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Community Police Meeting – This Thursday, April 4, at 7pm, at MoM’s Cafe

This is an excellent opportunity to meet our police offciers who work hard to make our neighborhoods a safer place to live. The meeting is open to all residents of College Park. Please bring your public safet y / criem related questions to these officers. Please see below for more details.

April 6 Technology Literacy Event – 10-2 PM at City Hall

A Belated Obituary, and the Tale of a Bus Shelter

Recently, I came to know the passing of a wonderful longtime neighbor.

Edna L. (Lee) Fink, age 90, died in her home of 71 years in north College Park.

Edna is survived by 4 children, 13 beautiful grandchildren, 14 sweet great-grandchildren, and 3 precious great-great-grandchildren.

Edna had a great and caring heart for our community. She once told me she often sees bus riders standing under the sun or in rain waiting long at the bus stop on Rhode Island Avenue, near her house at Iroquois street. Thankfully, our City later added a bus shelter there. Sadly, it was added after she passed away, so she couldn’t see this before she left all of us. She would definitely have been very happy today if she was around.

I met Edna at her home about a month before she died. We sat and talked. Because of her battle against cancer, she had difficulties in talking to me. Yet, she was in very good spirit and cracked a few jokes with me. “Kabir, My great-grandchild asked me the other day – do you have a frog in your throat? I told her, yes, but I’m going to get it out soon.”  – she told me jokingly.

Let’s celebrate Edna’s wonderful life and the courageous battle she fought until the end.

[Photo credit: Donald V. Borgwardt Funeral Home]

Budget Town Hall, Friday, April 12, 7pm, at Davis Hall

Please mark your calendar. Please join me and Councilmember Denise Mitchell on April 12, 7 pm, at Davis Hall,  for a Budget Town Hall to learn more about City’s proposed FY2020 budget and to share your feedback and ideas on how to make our city and community a better place to live, work, and play! Hope to see many of you.

Starting Next Week, Residents Can Recycle Food Waste in College Park

Starting next Monday,  instead of throwing food scraps into the trash, collect and bring them to a food waste recycling location nearby. Here are a few locations the City will accept your food waste.

  • The Department of Public Works at 9217 51st Avenue
  • Hollywood & Downtown Farmers Markets (Markets start on May 4th)
  • Hollywood Shopping Center & City Hall

The City will be piloting this exciting new food scrap drop-off program to reduce organic material sent to the landfill!

The first 50 residents to visit the Department of Public Works during regular business hours (starting April 1) can pick up a free 5-gallon container for their food scraps!

Please check this video where our Director of Department of Public Works Robert Marsili and the Sustainability Coordinator Janet McCaslin talk about how this program will work.

[Credit: City of College Park]

Please check out this page to get more information.

 

City’s First ‘Walkable’ Dog Park Gets Full Funding

Exciting news for our dog owners.  The proposed dog park in north College Park is now fully funded.

In the new FY2020 budget, $328,668 has been allocated for the proposed dog park on 51st Avenue, just north of the Public Works building. This will be in addition to $50,000 we currently have in the project’s account.

A community meeting was held in May last year to present information about creating a dog park on a portion of the Prince George’s County Board of Education property on 51st Avenue north of the Public Works facility. Community members expressed a positive interest in this location.

Based on this feedback, staff contacted the Board of Education to see if they would consider the City’s request to utilize another portion of this parcel for a City maintained dog park.

The park will have two “playgrounds” – one for small and large dogs. It will also have a water supply/fountain, drainage, fence and secure gates, waste station. Parking will be available at the DPW parking lot A new sidewalk is expected to be built between the DPW parking lot and the park. There will be relaxed, self-enforced regulation, with spot checks by City’s ACO (Animal Control Officer).

My special thanks to the community members, and in particular former Councilwoman Christine Nagle for their advocacy for the park. My sincerest thanks to our City staff who have been working really hard in this project behind the scene.

More about the proposed dog park can be found here on City’s web site.

We expect the construction to start around this winter – next spring time frame.

What is Going to Happen to College Park Shoppers?

In case you haven’t heard, the parent company of Shoppers grocery store is going out of the retail business.

According to this news, Some of the Shoppers stores have already been taken over by Giant, and some others are expected to sell to other grocery outlets. At this point there’s little information available at this time on which stores will be sold and when that will happen. Shoppers’ parent company United Natural Foods Inc. (NYSE: UNFI) said on a recent earnings call it expects to have finished selling off the Shoppers stores within months.

I spoke with the store manager at the College Park Shoppers store twice since the news broke two days ago. According to him, the College Park store has been very profitable. He is confident that this store is not going to close completely – it will most likely be taken over by another grocery store.

According to the news report, most of the stores are being sold to Giant, thus there is a good chance that the College Park store will become another Giant store.

For good reason, many College Park residents are anxiously waiting to hear more about the fate of the College Park store.

From the City side, we’re very closely monitoring the situation. I’ll update you as I hear more.

Illegal Dumping May Cost More in College Park

A “No dumping sign” in College Park

At this week’s Council meeting, the City Council will vote on a proposal to increase the fine for the initial and each subsequent violation of illegal dumping to $1,000.

The Council will hold a public hearing on the ordinance 19-O-07 enabling the proposed change, earlier on the meeting night.

Currently, the fines for the initial violation is $50, the subsequent violation in 6 months is $100. State law allows the City to increase its fines to a maximum of $1,000 per violation.

State law allows the City to increase its fines to a maximum of $1,000 per violation. In order to create a greater disincentive to littering, staff recommends that the Council considers increasing the fine for the initial and each subsequent violation to the maximum allowed of $1,000 per occurrence.

Once and if fine amounts are increased, staff anticipates posting signage such as “No Dumping, Maximum Penalty $1,000 Fine” and “Warning, This Property is Under Video Surveillance. No Dumping. Violators Will Be Prosecuted” in areas prone to illegal dumping along with necessary surveillance equipment.

[First published on March 11, 2019. Updated: March 24, 2019]

 

FY20 Draft Budget Highlights

Today, we finished discussing College Park’s fiscal year 2020 proposed budget. I thought I should give a summary of major changes to the budget that residents in north College Park might be particularly interested.

  1. Decreased tax rate: The proposed budget presents a balanced budget with a reduced tax rate of $0.325 (32.5 cents), 1 cent reduction of the current tax rate of 33.5 cents. This marks the first reduction in the real estate property tax rate since FY 2001.
  2. Increased Police budget: The budget proposes Increased funding ($204,000 ) to give an average of 3 patrol officers 24/7, on weekends and for special events.
  3. Three safety cameras in north College Park. The cameras proposed will be installed on Rhode Island Avenue from Greenbelt Rd to Edgewood Rd. The locations are at (a) the Edgewood rd intersection. (b) Duvall Field, & (c) Greenbelt road
  4. New Park in Sunnyside neighboorhood. Last year, I asked to build a park at the eastern end of Odessa Road. Accordingly, an application has been made to the State grant money. This year’s draft budget proposes $90,000, in case the grant is not approved.
  5. Hollywood Dog Park: The budget proposes 328,668 for the proposed dog park on 51st Avenue, just north of the Public Works building. This will be in addition to $50,000 we currently have in the project’s account. We expect the construction to start around this winter – next spring time frame.
  6. Full funding for the Hollywood Streetscape project: With an additional $137,510 allocation in this year’s budget, the project will get full funding of $1,572,093. This will allow us to start the project in this fiscal year.

Next Tuesday night, we’ll continue the budget discussion. At this meeting, we plan to discuss the budget requests made by Council members. I plan on writing more about some of the items in the budget in coming days.

‘Save the Dandelions’ Starts Tomorrow at MoM’s College Park Store

Starting tomorrow, March 23 and 24, the MoM’s store in north College will host local environmental groups, staffing tables with information, activities, and examples of the consequences of using pesticides and fertilizers to grow the perfect lawn.

At the event, the store will offer alternatives that have less impact on the environment. I spoke the MoM’s manager today and found they will offer what other stores will be offering, including children’s activities. Some stores will have beekeepers with hives as well.

According to MoM’s website, MoM’s launched its Save the Dandelions campaign back in 2014 to raise awareness around the damaging and lasting effects that toxic lawn chemicals have on our environment, pollinators, and health. Every year, Americans use 33,500 tons of pesticides and 3 million tons of fertilizers on their lawns. However, lawn care chemicals don’t just stay on lawns–they end up in our waterways and airways, are ingested by wildlife, and ultimately damage our ecosystem and personal health.

(Photo: courtesy of MOM’s Organic Market, Source: MoM’s website, WTop)

Brunch with Bunny

When: Saturday, April 6, 2019 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Where: College Park Community Center, 5051 Pierce Ave

Good Neighbor Day 2019 Food Drive

The University of Maryland’s Office of Community Engagement is hosting a Good Neighbor Day food drive now through April 8th, benefiting the College Park Community Food Bank and the UMD Campus Pantry.

They are collecting clear, canned and boxed food and drink items including dried pasta, rice, grains or beans, low sodium canned or dried soups, pasta sauce, baby food, canned fruit, 100% fruit juice, low sodium/no salt added canned vegetables or beans, low sugar cereal and canned fish or poultry.
For more information or to register to participate in Good Neighbor Day (April 13), visit goodneighborday.umd.edu.


Source: City of College Park

City’s New Resident Guide is Beautiful, and Useful. Check it Out Today

The City has recently published the Resident Information Guide. All City’s homeowners should be receiving the guide by mail. In case you haven’t received it , you can check it out here on City’s website:

The guide is online and visible on City’s homepage.  There’s a button that says “Resident Guide”

This handy booklet gives us the most pertinent information about City Services and how we can play a role in making our community a better place for everyone.

Some residents asked why it took a while to get the guide. The delay was somewhat related to City’s new website which went out recently. Staff wanted the Resident Guide to better reflect what was on the City’s website and to direct residents looking for further information or reference to the correct links (which couldn’t have been done until the new website was completely finished).  City’s new website launched in late October but tweaks were still happening through December/January.  Staff began creating the new resident guide in-house in December which included a lot of revisions to structure, layout, and information provided. Printing and mailing took about a month.   

I also got a few questions on the budget for the guide. Printing and mailing 5,500 copies (including some extras to provide for those who need another copy) costs about $10,200, plus about $1,700 to translate it into Spanish (which is currently being done).

Going forward, Council May decide to send it out twice a year.  There could be a Spring/Summer edition and a Fall/Winter edition mailed to residents.  That way the City can better tailor the information to the season, events, and highlight what’s going on in the City in the very near future.

Tracking Down City Hall’s Rising Project Cost

If built on the latest design, the City Hall project is the most expensive project that the City has undertaken since its incorporation back in 1945. What started out as a $4 million project back in 2011, is now estimated to cost nearly $19 million to complete, according to the FY 2020 draft budget, which was published last week.

Need for a Larger City Hall

For many years, there have been many discussions about the future of the existing building on Knox Road to accommodate the space need of our City staff. The existing Building on Knox Road is 12,498 SF. Back in 1990, a consultant analysis projected that 18,000 SF deficit by 2005, to meet the growing need of a larger City Hall.

In 1996, the current building was extensively renovated. In 2003, the City issued an RFP (Request for Proposals) to real estate developers for a downtown parking garage and the City Hall redevelopment project. At that time, several sites were evaluated for the relocation of City Hall but ultimately the proposed private sector development on the site failed to move forward and only the downtown parking garage was built.

Expanding Current City Hall

In May 2011, City staff decided that the most expedient and cost-effective solution to address the space need is for the City Hall to remain at its present location and be expanded. Accordingly, the City secured Frederick based construction and architectural company Profitt & Associates P.C. to look into this expansion and renovation work. According to the project proposal, it was estimated to take about 12 to 16 months to complete the project. In February 2012, the City Council discussed the project further. The idea was to keep the current 16,670 square foot building and add an extension of 25,460 programmed square feet and 2,900 square feet for future expansion and storage. Please see above a rendering of the proposed design. The recommendations included: (1) Remodel the basement and first floor and leave the Council chambers largely intact, but replace the windows and the air conditioning to allow for greater efficiency; (2) Build a three-story addition with a green roof for a new lobby, office space, and meeting rooms. Out of the $3.68 million total expenses, $2.72M was expected to be spent on the new construction of the addition and the remaining (.96M) was to be spent on the renovation of the existing building.

Redevelopment Options at Knox and Calvert Sites

Later in 2012, the renovation/addition plan was put on hold. The decision was driven by two reasons (a) Possible availability of Route 1 frontage and opportunity to work with the UM Foundation on other options and (b) Availability of 4601 Calvert Road site, where our current Public Services office is located.

On October 28, 2014, the City held a public forum on the future City Hall options. The two site options include:
(1) The current Knox Road site: This includes tearing down the site and rebuilding a new building there.
(2) Rebuilding at the 4601 Calvert Road site

City staff made a presentation about two options. The cost to rebuild the City Hall at the Knox Road site was estimated at $7.9 million. Please see the slide comparing the costs in two options. The cost figures include the costs for site and building demolition, site work, renovation and construction.

Stone IndustrialSite

On November 11, 2014, the City Council discussed briefly about another possible site – the Stone Industrial site, located just south of the Public Works building. The site came to the market around that time.  The assessed value of the Stone Industrial site was about $5.65 million. The site (please see below) had 3 buildings in 17 acres of land (compared to 1.23 acres of Knox Rd site and 3.73 acres of the old Calvert Rd school site). You can see more about this site here. At the meeting, a request was made if staff can be authorized to spend some time in putting together a fact sheet about the site for the Council consideration. Unfortunately, that request was rejected.

Knox Rd Site Selected

On November 24, 2014, the City Council selected the current Knox Road site to build a new City Hall there. A motion to table the vote to consider all possible sites (including the Stone Industrial site) was defeated by 5-3.

Joint Development with the University

In 2015, City staff and the University of Maryland held a meeting to review design options for a joint development on the City Hall block between Baltimore Avenue and Yale Avenue (please see below).

A conceptual design was presented before the City Council worksession in August 2015. Please see that design below. According to the concept plan,
two buildings joined by a common atrium. A single building with a 30,000 SF City Hall and a separate 45,000 SF of university offices would be built next to the new City Hall. A significant public plaza would occupy the Route 1 frontage and approximately 10,000 SF of retail could be accommodated initially on the ground floor of the university offices. A small amount of surface parking would be provided on site with most of the parking provided in the existing garage.

City Acquires Route 1 Properties

At a November 2017 meeting, the City Council introduced an ordinance authorizing the acquisition of properties located at 7409 and 7411 Baltimore Avenue (Route 1) using eminent domain. These properties were owned by Mrs. Margaret Jeanne Kurz Byrd of Melbourne Beach, FL. City Staff had been in discussions with Mrs. Byrd and her son, William Byrd, since October 2016 concerning the City’s interest in acquiring these two key parcels of land. Unfortunately, these discussions had not resulted in an understanding between the City and the Byrd family. In the end, the City did not need to use the eminent domain option. The City and the seller (Mrs. Byrd) entered into a purchase agreement. Businesses on the block were affected by the acquisition.

At the March 2018 meeting, the City Council approved an agreement of sale to purchase property located at 7409 and 7411 Baltimore Avenue for a total price of $1,600,000. The sale would allow the City to move forward with redevelopment of the current City Hall block.

In the summer of 2018, Staff estimated the total cumulative cost of the City Hall project at $12.8 million, with an estimated end date in FY 2013. Please see below the details of that estimate:


City Hall Project funding and expenditure sheet, according to the FY 2019 draft Budget

One City Hall Building with UMD Offices in It

At the November 2018 Council meeting, the new City Hall architecture team presented a concept plan of the new City Hall building that will include University of Maryland offices in it. Please see below a model of the proposed 3-D model the architecture team presented at the meeting. According to the new design, there will be retail on the lower levels and University office space on the third and fourth levels.

At the February 18, 2019 meeting, the staff and the City’s financial advisors from Davenport and Company provided information on how the City can finance the City Hall project, along with possible financing options for other significant capital projects that are in process. Two financing options were presented (a) Option to finance $12 million for the City Hall project (b) $16 million for City Hall and other capital projects

Financing $12 million for the City Hall project will be in addition to nearly $6 million City has accumulated in the project’s account over the years, since 2012, as shown below:

FY 12 $ 400,000
FY 13$ 1,500,000
FY 16$ 228,000
FY 17$ 902,410
FY 18$ 1,000,000
FY 19$ 1,000,000
Total$5,530,410

Additionally, as of February 2019, the City accumulated a total of $315,900 through other funding sources. These sources include State Bond, Community legacy grant, inter-project transfer, and rents from the stores on the Route 1 property acquired.

With these additional funding sources, the current total figure for the cumulative funding sources is $5,846,310.

With the proposed borrowing of $12 million, the estimated total cost may hit at $18 million mark.

In the draft FY 2020 budget published in March 2019, the total figures are estimated at nearly $19 million. Please see below the details of that estimate .

City Hall Project funding and expenditure sheet, according to the FY 2020 draft Budget

The Borrowing Effect on Future Projects

What does the borrowing a large sum of money for the City Hall project mean? Financing $12 million and $16 million will increase City’s debt service to operating expenditures ratio from the current level of 3% to nearly 8% and 10% respectively. The current 3% debt service ratio reflects the debts the City is carrying for the downtown garage project. Please see below the graph presented by the financial advisers at the Council meeting.

It’s recommended to keep this ratio under the 10% level, thus financing a large amount now will severely limit other potential major capital projects in the near future.

The City Council has made the building of the City Hall as one of its top priorities. It has yet to approve the detailed construction design, and decide how much it should borrow to support the construction and related costs.

Update (3/20/2019): Since this article was posted two days ago, I’ve received a few good feedback from the readers. Please see below my comments about these feedback. I’m incredibly grateful for these comments and feedback.
1. The 2014 cost figure in the graph has now been updated to include the soft cost and the cost for office lease.
2. A section is added at the end of the post to describe the current status of the project.
3. It has been suggested that we should “exclude” several major cost components from the City Hall’s overall project cost. They include (a) the price ($1.6 million) we paid to buy the Byrd property on Baltimore Avenue, as we “may” get some part of this cost back after negotiating with the UMD (b) the debt service cost we are going to pay to borrow money for the project and (c) the studies we did for the project. I strongly feel that they should stay in the budget’s CIP page as they exist now.

Update (3/21/2019): Additional background information about the Stone Industrial site has been added

Update (4/17/2019): According to the City Hall project team, the cost to build the City Hall is now estimated at $20.6 million. With the acquisition, debt service and another miscellaneous cost, the figure could top $30 million. Please see more here: https://www.kabircares.org/city-hall-project-cost-rises-by-8-million-in-8-months/ 


If you have any further comments, please let me know. Thank you.

Summer jobs for ages 14-22 – Deadline March 22

The Prince George’s County Youth@Work/Summer Youth Enrichment Program (SYEP) provides an opportunity for young people to participate in career development, life-skills training and summer employment opportunities. The deadline to apply is March 22, and employment runs from June 24 – August 2. Ages 14-17 earn $9.80/hour and ages 18-22 earn $11.50/hour. 

Please see below for more information. Visit YouthAtWork.mypgc.us or call 301-883-6200 to learn how to apply. 

[Source: MD District 21 Delegation]