Berwyn District Civic Association Meeting

October 17, 2019


Meeting came to order at 7:35 p.m.  Meeting held in Fealy Hall. BDCA Board Members in attendance: Bob Catlin, Chad Stern, Jim Nealis, Lily Fountain, Christy Dollymore, Nick Brennan. Other attendees included PJ Brennan, Patrick Wojahn, Liesl Koch, Claire Volke, Crystal Bergemann, Dan Stafford, Amelia Avis, others who were non-Berwyners.


Candidates’ Forum:  Running for Mayor:  Patrick Wojahn spoke first, discussed recent accomplishments – Lidl, Duvall Field repairs, Hollywood shops revitalization, trails, sidewalks.  The next speaker was Zari Malsawma, who expressed concerns about the direction Wojahn had taken the city, including his support for making College Park a ‘Gay-Friendly’ community and his support for allowing people to use bathrooms of their choice.  She felt his stands were in conflict with religious teachings.  The third candidate was  Nikki Pancho, who spoke about her experience working with veterans, youths and seniors, her ties to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and her desire to be a ‘working mayor’ and represent those who feel they have no voice in city affairs.


Questions to the candidates included concerns about Malsawma’s stance on LGBTQ issues.  Malsawma said she opposed Wojahn’s pro-gay stance and believed this was an affront to Biblical values.  Pancho said she had no stance on LGBTQ issues and just wanted city residents to get along.  One questioner expressed concerns about the poor state Attick Towers is in.  Wojahn noted the city does not own or run the building, but he is working with HUD to get give residents there a greater voice.  Pancho said she had no real opposition to Wojahn’s programs, but feels average folks are not being heard by city leaders – she will stand up for the voiceless residents.  Pancho was ‘taken aback’ by the poor state of Attick Towers, and is concerned about the seniors and folks with mental problems in the building.  She wants this to be a ‘Top Tier’ city for families, seniors, etc., not just a ‘college town’.  We need the right people to run Attick Towers.


What will be your priorities as mayor?  Pancho wants to bridge the gap between elected officials and citizens.  Perhaps we need 311 text messages from the city, more city surveys, etc.  Wojahn wants to preserve quality of life, and is worried about the number of rental houses, parking and noise issues.  He wants more rental units to return to owner-occupied homes, wants more engagement and diversity, and sustainability issues (recycling, food waste composting).  Malsawma wants to build a better identity for College Park, feels the new city hall project has become too expensive and should be revisited, and maybe sponsor citizenship classes for new residents.


Wojahn was asked why investors/builders get big tax breaks for new buildings.  We are a ‘low-income’ opportunity zone due to the low income students have.  We need to promote development because summer is a slow season for local businesses (when students are absent) – we need more non-students downtown so the city encourages ‘non-student’ development. Pancho said over-development is causing traffic and congestion downtown.  Route 1 is in bad shape, and should include a bike lane.  We need sustainable retail downtown, and residents should have more say over development.  Malsawma said the University is taking over our city, and we helped them do that by giving them the old Friends School building on Calvert Rd. for a day-care center where city residents only get a handful of seats (most are for UM staff’s kids).  She said the University is ‘favored’ by city officials over their own residents.  Wojahn disputed some of these statements, saying the old school was a dilapidated building that will now be an asset.  He also claimed the apartments actually reduce traffic by putting students close to the campus.  He also said the city was improving the Hollywood streetscape and building parks and maybe a path in the area.  Malsawma said the Hollywood/north College Park area needed a community center.


Closing statements: Pancho is excited to run and meet city residents.  The community should work to bring families and neighbors together.  Malsawma said she had lived in College Park over 40 years, and we should be an ‘exemplary’ city.  She defended herself against charges of ‘hate speech’ by saying religious convictions are not hate speech, and that she can work with everyone.  Wojahn moved here in 2003 because it was a diverse, welcoming city.  He did not believe certain religious beliefs should be enshrined – all should feel the city can be their home.


City Council Candidates:  Monroe Dennis has been on the council 8 years, has lived here since 1995, is engaged in civic activities, is a good listener, works with others.  PJ Brennan has been on the council 6 years.  He condemned earlier comments (apparently Malsawma’s?) as being hate speech.  He said the council has accomplished a lot, lowered taxes, supports early voting and the noise-control ordinance.  Oscar Gregory is a long-time area resident (attended High Point, Univ. of Maryland).  He said the city needs to ‘take care of its own’ folks first.  He claimed Brennan’s ‘lowered taxes’ equaled less than $7 per household.  He questioned why the city gives new developments big tax breaks – the buildings are built for profit, so they don’t deserve such breaks.  He supports more COP officers patrolling in Berwyn, better lights on the trolley trail and Lakeland playground.  Gregory was asked how do we lower taxes, yet pay for COPS officers?  He replied better lighting won’t cost much, and officers need to get off Rt. 1 and come into the neighborhoods more often.


Another question – why doesn’t the city use more referendums to get city residents’ opinions?  Brennan pointed out this fall there is a question asking opinions about 2 vs. 4 year terms for city officials, but we also elect representatives to make some decisions for us.  Dennis agreed – every issue cannot go to referendum, and we have 8 council members who are capable of discussing/settling issues.  Wojahn added that voters hold their elected officials accountable, and can vote them out if they disagree with council decisions.  Gregory said we need more referendums – he noted that a tiny number of folks responded to a MNCPPC survey about bike trails, and 75% wanted more trails, but he knocked on hundreds of doors and spoke to folks face-to-face and learned 75% opposed spending more money on such trails. 


One questioner asked why we need more parking permits while builders are allowed to erect huge buildings without providing parking lots and UM is reducing such lots?  Maybe developers should pay for our permits?  Dennis said parking is always an issue, but the new buildings must meet county parking requirements.  We should get UM to improve Shuttle routes.  Brennan agreed parking is a big issue, but noted the city has no zoning powers.  He said more parking spaces just bring more cars.  Gregory said the huge number of rental homes bring too many cars to our streets, so we need more home-owners, not renters.  We should make UM build more dorms on campus for its students.


Closing statements:  Gregory said Rt. 1 traffic is not only students, it is commuters also.  He wants city tax payers to have a greater say in how city tax money is spent.  Brennan said he is a good listener, has good working relationships with the mayor and council.  He cares about the community and wants to serve again.  Dennis said it is a pleasure to serve, and wants to continue serving another term.


Due to the late hour, other civic association business was postponed.  The meeting concluded at 9:40 p.m.


Notes compiled by Jim Nealis