Council Preview: Poll Hours, Carfritz Development, Skate Park and New School

Council work session

In tonight’s work session, the Mayor and Council will discuss the following items:

Poll Hours: Following last week’s election, there have been some concerns on the poll hours in College Park Municipal election. Though starting polls early would allow more residents to participate, the BOES (Board of Election supervisors) thinks that finding poll workers would be a challenge. We’ll hear argument on both sides on this.

Carfritz development: The council will discuss the latest on the development of the Carfritz property in Riverdale. The developer wants to change the zoning of the development from “residential” to M-U-TC (Mixed use town center), however the surrounding residents have a number of concerns, in particular increase of traffic on Route 1 and negative impact on environment.

Sunnyside Skate Park: The Park and Planning has made a request to the City to take additional charge in maintaining the Sunnyside Skate Park, which will soon open in north college Park. The City will discuss to see if they’d agree to that request.

New School: As part of the City-University partnership, the City is going to submit a letter of intent to the County to start a Charter school. Though the letter is not specific about the location of the school, but rumors have it that it will be at the place of old Friends school on Calvert Road. The school will be funded entirely by the county, thus the City will not be involved in terms of bearing the cost.

Senior Survey: We will hear survey results from Spellman House, a senior citizen residence in Lakeland. Last month, a similar survey was conducted among residents in another senior citizen place, called Attick Tower. The survey will include a number of issues concerning the safety and maintenance matters.

City to Propose New Charter School

School bus

In tomorrow’s council session, Mayor Fellows will propose the establishment of a new Charter school.

The proposed school has been named “College Park Academy”.

Mayor Andrew Fellows will introduce a letter of intend in tomorrow’s Council work session.

The location of the school has not been made pubic yet, however rumors have it that it will located somewhere in the downtown.

Mayor Fellows had indicted the idea of having a charter school here on the Patch.

Unlike the other two public schols (PaintBtanch and Hollywood ES), the new schol will  most likely cater high school students.

I will keep you posted once I get more information of the proposed school.

Photo Gallery: Recycling with a Touch of Art

Should City’s Election Hours Change?

Election 2011: Wojahn, Kabir, Nagle and Afzali at Davis Hall (credit: Shannon Hoffman / CP Patch)

I received this Tuesday’s council packet from the City last Friday. As the council member – elect, I’ll get to attend this work session. I’m thrilled to join the Council this Tuesday.

One of the items the Mayor and Council will discuss is the polling hours of College Park elections.

Quite a few residents have expressed this concern that they could not vote due to the fact that the voting hours did not suit their job schedule.

I received a phone call early in the morning on the election day from a resident, who said he’d like to vote before he goes to his work at 8:30pm. Unfortunately, the polls open at 11am, thus he had to miss the election.

After the election, I also came to know that several other residents could not vote, because of the voting hours. Most of these residents said they start work late and couldn’t come to polling stations before 8 in the evening.

I see that the overall voter turnout in this election is extremely low. True, District 1 had the highest turnout this year, but even the numbers are lower than what we had in 2009.

There could be other reasons for low voter turnout. First and foremost District 2 and 4 did not have any contest, thus, very few residents in those districts had a little reason to come to the polling stations. The Patch ran an interesting poll on this.

In every election (Presidential and State/County), our residents vote between 7am to 8pm; it’s only our election where the residents can vote between 11am and 8pm.

Extending polling hours for city elections only can bring many residents to the polls. If we can do that by changing / extending polling hours, I ask why not?

What do you think? I’d like to hear from you. Please post your comments at the bottom of this post or send me a private message here .

Fun with Recycling, Tomorrow

US flag made with recycled items

America Recycles Day is November 15. To celebrate this year, the College Park Arts Exchange and the Department of Public Works are hosting an America Recycles Day Sculpture Workshop.

This is a creative, fun way to keep residents thinking about recycling in the city. Details are listed on the CPAE website but here is a synopsis:

When: Tomorrow, Saturday, November 12, 10am – 4pm

Where: Davis Hall, 9217 51st Avenue

College Park residents are encouraged to form small groups.

There are limited spaces to host the workshop so we are asking for a $15 registration fee for each group to secure your spot (which goes towards the cost of lunch).

For groups that want to participate, start thinking ahead now to what type of sculpture you want to create.

Save your recyclable items (be creative but avoid glass, please. There will be a small supply of things to fill in any gaps) to use in your sculptures. CPAE’s talented instructor Mr. Aaron Springer will be there to help with guidance and sculpture assembly.

There will  be giveaways and other fun stuff for participants, and for those who join.

There will also be recycling pledge cards to fill out that will be taken to the December Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) Recycling Committee meeting to go into a drawing for a gift certificate to a bicycle shop and a school grant for $500 to student-aged winner.

In addition, the sculptures will be on display in the council chambers for the two weeks following the 11/12 workshop so they can be admired by anyone attending the council work session and business meeting.

Anyone that would like more details or want to sign up is encouraged to contact Stacey King (sking@collegeparkmd.gov; 240-487-3593) or Melissa Sites of College Park Arts Exchange (info@cpae.org; 301-927-3013).

I’m Humbled!

The numbers are finally in.

The never ending count and recount..

It was probably the longest two hours in my life. Yesterday afternoon, my son and I joined the ballot counting session at the City Hall. After several counts and recounts, the Board of Election Supervisors finally made the results official: “Kabir wins District 1.”

The final counts are Kabir 306 and Nagle 304. It’s only two votes that have made the difference.

I really appreciate all my neighbors and residents for giving me the opportunity to serve District 1 in the next two years. I am humbled. Thank you, all!!

I’d also like to take a moment to thank Christine Nagle for running an excellent campaign that has brought us so close. Chris and I have worked together at the Board of Directors of the Civic association, and I know how terrific of a community leader she is. I look forward to continuing to work with Christine and benefiting from her years of service and specialization in the areas of Neighborhood Watch and Route 1 revitalization efforts.

I’d also like to congratulate Council member Patrick Wojahn on his reelection. As many of you know, Patrick and I have worked together in organizing College Park Day and a number of other community projects. District 1 faces some real challenges that include public safety, quality of life due to vacant / foreclosed houses and Route 1 / Hollywood commercial district revitalization. In the next two years, Patrick and I will work together as a team to serve District 1 residents on these issues.

This month I will be mostly spending my time in meeting with several council members. The good news is I already know a number of them very closely, The council is like a team and thus it’s important that we know each other more and work together as one body.

This blog will continue to run. As I indicated before, I will try my best to use this space to communicate with my constituents and seek their feedback before I make decisions on the council.

Too Close to Call!

Vote counting at the City Hall

It’s a nerve-wracking experience.

The ballots are counted – and guess what? I’m only 9 votes short of winning this election. Here is the unofficial result:
Wojahn – 324
Nagel – 296
Kabir – 287

The official result will be announced today after counting some 32 absentee and provisional ballots at the City Hall. The counting will start at 4pm. Please stay tuned!

Regardless of the result today, I’d like to thank everyone who came out yesterday and participated in the election.

Participate, 2011!

Your vote counts..

Today is the election day.

I’d request everyone reading this post to come out and VOTE!! It’s the only way to make your voice heard.

The poll will open at 11am at Davis Hall for our district, and will continue until 8pm. Please see the map below if you need direction to Davis Hall.

I will be outside of Davis Hall, in the candidates’ area, to meet and greet you there.

If you need a ride to Davis Hall during the polling period. Please feel free to call me @ (301)659-6295.

[mappress mapid=”57″]

Trail Talk 9: Making it to the Finishing Line

I cannot believe it’s the very last day before this year’s election!

Tools to connect - a list of my neighbors, a stack of brochures, some sticky notes and a pen

About six weeks ago, on a rainy Friday afternoon, I started my campaign from my own street 53rd Avenue, which also happens to be the east-most street in District 1.

Since then, I have crisscrossed the district from my street to the farthest west on Route 1, from Sunnyside in the north to Cherokee St. in the south.

4000 neighbors in over 2000 houses: that is the size I had to cover over this period. It was a huge opportunity to connect with so many neighbors in such a short period.

The tools I used to connect to my neighbors were rather simple. The county board of election gave me a list of my neighbors. I also used a stack of brochures as well as sticky notes and a pen that I used when I did not find them at their houses.

Throughout the campaign, I tried to knock and talk to each one of these neighbors. I knocked on their doors, even after seeing two other signs, frankly to their surprises.

Over this period, I met many new neighbors, some of whom I met online but never in person. Many of them I had never met before.

They included both the young and old, students and long-time residents, Caucasians, African-Americans, Latinos, Indians, Filipinos, you name them.

Yesterday, I met one long-time neighbor, who gave me an interesting piece of advice: “Fazlul, I know how you feel now, you’ve done all you could do, so try to be calm on Tuesday.”

I know what she means; its the uncertainty of the election results she was referring to.

I smiled to myself. I know I’ve every reason to be optimistic about the outcome, but at the same time, her advice made me pause and think, “Should serving this community be dependent on tomorrow’s election outcome, really?”

I reassured myself – never mind, it will be just like another day tomorrow. So, go relax, and keep smiling!

Nurturing City’s Young Minds

In the past two College Park Day events, I had the opportunity to organize a school poster contest involving the city’s 6 school students. The event turned out to be extremely successful with some 70 entries from the students.

A big part of that success is attributed to the principals and staff of our schools. They spent many hours guiding their students on the posters and going out extra miles in getting the information they need.

The title of this year’s poster contest was “My Home, My Community”. In our organizing committee, we wanted to excite our students about the city they call their home.

Just to give you an idea about how this contest helped to achieve that goal, here is an example of one poster, which was beautifully done by a student from Berwyn Christian School in north College Park. Here he presented what he likes and doesn’t like about the city. As can be seen in the  image above , this young College Parker likes shopping in the City (IKEA) and thinks traffic is a big problem .  It looks like he went out to different parts of the city and took pictures for his project.

A poster contest is a very small effort to instill a sense of  attachment with our city. I’m sure there are many other joint activities that can be done to make them active citizens of our community.

At the end, we all want them to become successful in pursuing their careers, but at the same time, we also want them to contribute back to the community where they were raised.

Trail Talk 8: On Campaign Signs, Democracy and Public Safety

Democracy goes under - Sign near Narragansett Run, under Lackawanna Rd bridge

Yesterday evening I was walking back home after campaigning in the east end of the neighborhood.

As I was crossing Lacawanna Street from Narragansett Run Parkway, I saw one of my campaign signs lying close to the Narragansett Run creek under the Lackawanna Road bridge. Apparently, someone took that sign from elsewhere and threw it near the creek.

If it was one isolated incident, I wouldn’t mind. However this just happened after a series of stealing incidents in the past four days, during which I’ve lost 9 signs on a small segment of Edgewood Road between Rt 1 and Rhode Island Avenue. First I posted 4 signs; after they were removed, I posted 3 more and then when they were gone too, I posted 2 more last Thursday morning, which again disappeared by the evening on that day.

I’ve also seen a few other signs disappearing from other parts of the district. These signs cost me money to make them.

Edgewood Road is a city-owned street, so before I placed these signs, I had received permissions from the City. When I first saw the signs disappearing, I had initially thought that I was probably at fault and thus the signs were removed by the City. So I checked with City’s public safety, public works, and code enforcement departments. I was told it was not the City who did this; they would have warned me before removing these signs.

So I started to think further. Campaign signs are not items that can be resold, thus no one can make money by stealing them. So I turned to Google to find other reasons why people do this. According to this site, the possible reasons for stealing signs are jealousy, hatred, fear, and stupidity.

I was taken aback by looking at these reasons to say the least. I was under the assumption we live in a friendly democratic community, where everyone respects and tolerates others’ views. Stealing signs is thus clearly an affront to our democratic principles.

The City has kindly said they would report these stealing incidents to the police. On this blog, I have been posting crime incidents month after month; this is perhaps the first time my own incident will enter the statistics.

I hope none of the other candidates go through this painful and frustrating episode that I’ve just been through.

Forum to Educate Residents on Public Safety Issues

Neighborhood Watch

Have you ever dialed 9-1-1 and gotten a busy signal or recording?

On Thursday, November 17, 2011, at 7:00 p.m., the College Park Neighborhood Watch Steering Committee will host a public forum to educate residents the 911 and Non-Emergency Call Dispatch System.

Please mark your calendar.

The forum will take place at the Council Chambers, City Hall (4500 Knox Road, College Park, MD 20740)

Prince George’s County Public Safety Communications Center Staff will be on hand to discuss and answer residents’  concerns such as

 Why do I get a recording or a busy signal when I call 911?
 Why do the call takers ask so many questions?
 Why do they ask me what City/County I am in?
 Why does it take so long for the police to be dispatched?
 When should I dial 301-352-1200 instead of 911?
 What kind of training and certification do call takers have?
 What kind of quality assurance is in place for the call takers?

All are invited, and residents of College Park are urged to come!. For more information: Call 240-487-3570

Trail Talk 7: How Different Are You?

District 1 candidates - More in common than you think?

On my campaign trail, most want to know what I’ve done and will be doing if elected.

Some residents however ask questions that I find more interesting and challenging than others.

The other day I was at the west end of the neighborhood and one neighbor asked this to me:

What would you do differently from the other candidates?

There are good reasons to ask this question. Looking at the campaign platforms of all three candidates, it’s easy to see more common goals than differences. All three of us want to improve public safety, we want to attract quality businesses to our area, we’d like to enhance code enforcement. Also, all three of us want to see greener environment.

That said, there are a few key issues where I’d like to push the envelopes a little further. These are in the areas of  public safety, promoting city’s image and improving communications between residents / elected representatives and city-university relationships,

On public safety, we’d like to have a more aggressive approach. The current approach of using contract police officers is a temporary fix, but we need to look for a more permanent solution, such as having our own police department without increasing residents’ taxes. The use of ever-increasing cost of contract police officers along with the influx of revenues from the city’s camera program, with the support from UMd. President Loh and local governments, a city police department could be a reality.

Being part of Prince George’s County, which has been traditionally viewed as a place with high crime and poor school systems, our city suffers a serious image problem. This negative image has been preventing many new businesses and young professionals to move to the city. We can aggressively make an effort to promote the better aspects of our city, such as its century-old heritage, its place as the home of the flagship University of Maryland and the recent recognition to be the best city to raise children in Maryland. The city should also be proactive in attracting quality businesses to the city through creative incentive programs.

There have also been widespread grievances in the district about poor communications between elected representatives and residents. I personally try my best to share local information with my neighbors and seek their feedback through my blog site. If elected, I will extend that effort by developing online forums and surveys on important decisions I’ll make as my district representative.

I teach at the University of Maryland at the College Park campus and at the same time I’ve been a long-term officer at the north College Park Civic Association. Thus my background as a resident and also as a University staff gives me a unique opportunity to understand the challenges to this resident-university relationship and how to overcome them. As a teaching staff, I have enormous confidence in the abilities of what our students can do to contribute to a healthy resident – university relationship. I’d like to see these talents be utilized in many joint projects and studies that the City does on a regular basis. Partnerships like these will not only help city’s tax paying residents, but also will bring the university and the students to a positive light.

The council is like a team. At the end, we need to work together to get things done. However, nothing should stop us from going an extra mile and  make things even better that our residents care most about.

Where to Spend Speed Camera Revenues?

A treasure trove?

In last night’s session, the Mayor and Council just discussed the issue of spending speed camera revenues.

Since the cameras were first installed in the local school zone areas, steady amount of revenues started to flow. It all appeared that the City found a “treasure trove” in these cameras..

Back in April, the council seemed to struggle on how to spend this newly found cash, totaling $350,000. There was also a requirement to spend this money within a State imposed deadline.

At the worksessions on August 9 and September 6, straw votes were taken on the various public safety requests from UMDPS, PGCPD, Council members and staff.

At the September 6 work session, the Council tentatively approved a list of projects to fund with the FY 2011 speed camera funds.
• 3 closed-circuit/license-plate reader cameras
• one mobile CCTV/LPR camera, depending on the availability of a mobile cameras.
• $15,000 each to the three volunteer fire departments that provide primary service to areas of College Park for capital equipment
• a replacement guard rail on Narragansett Parkway
• four new streetlight installations, and crosswalks with flashing lights on Rhode Island Ave.(based on the County’s conducting a traffic study to determine if it believes that improved crosswalks are appropriate on Rhode Island Ave.)

See details of these projects here on page 77.

For short term, spending like these makes sense. For example, a CCTV / LPR at the four corners (RI / Edgewood) would be a good choice. The area is not only the major entry point to our neighborhood, but also an area where we have seen quite a few commercial robberies. For example 7/11 was hit by armed robberies at least 4 times in the past few months. I believe Mundo Latino store was also hit twice in the past.

However for future, we may want to think of a long term strategy of using this camera revenue to improve public safety in general. Per State’s guidelines, funds must be committed to “public safety” projects.

One idea is to put the money to a long term investment fund to support a future city police force.  This should in part address the concern of a tax hike to maintain such a force, something I’d assume a very few residents would support.

Purple Line Press Conference, Cafritz Development Meeting, Tonight

Purple line through Campus Drive (ReThink College Park)

Legislators and community leaders from Montgomery and Prince George’s counties will call for funding the Purple Line with new transportation revenues in the next legislative session at a press conference tonight, 6:00pm at the University of Maryland College Park, Stamp Student Union

The event will coincide with a Purple Line open house organized by the Maryland Transit Administration.

Speakers will include State Senator Jamie Raskin, Delegate Susan Lee, College Park Mayor Andy Fellows, and representatives of the University of Maryland administration and student government.

The press conference is sponsored by the Purple Line Now coalition, the Action Committee for Transit, and Prince George’s Advocates for Community-Based Transit.

Karren Pope-Onwukwe, co-chair of PGACT, will preside.

The open house and press conference follow on the Federal Transit Administration’s endorsement of the Purple Line. The project received a “medium-high” rating, ranking it above most of the competition in the race for federal funding.

Purple Line backers are now urging the state to step up to match this important federal commitment when transportation funding is debated in this winter’s session of the legislature.

Also, an informational meeting on the proposed development at the 36-acre Cafritz property will take place tonight at the College Park City Hall (4500 Knox Road).

As I wrote before, the Cafritz property is located adjacent to Route 1, immediately south of College Park and east of University Park. The meeting will include a presentation on the latest development plans from the Cafritz developers and provide an opportunity for a public Q&A.

The Council may consider taking a position on the property – both University Park and Riverdale Park have sent letters expressing concern about the traffic impacts and the additional density that this project will create.