Hope you all had a Happy Fourth!
I’m sure you all know that the weather forecasters are predicting a very hot week ahead of us, so please be sure to check in on any elderly neighbors you have and make sure they’re doing okay, especially if they don’t have air conditioning. Be sure to drink lots of fluids yourself, and don’t do anything too strenuous outside if you can avoid it.
Tomorrow night’s meeting is pretty packed – since we don’t have as many meetings in the summer, our meetings are usually longer so that we can get everything done that we need to.
The following items are up tomorrow night:
1. VARIANCES. We have a number of variances up, proposed for next week’s consent agenda, including two in north College Park. They are:
1) Approval of a variance to permit a side-yard fence on a corner lot at 9419 Rhode Island Ave. This is a unique property, in that it is not just a side yard, but the side yard fronts the side street (Geronimo St.) in between two other properties, so the property is L-shaped. As a result, a portion of the side yard is not visible from the person’s house. The homeowner would like a fence to block the side yard off, to prevent people from walking through or dumping trash on the part of the property on Geronimo St. Because of the unique nature of this property, the fact that the two surrounding properties on Geronimo Street also have fences, and the hardship this homeowner faces as a result.
2) Denial of a variance to enlarge a shed on the property at 9903 47th Place. In this case, the property owner requested a variance to build a larger shed in his side yard. Although this is also a unique property, in that the side yard is triangular, one of the APC members pointed out that, by turning the shed 90 degrees, the homeowner could construct the shed in a way that no variance would be necessary. As a result, the APC recommended denial of the variance, and unless the homeowner appeals and presents a good argument not to turn the shed, I agree.
3) Approval of a variance to allow reconstruction of a garage at 4613 Drexel Road in Calvert Hills. The applicant would like to rebuild an existing garage, which was put up prior to zoning, at the property line. This violates the setback requirement from the rear lot line, but this is the only way the property owner can rebuild the existing garage.
4) Approval of a variance to allow expansion of Embry A.M.E. Church in Lakeland, at 5101 Lakeland Road. The church would like a variance from the front and side yard setbacks to install a wheelchair-accessible bathroom. The church predates zoning, and the only way to build any expansion would be to allow a variance from the required setbacks.
2. DUVALL FIELD USE REQUESTS. The Maryland Stingers and Boys & Girls Club have asked to use Duvall Field. Because both of these organizations contribute to our community in different ways – the Stingers contribute directly to the Boys & Girls Club – the Recreation Board has proposed approving these and waiving the usual fees for use of Duvall Field. The Stingers also coordinate use so as not to conflict with the Boys & Girls Club.
3. DISCUSSION WITH COUNTY POLICE REGARDING RESPONSIVENESS TO INFORMATION REQUESTS AND RESPONSE TIME TO RESIDENT CALLS. A couple of months ago, after hearing a number of complaints from residents about inadequate response to criminal activity and to requests for information about activity in the community, Councilmember Nagle and I requested a worksession to discuss these issues with the police. The new District 1 Commander, Robert Liberati, will be present tomorrow night to discuss these concerns with us. I hope to discuss monitoring and tracking of police response to resident calls, as well as the best way for us to get information about criminal activity in the community. I also hope to get information about recent crime trends in the community to see what problems we need to focus on addressing.
4. ENHANCING SAFETY AT THE GREENBELT METRO STATION. The Greenbelt Metro Station has often been a magnet for criminal activity, including some muggings, and most recently, a sexual assault. The City is taking some steps right now to enhance safety at this Metro Station – including a blue light emergency phone and pedestrian-scale streetlights from the Metro path down to Narragansett Parkway. However, I feel that more could be done, and I asked for this conversation with the Metro police to resolve some of these concerns. One thing I would like to see is close-circuit cameras outside of the station along the Metro path. Another thing I would like WMATA to do is to cut the brush back along the path to reduce the number of places where a person could hide and wait.
5. ENHANCING THE NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH PROGRAM. Over the past year or so, I have been having conversations with a number of people – including Councilmembers Nagle, Mitchell and Afzali – to discuss ways to improve the Neighborhood Watch program and expand it across the City. Unfortunately, in recent years, Neighborhood Watch has suffered from a lack of real coordination on the City level and in a number of the neighborhoods. Fortunately, with the recent implementation of a Community-Oriented Policing program on the part of the police, and recent interest on the part of residents due to crime in the community, there is a lot of interest now in revitalizing the Neighborhood Watch. The police have offered the support of the Community Liaison officers in doing this. I hope to discuss with the Neighborhood Watch leadership and with the COPS officers tomorrow how we can work together to recruit a network of Neighborhood Watch leaders and coordinators across the City. Hopefully this will be the beginning of a number of conversations to improve Neighborhood Watch and give it a real presence in our community.
6. DISCUSSION OF BAMBOO ON RESIDENTIAL PROPERTIES. I asked for a discussion of bamboo on residential properties, after hearing of a number of instances where property owners – especially on foreclosed properties or when a property owner gets too old to properly maintain the property – allow bamboo to start growing out of control. When a property owner does not diligently control the growth of bamboo, it can spread like wildfire onto neighboring properties and become a real nuisance for other property owners. Right now, the City doesn’t have any way to make a property owner take care of bamboo and prevent it from spreading out of control. I hope that we can find a way to pass a City ordinance that will make it a code violation to allow bamboo to spread out of control onto a neighbor’s property. In Takoma Park, for example, there is an ordinance that requires the property owners keep under control bamboo and other invasive species, such as multiflora rose and wisteria. I hope to discuss the possibility of implementing something similar in College Park. Please let me know if you’ve had problems with neighbors not keeping control of bamboo or other invasive species on their property.
7. DISCUSSION OF THE RESOLUTION RECOMMENDING AND APPROVING THE ARTICLES OF ORGANIZATION OF THE HOUSING AUTHORITY OF THE CITY OF COLLEGE PARK. This was postponed from the last Council meeting – I’m not sure why, but I believe that Councilmember Nagle had some concerns about it. I believe this is primarily a technical and legal requirement for the City to operate its housing authority and its program at Attick Towers. The draft articles establish a Commission to oversee the housing authority and to oversee operations at Attick Towers.
8. DISCUSSION OF A DRAFT STATEMENT OF WORK FOR THE CITY-UNIVERSITY INTERDEPENDENCE STUDY. This past year, after the University considered passing a resolution to request a waiver of the admissions and amusement tax they pay to the City (to the tune of about $600,000), the University decided to conduct a study to determine how the University and the City impact each other economically. The City has a number of concerns about this study, in that we are concerned that it will end up with biased determinations showing that the University benefits the City, without fully considering the challenges that the City faces as a result of the University. We decided to work with the University to ensure that the study takes a holistic view and also recognizes the ways that the University benefits from a prosperous City, and vice versa. The Council put together a subcommittee to help develop a statement of work for the study, and the Council as a whole will be discussing this tomorrow night. The draft plan includes a number of specific issues to be considered, including the University’s impact on the city’s property tax base and related revenue, other revenues received by the City related to the University’s presence, revenue losses due to the University’s presence, services that the City provides to the University and vice versa, and other potential cost-benefit issues. The draft statement also includes a number of “special” issues, including east campus, the impact of student housing on city revenues and costs, and the appropriate levels of Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT’s) that the City receives from the University. We would like to ensure that the consultant who prepares the study develops a detailed plan and reviews a wide range of relevant information to get a full picture of the interdependence and relationship between the City and the University. I look forward to tomorrow night’s discussion and to further discussions with the University.
9. COLLEGE PARK DAY UPDATE. I plan to provide for the rest of the Council tomorrow night an update on our work organizing College Park Day. This event, planned for the afternoon of Saturday, October 9, will involve many community and university organizations. Residents will have the chance to come and find out what these organizations have to offer in terms of activities, history, culture and entertainment. I see this as an opportunity to bring the many diverse groups in our community together for residents to learn and get to know College Park better. Please let me know if you have questions or would like to get involved – our next planning meeting is Wednesday, July 14 at 7 pm at the College Park Community Center, and anyone is welcome to attend!!
10. LOCATION OF NEW PARKING PAY STATIONS. In May, the Council awarded a contract to purchase 13 new Aura pay stations, which are a much higher quality than our current pay stations, to be installed in various parking lots and the parking garage. We are currently considering where to install the pay stations. Staff has proposed placing them in the following locations: two more in the parking garage, in order to allow for shorter lines and accommodate increased usage when Ledo’s opens later this summer; five in the College Park Shopping Center lot to replace 143 meters, two in the Lehigh Road/Sterling Place lot to replace 44 meters, and 2 each to replace existing pay stations in the City Hall lot and parking garage. These pay stations take both credit cards and cash and allow users to add money from other pay stations, and also allow much easier enforcement by the parking attendants. Let me know if you have any questions about these.
11. RESOLUTION NOMINATING EAST CAMPUS AND STARVIEW PLAZA AS SMART SITES. The planning staff has proposed that the City nominate two ongoing developments – the University’s East Campus and the Starview Plaza housing development – as “smart sites.” This would indicate that these projects encourage public and private investment and green building practices. I have some questions and concerns about this proposal – I’m not sure that we know, at this point, how “green” the East Campus project will end up being. Also, while the Starview Project did implement some green practices, it is likely only going to achieve regular LEED certification, while it initially promised LEED Gold certification, a much higher standard. I’m not sure we should reward a project that has only achieved minimal green building standards. I would like to know more from staff about what exactly this nomination means and how it would benefit the City.
12. AGENDA ITEMS FOR JULY 29 FOUR CITIES MEETING. On Thursday, July 29, the City has our quarterly Four Cities meeting with Greenbelt, Berwyn Heights and New Carrollton. I will be out of town for this meeting, but I would like to see if there is any update on the Greenbelt Metro project.
13. BOARDS AND COMMITTEES. The following Boards and Committees have vacancies available for District 1 residents – the Airport Authority, the Animal Control Board, the Animal Welfare Committee, the Cable Television Commission, the Citizens Corps Council, the Committee for a Better Environment, the Education Advisory Committee, and the Veterans Memorial Improvement Committee. Please let me know if you have any questions about these or are interested in serving on any.
Thanks for reading! Let me know if you have any questions or comments about any of the items listed above.