  • City-wide winter coat drive will be taking place in collaboration with One Warm Coat, from Monday, November 9, 2015 to Sunday November 29 2015. City staff to place collection boxes at various City locations and send the donated items to one or more local non-profit agencies serving residents in need. The Council also approved the payment of an administrative fee of $100.00 to One Warm Coat.
  • The Council also approved City’s sponsorship for the Community Health Fair, organized by the by the Carrollton Enterprise on November 7 at the MoM / REI shopping complex. Carrollton will only use City’s name and logo in their promotion materials.

I plan to post more information about these two events later.

 

 

Attik Towers Senior Housing to Open its Wait List Next Week

Attick tower senior citizen home at Rhode Island Avenue

Attick tower senior citizen home at Rhode Island Avenue

Attick Towers ( at 9014 Rhode Island Avenue, College Park) will open its’ wait list from November 2, 2015 to November 20, 2015. Attick Towers is an independent living high-rise apartment building located at 9014 Rhode Island Avenue in College Park, Maryland.

All applicants must be 62 years of age or older or be a disabled or handicapped adult. Applicants do not have to reside in College Park to apply; however, people who live or work in the City of College Park will have preference. No children can be accepted. Applicants are subject to a credit and criminal background check.

Applicants should be prepared to move within 30 days once a unit is available. Rent is based on 30 percent of one’s income. Attick Towers has efficiency apartments for one person occupancy and one bedroom apartments for two person occupancy. All applicants are required to pay a security deposit equal to one month’s rent or $300, whichever is less.

To obtain an application, please contact the Housing Authority at 301-345-3600 and an application will be mailed to you.

North College Park Crime Map: October 18 – 23, 2015

Please see blow last week’s crime map and let me know if you have any questions. Please see below.

 

Breaking and Entering

Event Type From To Location
[10/20/15] BREAKR 17:26 20:14 4900 Blk LACKAWANNA ST

 

Theft

Event Type From To Location
[10/19/15] THEFT 22:01 22:39 9800 Blk RHODE ISLAND AVE,
[10/20/15] THEFT 13:41 15:38 9300 Blk CHERRY HILL RD

COPS on Rooftops -Support Special Olympics

This weekend, the UMPD will be at Dunkin Donuts for COPS on Rooftops; a benefit for Special Olympics of Maryland.

COPS ON ROOFTOPS FLYER

Hollywood Streetscape Project’s Design Phase to Start Soon

Good news. We’ve secured enough funds to start the Hollywood commercial district streetscape project’s design phase soon.

The project, termed as the Hollywood Commercial Revitalization C.I.P. project, currently has the required funding of $300,000.

This includes City funding of $100,000 (transfers in FY10 of $25,000, FY12 of $25,000, FY16 of $50,000). Developer contribution from Greenbelt Station of $200,000 was credited to this project in FY15.

We expect the design to start early next year. This will take about 6-9 years to complete. Unfortunately, the construction is not funded at this time.

Early this year, the community got a chance to see a concept design of the project. Please read more about that here.

HollywoodStreetscape-4corner

Rhode Island Avenue – Edgewood Rd to Niagara Road

HollywoodStreetscape-RI-South

Rhode Island Ave – Edgewood Rd to Muskogee Street

HollywoodStreetscape-RI-Wellness-circuit

MoM / REI shopping complex – Wellness circuit

Safety Camera Installed at Davis Field Playground

Good news! The safety camera in Davis Field (at the east end of Kennesaw St.) has been installed. Many of you probably know about the past disturbing graffiti / vandalism and gang activities around the playground and four tunnels area. Last year, the north College Park Civic Association (NCPCA) requested to install a safety camera at the park near the tunnel to help stop these disturbing activities. The City Council approved necessary funds to install the camera in this year’s budget.

I want to thank nearby residents, members of the North College Park Civic Association and our staff for their help in installing the camera. Please let me know if you have any questions.

davis-field-camera

[mappress mapid=”237″]

Promoting College Park through its Own Visitor Center

visitor-center-large

UMD’s Visitor Center

At last night’s worksession, we discussed the idea of promoting the City through a visitor center.

One idea the Council talked about is to partner with the University Maryland’s visitor center. I am perfectly fine with this partnership, however, promoting our city using another entity is not the same as promoting us though our own visitor center.

Often time, I feel we’re failing to recognize and promote College Park’s own identity and heritage. It’s true, University of Maryland is our big partner, but we do have many other things that we should be proud of – a number of great historical neighborhoods, Lake Artemesia, world’s longest running airport, great farmers markets.

I strongly believe we should have our own place to promote our own identity and heritage.

One idea of achieving this is by adding a section to one of our City buildings (for example at the YFS – Youth and Family Services building in north College Park) and make marketing materials available there. I also think we can add signs on nearby main streets (e.g. Route 1 and I-495 Beltway ramp), so that visitors can easily find it.

The YFS building already has a front desk, where an employee gives out pamphlets and literature related to YFS services. So, if we add College Park related materials to the desk, this will not cost anything extra to support this visitor’s centers.

We can also consider a visitor center at Davis Hall and / or at the College Park aviation center.

I think more we make our promotional materials available at different places within the city, it’s better to attract more people come, do business and even settle within the city.

Council to Discuss Branchville Crossing Development

The City Council will discuss the Branchville development at tonight’s worksession meeting.

Recently, the City has received notice from DHCD ( Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development) of an application for $1,499,850 of federal Low Income Tax Credits and $1 ,142,642 of Rental Housing Funds for Branchville Crossing (please see below)

This is a 72-unit affordable rental housing project on a 2.02-acre site zoned R-10 on Branchville Road submitted by the Cruz Development Corporation.

Cruz submitted a similar project to DHCD last year but was not approved for financing. Funding is very competitive, and for this round, DHCD received 32 applications requesting $36 million of Rental Housing Funds and $40.5 million of federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits.

The City did not support funding for the project last year based on the lack of opportunity to review project details with the applicant, noncompliance with several development standards, potential impact on the Branchville Volunteer Fire Department and community concerns.

Cruz has since met with staff, the NCPCA, the Berwyn District Civic Association and others and made revisions to the project plan. The project has been reduced from 96 to 72 units and reduced in height from 7 to 6 stories. It is proposed to have 36 1-bedroom units, 28 2-bedroom units and 8 townhouse-style 3-bedroom units with a total of 110 parking spaces. Eight of the units will be for persons or families earning 30% or less of area median income (AMI) or $29,400 and 64 units will be for persons or families earning 60% or less of AMI or $68,160. The estimated market-supported rents for the project are $1 ,300 for a I bedroom, $1 ,600 for a 2 bedroom and $1 ,900 for a 3 bedroom.

Branchville-CRUZ2

Branchville-CRUZ1

Branchville-CRUZ3

Based on the information at hand, staff believes that the project is still too big for the site but that it could be revised at the time of Detailed Site Plan to be more acceptable to the community.

Staff recommends sending a letter to DHCD reflecting the comments listed below and others that may arise from the Saturday meeting.

  • The market feasibility analysis may overstate demand due to the fact that income levels in the city are lower based on the large number of residents that are college students with little or no income.
  • Parking requirements are understated as they are erroneously based on being located within one mile of a Metro Station. Even using this lower standard, a departure of 9 parking spaces is needed.
  • Variances are needed from the front yard setback requirement and from the minimum green area required.
  • Tenant amenities such as a pool, tennis court, fitness room or playground are not provided.
  • Laundry facilities should be provided within each unit.
  • A storm water easement recorded with Prince George’s County will need to be released.
  • While a full traffic impact analysis is not required, it would be helpful to have a traffic study showing anticipated trip generation and the impact of this project on nearby roads.
  • Branchville Road will need to be widened along the property frontage and sidewalks added.
  • An easement should be granted to the Branchville Volunteer Fire Department if needed to meet the turning radius required for the fire trucks.
  • Consideration should be given to shifting the footprint of the building closer to Branchville Road.
  • EFIS is not an acceptable exterior building material and should be replaced by Hardie Board or Hardie Plank.
  • It is not clear whether the project will meet Energy Star Certification requirements.

Please let me know what you think about this development.

New Voting Method for the November 3 City Elections

The City has published a guide about the new voting systems on its website: The systems include DS200 electronic vote counting machines and “ExpressVote” system for residents with disabilities and special needs.

Here is the link.

Please check the two videos at the end of the page describing how the systems work.
The City Council will also discuss the new systems with the Board of Election Supervisor at tomorrow’s worksession. Please let me know if you have any questions.

Taking Code Enforcement Beyond Enforcement

Recently I was discussing how we can make City’s code Enforcement program more efficient and customer focused.

Our Code officers do fairly a good job in enforcing code at the houses and businesses within the City. These code include issues related to building code, occupancy, permits, litters and more.

That said many, including me, think that there is room for improvement within this program. Here are some ideas.

  • Re-branding the title “Code Enforcement Officer”. How about a friendlier name? “Quality Improvement Officer” or even simply “Public Service Officer”?
  • Customized staff training. Currently, our officers get training on general customer service. Our officers need a customer service training, but only related to what they do – serving our residents.
  • Reward and Recognition program: Let’s find ways to reward our residents for the better maintenance of their properties. Let’s not give them the impression that the City is after punishing them through citations.

I am sure there are more ideas you can think of. If you have more, please let me know. Thank you!

North College Park Crime Map: Oct 13 – 17, 2015

Please see below last week’s crime report and let me know if you have any question.

Theft

Event Type From To Location
[10/15/15] THEFT 23:50 00:46 10000 Blk BALTIMORE AVE,
[10/16/15] THEFT 11:50 12:09 9600 Blk BALTIMORE AVE,
[10/16/15] THEFT 16:53 18:00 BEST BUY – MARKET PLACE,
[10/17/15] THEFT 10:32 11:35 HOME DEPOT – COLLEGE PARK

 

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