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On Greenbelt Sector Plan, Krouse Cautions about its Troubled Impact, Asks Residents to Get Involved

John Krouse at the 2007 Greenbelt development balloon demonstration (RethinkCollegePark)

Former councilmember John Krouse recently gave me an interview on why he is so troubled by the proposed Greenbelt development and why he thinks north College Park residents should get more involved in the process.

Along with other City officials, he is organizing a town hall meeting on this Thursday (7 pm, March 31, 2011) at Davis Hall. Please spread tthe word and try to attend.

In terms of proposed Greenbelt development, there seems to be a lot of ambiguity. Can you please elaborate this?

The process of discussion and planning really only ends when something is built (and even then, it’s never really ‘over’).   So far, nothing has been built.

Greenbelt, Berwyn Heights and College Park (including NCPCA) all supported the 2001 Sector Plan.  Since that time, the County supported a different ‘vision’ for the area near the station that did not conform with the Sector Plan that we all worked on, and agreed with.

The approved conceptual site plan of the Developer allowed much taller buildings than the Sector Plan, and did not conform to the step-back in building heights required by the Sector Plan.  Thus, the conceptual plan allowed much greater sight impacts and reflected noise impacts on the community.  It also propsed greater density, and had greater traffic impacts.

The issue of the enormous parking garage at the end of Lackawanna Street was another major problem.  Metro insisted upon construction of it’s own garage, just south of the station, which ended up as a proposed building about the size of the Washington Post Plant (!)

Is that the kind of building that we all want to see at the end of Lackawanna Street Street… and all the way down to Iroquios Street and beyond?

If not, then we might have to be involved in a process to ‘encourage’ the construction of smaller garages on the property, and less enormous buildings right next to our homes.

And there were other problems, too.  It’s a long list, really.

The developers came to npca several years ago and talked about various constructions. Do you exactly know what is coming in the new proposal?

There is no new proposal yet.  This only about the Sector Plan process.  However, the new Sector Plan will guide any new proposals.

But I can tell you that the old development proposal will soon be officially ‘dead’.

The developer that NCPCA met with may be bankrupt, and no one knows the status of the agreements he made with the City of College Park.  That’s a problem.

Most importantly, the detailed site plan that was approved by the County will expire soon, since it is only valid for 3 years.  That’s also very important.

The permit for work in Narragansett Run on the east side of the tracks was never approved by the Md. Dept. of the Environment.  And that might be the another major issue.

If anything will be built, a new detailed plan must be developed and approved.  Will it be based on the 2001 Sector Plan, or a new Sector Plan?

So, we might now have a chance to make the project better, from the standpoint of the residents who live near the station, or near the tracks down to Greenbelt Road, since the development will fill most of that area.  We need to understand what it all means..

The only thing I know for sure about the current Sector Planning process is the following:

1.  It is time for the Greenbelt Metro Sector Plan to be reviewed and revised.  Sector Plans are supposed to be revised every 10 years.

2.  Our neighborhood was a very large area within the 2001 Sector Plan boundary, but the boundary of the proposed Sector Plan area stops at the railroad tracks.  Are we no longer part of this planning process?

3.  It is not clear how the interests of 2,000+ people who were within the 2001 Sector Plan boundary will be accommodated in the new Sector Plan if they are not in the Sector Plan boundary.

Is our voice less ‘important’ if we are not in the Sector Plan boundary’?  We need to understand more about the implications of being ‘in’ or ‘out’ of the Sector Plan boundary.

4.  The reason that was given at the NCPCA meeting [residents of North College Park were not included in the boundary to save money for mailings] is difficult to accept.

The last plan took over two years and an enormous amount of money to complete.  95% of the people who live within 1/2 mile of the station live in Hollywood!

I think we should be worth the price of a postcard and a stamp, especially considering our proximity and past involvement with this project, don’t you?

5.  Park & Planning has proposed a major extension of the Sector Plan area to the east, which was not in the original Sector Plan Area.

As a result of this new boundary, it appears that Park & Planning is more interested in the views of people 2 or 3 miles away than those who live right next door (!) and that bothers me from many angles.

The new design of the creek “can” cause harm to the flow of water drainage on Narragansett Run. Since we do not know the engineering aspect of the design yet, what can be done to know the exact impact on north College Park?

There actually might be more to the ‘new design’ of the creek than just the creek itself… and that’s a long story, too.

The original c. 1999 ‘plan’ for developing the Metro area included buildings on all 240 acres from the Beltway to Greenbelt Road.  However, after a major public outcry, the State bought 110 acres between the ‘North Core’ and the ‘South Core’… and that is why there are now twp development ‘cores’ in this area.

At the meeting with Park & Planning a few weeks ago, I got hints that maybe the 110 acre protected area might once again be considered for potential development!

Unfortunately, nearly all 110 acres are in the floodplain of Indian Creek.  That area is our flood protection, as well as future parkland.

The change to the design of the creek is really about maximizing develop-able land, and perhaps reducing the area of protected land.  It’s not about improving the creek.  This is an issue we really need to be vigilant about.

We had a similar discussion on the subject in March NCPCA meeting. What do you think the 3/31 meeting will accomplish  that the ncpca meeting did not accomplish?

The last NCPCA meeting could really only scratch the surface of the issues. As mentioned in the College Park Patch, there is actually 30 years of history behind this project.

On March 31, I hope we’ll have planning staff and many more residents present.  This issue affects a very large area, and perhaps up to 750 homes with direct impacts.

We need to have a discussion about the implications of being included, or excluded, from the Sector Plan area, and we need to understand how our interests will be represented at Sector Plan meetings (and afterwards) if North College Park residents are not included in the Sector Plan area.

The fact that we were not automatically included in the new study troubles me.

The renewed interest in the creek and the fact that Park & Planning did not show the 110 acres of protected land on their maps troubles me a lot.  They showed the entire area as zoned commercial!

The fact that they did not seem to recognize that so many people in College Park live so close to the station and the tracks really concerns me.

So yes… I think it’s very important that we get the word out to as many people as possible in North College Park for a special meeting on March 31.

The 2001 Sector Plan was developed with huge input of residents in North College Park, Berwyn Heights, and Greenbelt.

Although the proposed Sector Plan area includes Springhill Lake and a few other apartment building, the overwhelming orientation is now commercial.  Is that the right approach?

We need to talk about that, among ourselves, and help our Mayor, Council, and Planners understand our concerns… and that might take a little time.

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