Category Archives: Environment

Stand up for the Bay: Reject HB 1125

As stormwater runs across lawns, driveways, streets and parking lots, it picks up pollutants and debris, including sediment, fertilizer, pesticides, motor oil, heavy metals, toxic chemicals, yard and pet waste. Dan Smith of the Friends of Lower Beaverdam Creek provides a recap and raises important questions regarding the MD House’s changes to an important 2007 law intended to tighten stormwater regulations statewide. In 2007, the Maryland Home Builders supported the stormwater legislation, but–after three years and with the implementation date looming–they’ve reconsidered and really want some changes. The bill described below grandfathers in an unknown number of development projects –exempting them from upcoming stronger stormwater management standards. Please write your delegates and senator, copying the members of the AELR Committee and your county council member NOW to share your opinion about  yet another delay in addressing our area’s environmental health. Attend Tuesday’s hearing or submit written testimony.

How, when and where to address the most severe water pollution problem for this region and the Chesapeake Bay–untreated stormwater runoff–is at stake. The process that led to the passage last Friday, March 26 of HB 1125, the Holmes Bill, was hardly a reasoned compromise and the outcome will damage the environment.

Developers to General Assembly: We know what we should do and can do, we just don’t want to do it.
Expert colleagues tell me that every provision included in HB 1125–and the parallel  Emergency Regulations that now await a Tuesday hearing and vote in a joint legislative committee–is a setback from the regulations now scheduled to take effect on May 4th. We are just ONE MONTH away from the effective date of the 2007 state law and without an open public hearing and an extremely limited and truncated process, the Environmental Matters Committee gave into the demands of a vocal subset of developers who will never voluntarily implement green building and development practices. The result will be the continued degradation of our waterways and the Bay, and decades of new pollution for every project that is built to the old standards. The practices we are talking about here are not rocket science; some were even pioneered here and have been scaled up big time in communities across the country.

This is akin to deciding to require new building codes to earthquake proof the schools, hospitals, and homes in a quake prone area, only to at the last minute expand the categories of projects that will be exempt from those regulations — or that half decent development attorneys can easily argue their way out of.

The Bailouts Continue Here
Why was anything needed to relieve this sector of the development community and their bankers and attorneys and their old school engineers from the obligation to do their part, as leaders of the private development process, to integrate best practices into their operations which affect us all? This community has had ample time, opportunity and resources during the boom years to become involved in the three-year long regulatory process, and to put green development projects into the pipeline that would meet the standards of the pending regs. If they cannot do this, they should not build. Will the cost to redesign such projects be of such harm to the state economy, or lead to a Republican groundswell in November, that we lower the bar for Bay cleanup? Are these developers just too big to fail? Isn’t this the perfect time and opportunity for them to be reworking their projects to meet the needs and our communities when the economy improves enough to build again? Other sectors are tightening their belts and adjusting to the new reality of the times. Why do these guys get a pass?

The Bay is Dying. The Feds are Moving One Way. Maryland the other.
Given the grave and deteriorating condition of the Bay, a new commitment from this White House, a new regional coalition to pull major new funding into Bay cleanup efforts, and a coming Earth Day announcement from our Congressional delegation that will describe in detail the thousands of projects (at hundreds of millions of dollars) needed just to begin cleaning the Anacostia by retrofitting outmoded practices (like those to be permitted to continue here), it is a real setback that so many in Annapolis are buying the argument that the law passed in 2007 is too stringent. There have been THREE YEARS of meetings, hearings, proposed rules, comments and more comments resulting in the already compromised rules that will go into effect unless this legislature takes action to weaken them in the next two weeks.

Please, just leave the old regs alone. Oppose the Emergency Regs.
To have any chance of restoring our streams and having them contribute to livable communities, we need quality development and redevelopment that controls both water quality and volume. Experts who have studied the new bill and regs conclude that they will 1) allow any and all projects in the easily designated Priority Funding Areas to get waivers from volume control requirements for existing paved areas, and 2) add 5 categories of redevelopment projects eligible for waivers from environmental site design. One category is so broad as to include any project necessary to accommodate growth consistent with the comprehensive plan” for the area. Is there any development attorney who can’t drive a truck through that one?

Make work for development attorneys, not green engineers.

Shifting decades old practices of the planning and development communities is not easy or trivial. It will take time, it has taken time. It will not occur without steadfast, steer-the-course political leadership. The more you let developers chip away at the standards, the longer this important change will take. Let the old guard step aside and bring on the new, energetic and innovative designers and practices of the 21st Century. Catch the fever. Be the change. What innovative biotech or hi-tech company wants to relocate to a development that is years behind best practices? What kind of attraction is that to employees?

For further evidence, here is  a side-by-side comparison of the various pending and proposed regs and legislation. This is much more accurate than the version distributed by proponents of HB1125 at the committee hearing last week to which NO critic was allowed to testify, including a former US Senator, US Rep., and Governor who were all against the bill, and so remain, along with an overwhelming number of community activists and environmentalists.

Lowering the bar honors a bad bill.

I completely agree that the original Holmes Bill was outrageous and should have been defeated. How then did it come to justify and become the vehicle for this weakening of the law? There is no environmental, progressive or smart growth organization that I am aware of in the Anacostia Watershed or in Prince George’s County that agrees with or supports the position you defend.

We ask the public and elected officials to listen and question our case on Tuesday, April 6 at 4 pm for the FIRST and only opportunity we will have to ask the Assembly to let the process unfold without new legislative intervention. We thank Sen. Paul Pinsky and Del. Anne Healey, co-chairs of the Administrative, Executive & Legislative Review Joint Committee, for calling this hearing. Unfortunately, due to lack of full and open discussion to date and the incredible momentum behind the poor information that is circulating, this is an uphill battle for us. We know that even if the AELR Committee rejects the rollback Emergency Regs, that we’ll have to challenge them again two days later in the Senate in the form of HB1125.–Dan Smith, Co-Chair, Friends of Lower Beaverdam Creek

Visit here for more information on the importance of stormwater management in our area. Then write your elected officials.

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Filed under Elected Offcials, Environment, Public Input, Sustainability

Update: County Council Meets Planning Board Chair Nominee Byrd

From the Indian Head Highway Area Action Council, Inc. comes a wrap-up of the County Council’s Planning, Zoning and Economic Development (PZED) Committee’s conversation with David J. Byrd. If you have not been following this, catch up here, here and here. Please share your opinion with all council members and copy the Clerk of the Council.

Note: this report is impressionistic, is not comprehensive, and is not verbatim, but it is reflective of the substance of the interview. Seven Members of the County Council interviewed David J. Byrd on March 3. After ninety minutes of pointed questions and wishy-washy answers, it was clear to this reporter that Byrd is not qualified for the job he already has, nevermind being promoted to head one of the most important agencies in the county.

Byrd was pressed repeatedly about failures in the county agencies he oversees, notably the revenue authority, the housing authority, public works and transportation, and the economic development corporation. Byrd never acknowledged any personal sense of responsibility, nor did he accept any blame for failures in those agencies. All the problems and shortcomings were attributed to ineffective subordinates and/or to forces beyond his control.

Councilman Dernoga pressed the issue, noting that Byrd was the invisible man who rarely came to a Council committee meeting, rarely conferred with Members of Council on issues regarding any of the agencies Byrd oversees; where have you been for three years? Byrd said that all the Council Members had to do was contact him. He showed no recognition whatsoever that he is staff and it is his responsibility to brief and work with the Council regarding those agencies, not the other way around.

When pressed about his oversight of the agencies, Byrd said that he met with the heads of the agencies the third Friday of every month in the morning. No mention was made of what he does with himself the other days of the month.

PZED Committee Chairman Dean pressed Byrd on BRAC, noting that Camp Springs, Westphalia and Laurel were all losers. Byrd was responsible for BRAC; why did we lose? Byrd was defensive, said: BRAC was oversold; people had unrealistic expectations; it was not his fault; it was the fault of Annapolis. No recognition of any responsibility on his part.

Councilman Olson asked about the M-NCPPC budget: how would Byrd handle financial hard times ahead? Byrd said: employee furloughs, budget cuts, no cost-of-living adjustments, no raises, and getting employees voluntarily to work part-time. M-NCPPC also could save money by doing energy retrofits; he did not address where the money would come from to cover the up-front costs of retrofitting.

When asked about gang activity and how to use idle school and parks and recreation facilities after school, Byrd said we needed those kinds of projects and he would staff them with Park & Planning personnel. He did not seem to notice the disconnect between his answers to the questions about finances and making do with less in times of scarcity, and with the monies required to fund such programs.

Councilman Olson also asked about economic development: how did Byrd plan to balance the interests of competing constituencies like the business community, environmentalists, historic preservation, civic activists, ordinary citizens? Byrd repeated the question in various ways, but never answered it. Indeed, many questions on many issues got restated but went unanswered. Continue reading

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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

Schools, Purple Line Mtg. 12/17

and Other Important Odds & Ends

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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.

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

Campus & Community

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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

Cafritz: Doing the Math

The next meeting is Tuesday, Sept. 18 from 7-9 pm and we urge you to attend. Questions you may wish to consider in forming an opinion are here. Here’s a summary of the Cafritz presentation, mostly by the numbers:

  • 40-50,000 sq. feet, medium-sized grocery near Route 1 (no brand commitment)
  • 150-225,000 sq. feet of retail
  • 15-20 stores
  • 3 parking garages (6 stories?)
  • 1500-2000 housing units to include a mix of multi-family styles and town homes, housing for international scholars and seniors
  • no single family detached homes per current zoning of R-55
  • 8-12 story buildings (located closer to the tracks, of course)
  • boutique hotel
  • 3 access points–off of Route 1 (Van Buren and Underwood) and somewhere from the south
  • LEED-ND guidelines development

Traffic: their solution is still top-secret due to negotiations with property owners (prior presentation here ). Grocery stores generate about 102 trip per 1000 sq. feet. (If it is an upscale store not found nearby, the number may be higher.) But that’s about 4,000-5,000 trips each day with 400-500 per hour during the afternoon rush.

Schools: use the same student yield formula as the school system, multiply .44 by the number of residential units. If you check the new CIP that is scheduled to be approved this week, you’ll notice that a Hyattsville area elementary school and high school have been delayed again. Both lack sites.

Retail: This amount is worth exploring in a larger Route 1 context. Where does the Cafritz project’s 200,000 sq. feet of retail + East Campus’ 500,000 sq. feet of retail leave our town centers that are struggling to revitalize or redevelop? Say I want to open a new independent business–where should I locate?

Do I choose space that is newly built out, up to code, ADA compliant with energy efficient HVAC and other systems, in a location offering critical retail mass and the valuable allure of the new…possibly with discounted rent (as mentioned Saturday)?

Or do I locate in the Riverdale Park struggling-to-revitalize town center with few healthy retail neighbors–but lots of historic character in older, perhaps dilapidated structures and space requiring expensive code updates and more before occupancy?

For a business person, this is a no-brainer. For Riverdale Park residents hoping to see the farmers market’s energy spread to those vacant buildings, this project should raise some serious concerns. What kind of retail do we want and need? Do we want these retail neighbors (from Cafritz retail consultant’s site)? Continue reading

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Filed under Cafritz Property, Developers, Environment, Events, Public Input, Route 1 Corridor

East Campus: Getting to Green

leaf.jpgThe University, its development team and East Campus Steering Committee meet Tuesday, September 4 at 7:30 pm in 0100 Marie Mount to discuss environmental issues for the project. (Committee contact info here.) The University has been a leader in this area and should continue by integrating its environmental objectives with this project’s goals. This should be straightforward as the University has already made environmental stewardship a key component of its Master Plan. President Mote also recently signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment. Taken together, these set the stage for East Campus to demonstrate environmental and architectural innovation, creating a mixed use development with a carbon neutral footprint.

The East Campus Request for Proposal (RFP), however, is squishy at best on what measures might be employed: “The University’s Environmental Stewardship Guidelines which are incorporated into the Master Plan should be taken into consideration in the development of a concept, and if selected, a project.” Similarly, the objectives for the East Campus plan merely call upon the developer to “exhibit sensitivity to the environment.” While the development team included some green practices in its initial conceptual plan, Committee members have no solid information thus far. Hopefully, specifics will be forthcoming and posted in advance of the Sept. 4 meeting to allow the public and community representatives to provide informed comments. Make the jump for great resources Continue reading

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