Category Archives: Developers

Activists’ Guide to Surviving the Planning Board

A cooperative group of communities and citizens constitute the Indian Head Highway Area Action Council, Inc. and they work across community boundaries on quality of life and planning issues. They have recently updated and distributed their null Activists’ Guide. With upcoming meetings  and the slew of plans in the pipeline at Park and Planning, this may be helpful to some.

The Guide remains a work-in-progress. IHHAAC seeks to assure accuracy and completeness. If you see any material which is not correct or is misleading, please advise us so that the next revision can include such changes. Similarly, if there is information which you would like to see added to expand this Guide, please share that information with us. We have no pride of authorship; the Guide is the work of many hands whose contributions are much appreciated.

Feel free to share this material widely. You also may post it anyplace you feel would be advantageous for the citizens of Prince George’s County.

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Filed under Community, Developers, Environment, Growth, Planning Board, Public Input, Sustainability, Uncategorized

How much do we trust M-NCPPC?

This will be a critical question in the next month or two as our County Council considers a significant change in the planning process that would limit public input on many projects.

Next week the Maryland National Park & Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) is expected to present the County Council with an important 160-page package of Mixed-Use Zone legislation granting M-NCPPC staff the right to administratively approve mixed-use projects. The fast-track timeline calls for this to be passed in July.

Currently, the Planning Board approves projects subject to review by the County Council, acting as District Council. Council members–our elected representatives–wield a good deal of power in the planning process in Prince George’s County…something that has an up side and a down side (more on that later).

The M-NCPPC proposes giving developers incentives to create true mixed-use development with a sense of place. The intent is to create a new mixed-use zoning category utilizing what is called a form-based code. Approval of a specific site plan would be an administrative matter handled by planning staff–without public input because there would be no Planning Board or District Council review.

The form-based code Mixed-use Zone legislation has many worthwhile elements that can facilitate smart growth and transit-oriented development; other elements leave something to be desired. And whether it is appropriate for Prince George’s County is something we will explore later. But the legislation’s genesis is the real worry.

While the Mixed-use Zone legislation has been two years in the making, the public has only recently, and somewhat ineptly or disingenuously, been invited into the process. Three poorly publicized meetings occurred in the 9 days preceding the Planning Board’s vote, the last was the evening of May 13–the Planning Board voted on May 14. The mayors and councils of municipalities have not been briefed. Some might perceive this as M-NCPPC rushing through, with little input from residents, municipalities, civic associations and environmental groups, legislation that transfers power from our elected representatives to merit employees.

Additionally, this legislation is proposed by a planning agency that has failed to master the basics. They regularly produce staff reports late, provide inadequate notice of hearings, make half-hearted attempts at public outreach and are not responsive to public input or requests. The agency is often disconnected from the communities and taxpayers they serve.

For many residents, M-NCPPC is simply not an agency that has earned their trust. When you look around the county, the organization’s product has been less than stellar. Dotting all their Is and crossing all their Ts on such routine matters is essential prior to expanding the agency’s powers.

While form-based code may be an excellent tool in high-density areas and has been successful in other jurisdictions, notably on Arlington’s Columbia Pike, this legislation is an attempt to resolve problems that are largely attributable to Prince George’s County’s planning priorities, process and follow-through. Until our legislators, M-NCPPC and the county address these larger systemic problems, we need to think long and hard about ceding more authority to the planning staff at the Maryland National Park & Planning Commission.

In the next days we expect to provide more information on the details of the legislation, form-based code and questions you should be asking of council members. In the meantime we hope you will set aside 30 minutes and look around the Mixed-use Zone site, reviewing the presentations and definitions. If you are concerned, like we are, that this legislation is premature and requires careful exmaination, please let your council member know now.

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Filed under Developers, Elected Offcials, Planning Board, Public Input

Cafritz Conundrum

Well, the Cafritz family will be updating our community next Saturday on the status of their project. Whether our much sought “input” has been considered as they revised the project is debatable. Apparently, the number of residential housing units has been roughly halved, while the commercial space remains the same (or slightly expanded).

Mmm, those traffic guys–were they listening? Has Traffic Wizard Wes Guckert magically rerouted traffic from the failed Route 1/410 intersection to accommodate additional commercial traffic?

It is the holiday season, so everyone’s getting together and doing the “hey, long time, no see” routine. But this update’s timing is a little odd. We can hope for nice cookies and all, but why now?

Turns out the clock is ticking. The Cafritz team suddenly realized that they needed to file for a rezoning ASAP, probably January 2009. Why? Oh, it takes a little while, sometimes 18 months. Out of respect for the electoral process (2010 is a local election year) the County Council, acting as District Council, stops reviewing development projects in April 2010. So, darn-they better hurry.


Please try to attend. But, we know (and they know), the timing is just horrendous. Here’s the Email Lady, just click to her to send a note to the Cafritz team–be sure to cc Council Member Eric Olson and Chief of Staff Dannielle Glaros of District 3. Ask the Cafritz team to post this presentation online immediately, let them know what you think of their plans and inquire about a second January presentation for the many folks who cannot attend. For your review: our past posts and the Cafritz team’s past presentations.

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Filed under Cafritz Property, Calvert Hills, College Park, Developers, Events, Public Input, Riverdale Park, University Park

From Our Inbox: East Campus & College Towns


East Campus Steering Committee meetings have had a number of careful observers. Many agree that three divergent tracks–the university’s goals, the community’s concerns and the developer’s interest in the bottom line–have not coalesced. This may be attributable to a backwards process. The Steering Committee’s work has been akin to a rushed, project-specific visioning process, something that clearly should have preceded the RFP and selection of a developer. Progress has been made with the campus on sustainability issues. Unfortunately, they are simply joining the parade, rather than leading it. But the project’s character will make or break it. One of our readers addresses this below.

The Foulger-Pratt/Argo team doesn’t seem to understand how college towns work, but after listening to the presentations I think it might go beyond the question of what kinds of stores people like to frequent.

My impression is that the team consists of generally well-informed and well-intentioned regional suburban developers. They are very conscious of market trends, Continue reading

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Filed under Community, Design, Developers, East Campus, Local Economy, Public Input

East Campus Committee Update & Meeting

The final East Campus community input meeting takes place Monday, January 28 at 7:30. The group will discuss principles to guide the East Campus development. We strongly encourage members of surrounding communities to attend and to pass any questions to a community rep. Committee contact info here.

Foulger-Pratt/Argo, the developers of the East Campus project, made a number of presentations to the Committee and public during the fall and finished with a discussion of their traffic study in mid-January. These presentations focused on their schematic design and assumptions for various parts of the project: design, environmental impact, uses, parking, traffic impact, etc. The word schematic is the operative principle here; the developers have not presented much in terms of the actual design of the site. The lack of hard facts on the development posed problems for the Steering Committee since there has not been enough information to really give much feedback or approval of the total project.

In response to this dilemma, Douglas Duncan, UMD’s Vice President for Administrative Affairs and the University’s lead on the project, altered the scope of the Committee’s work to have the Committee provide principles to guide the planning, design and development of East Campus by Foulger-Pratt/Argo. After a plan is available, the Committee will re-group and review the project, likely when the developers are ready to submit their plans to the M-NCPPC.

There have been some glimmers of hope: Continue reading

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Filed under College Park, Community, Developers, East Campus, Public Input, Route 1 Corridor

Schools, Purple Line Mtg. 12/17

and Other Important Odds & Ends


The Purple Line Open House will discuss the entire route and should be interesting. Especially since it seems a new southern route for the Purple Line through campus has surfaced. Map here. However, if this proposal is presented Monday, MTA, UMD and our elected officials need to allow further public input prior to moving forward. A week before Christmas is hardly an ideal meeting date and too much is riding on getting this right.

Prince George’s County Public Schools have released information about the changes necessary to accommodate a county-wide move to PreK-8th grade schools. PGCPS has settled on Version 22 of the plan. The Board of Education could take this up Thursday, January 24. The plan would be implemented in three phases. Check for your school here: choose from the drop-down menu. Several iterations may be offered, and some maybe erroneous, look at Changes and Proposed. We’ll wait to see if and when the Board provides an opportunity for community input. But you could nudge by writing the Board.

The Maryland Transportation Plan needs your input. Secretary John Porcari says: “I am very excited that the Maryland Department of Transportation will be revisiting the Maryland Transportation Plan (MTP) over the next year to update the State’s vision for transportation.” Don’t not let him down, fill out their survey.

The Route 1 Development Forum presentation by Park & Planning has been posted. It is a large file and will take a few minutes to load, but if you missed this meeting, is very much worth viewing. Yup, we really believe you’ll be examining that rather than your gift list. It is valuable though, maybe you can take a look during the post-holiday doldrums.


Filed under Developers, Environment, Growth, Public Input, Public Transit, Route 1 Corridor, Schools

Campus & Community

The developers of East Campus are charged with creating an instant college town that will allow the University of Maryland to attract the faculty and students necessary to become one of the country’s top ten research universities. However, the project’s potential to act as a development catalyst for the area in a multiplicity of ways: architecturally, environmentally, culturally and socially, while succeeding commercially, is very important. Other universities, including a number of UMD’s top ten peers, are growing and some approach it as a long-term commitment to their neighboring communities. Although there are obvious differences, the planning process itself is worth examination as the East Campus Steering Committee continues to meet.

Harvard University’s Allston Initiative is a largely private, university endeavor. However, in a sense the university has partnered with the City of Boston in reconfiguring the 200+ acres it holds in Allston. From their website:

The Allston Initiative is the planning effort to create the framework for the University’s physical development in Allston. Our goal is to plan in a way that best supports Harvard’s academic mission and growth needs while ensuring that the new campus is an integral part of the broader urban community.

They hired a world class team to design and plan the Allston campus. Originally created in the late 1980s, the Allston master plan has since been amended a few times. The construction takes place over the next 25-50 years and includes moving professional schools from across the river, science lab buildings, undergrad housing and community areas.

The main task force, which has existed for many years, will follow along the entire development trip and meets at least once every month. Additional task forces focus on specific areas: professional schools, science and technology, Allston life, etc. The Allston Initiative adopted the university’s green campus initiative and accompanying programs.

Columbia University’s Manhattanville Initiative is also private; the university owns the 17 acres and is developing the parcels itself. The overall time frame is 20-30 years. Columbia already owns and manages a vast real-estate portfolio and hired a team including Renzo Piano and SOM to come up with a plan to present to the City and the neighborhood

The plan is to create a mixed-use community with academics at the center, not an expansion of the enclosed campus. Development would happen in phases, gradually moving north towards 135th street and west to the river. The community input process has been going for at least 5 years and Columbia’s relationship with the neighborhood is tense at best Continue reading

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Filed under Community, Developers, East Campus, Environment, Public Input