Berwyn District Civic Association

Thursday, October 27, 2005

 

 

The meeting was called to order by BDCA President Heather Iliff at 8:00 PM. 

 

Candidates’ Forum, City Council District 2

 

Ms. Iliff announced that Yancey Davis had withdrawn his candidacy for city council, and would not be present at the forum.  She then introduced Monroe Dennis, President of the Lakeland Civic Association, who moderated this evening’s discussion.

 

Mr. Dennis presented the ground rules for the forum.  He would first read each question; then each candidate would have 3 minutes to respond.  A warning would be given when one minute remained.  After the predetermined questions were covered, audience members would be permitted to ask questions of the candidates.  The candidates were allowed a brief opening statement.

 

Jack Perry: Mr. Perry stated that he has lived in College Park for over 36 years, and served on the College Park City Council for more than 20 years.  He has been active in many city activities, the Civic Association, and the parish.  He became interested in serving on City Council when he discovered that the most interesting work gets done in the work sessions. 

 

 

Bob Catlin: Mr. Catlin moved to Berwyn Heights in 1985.  When he discovered that Berwyn Heights was too quiet, he moved to College Park.  After becoming involved in the BDCA, he realized that College Park had more potential than it was realizing.  He has been serving on City Council for the last eight years, and is pleased to see that the work being done by the city during the past decade is coming to fruition.

 

 

Mr. Monroe read the questions:

 

1.       Residents are very concerned about single-family home conversions to student-rental properties owned by non-resident landlords. Specific issues and areas of concern then become:

o        Noise

o        Number of vehicles parked at properties

o        Number of occupants

o        Property maintenance and general upkeep

o        City policing ability.

     How do you propose the City handle these issues?

 

Mr. Perry: 

 

  • Defers noise issues to the Noise Control Board.
  • Vehicles: enforce requirements for legal parking.
  • Number of occupants: a county ordinance regulates the number of occupants, but is difficult to enforce.
  • Maintenance: report violations to city Code Enforcement.
  • City policing: Mr. Perry did not have time to address this issue.

 

Mr. Catlin:

 

He suggests that the best way to handle the problems engendered by rental properties is to discourage investor buying and conversion of properties, rather than to deal with problems after the fact.  To this end, he has researched and proposed the following: targeted rent control; a homestead tax credit to shift tax burdens to landlords; and a program offering $5,000 grants to homebuyers who convert rental properties to owner-occupied properties.   He also suggests reporting violations to Code Enforcement; changing code regulations to shorten the allowable time to rectify violations; and looks to this year’s referendum question to provide guidance regarding city policing issues.

 

 

2.       Traffic has increased significantly on Route 1 and has an impact on entrance to and egress from community.  How do you propose to reduce congestion on Route 1?  What do you believe is the ideal future for Route 1, and how can the City help make that happen?

 

Mr. Perry:

 

Traffic has increased due to a number of events: freshmen are now allowed to have cars on campus, plus 900 students have been added to Route 1 with the leasing of University View.  While there were plans to move traffic lights and increase the number of driveways, these plans have not happened.  Problems with Route 1 have been studied, and the state has made recommendations, but funding is an issue.  Improvements have to be made before development gets ahead of the road capacity.  The right-of-way is limited, so there are limits to what can be done as far as putting in a new roadway; property might have to be seized if additional roadway is to be constructed.  A half-bridge has been proposed for the intersection with Cherry Hill Road.  Residents are encouraged to take transit, and to attend the March to Rebuild Route 1 on Saturday, October 29.  

 

Mr. Catlin:

 

Local roads will have to handle even more traffic in the future.  Some current issues include:

 

·         There is no left turn lane or traffic light for drivers traveling northbound on Route 1 into University View, which was supposed to be built when the building went up;

·         However, the pedestrian bridge to campus from behind University View is heavily used.

·         New student housing needs to be built adjacent to campus; students want cars on campus, but the students do not drive often.  Having housing near campus will cut down on driving. 

·         University faculty and staff should be encouraged to live near the university to help relieve traffic problems. 

 

 

3.       Crime in College Park, including drug trafficking, theft and assault seem to be increasing.  How do you propose to reduce crime and improve public safety in our communities? 

 

Mr. Perry:

 

The city cannot do anything to stop problems with drugs, theft, or assault.  County police are limited in the patrol service they can provide, since they are out on calls in parts of the county which have higher crime rates.  Citizens should follow basic safety rules.  In addition, citizens should call the police to report crime, to make a record of incidents and show the need for police services.  Mr. Perry supports exploring other policing options, such as the resident trooper program, instead of developing a city police force in College Park.

 

Mr. Catlin:

 

While it would appear that crime has increased, the crime rate ebbs and flows.  Citizens have more awareness of crime now, so it is difficult to tell if there is a true increase in the crime rate.  The vote on November 8 will provide guidance to the Mayor and Council regarding how much the citizens are willing to spend on police services.  The city has $200,000 budgeted for contract police; the county is seeking to hire more officers, so there will be more contract officers available.  The city will spend this money for contract police, regardless of the outcome of the referendum.  Finally, the University of Maryland has begun installing off-campus cameras; from this step, it appears that the university considers off-campus crime to be a problem needing attention.

 

 

4.       How can the City Council achieve greater influence in the activities of the County administration and bring forth greater community voice in the activities of the City?

 

Mr. Perry:

 

All citizens are encouraged to vote, to show the county that the citizens of College Park have an active interest in civic affairs.  College Park is an asset to the county; the city has lot of resources, and has led the way with successes such as the use of trash toters, the snow removal program, leaf collection, and recycling.  The city needs housing; the county needs to recognize that this is something the city can bring to negotiations.  Prince George’s county needs to recognize the good things about College Park and work with us to achieve goals.

 

Mr. Catlin:

 

Citizens need to vote; College Park is divided into two council districts, and students are not generally considered county residents.  The city is visible because of the University of Maryland’s increased influence with the county; and the mayor is active in civic and county affairs.  Unfortunately, the city council does not have as much continuity with county officials. 

 

 

5.       What is your vision of College Park in five years, taking into consideration the interests of long-term College Park residents, short-term student residents, as well as businesses and institutions within the City? 

 

Mr. Perry:

 

The city needs to provide modern housing opportunities and upscale housing.  College Park needs to attract government workers to the city; such a population will attract businesses to serve them.  Housing can be built around the metro and MARC stations.  College Park needs to become known as a good, convenient place to live, with benefits of living near the university and close to the District of Columbia.  The business communities in north and south College Park need to make an effort to work together.  The city should work to consolidate property and put up good buildings.

 

Mr. Catlin:

 

The planning that is underway now will be evident in the changes over the next five years.  The rebuilding of Route 1 needs to start now.  Development sites have been chosen near metro, for the installation of luxury apartments and parking.  The redevelopment of downtown will include a parking garage and grocery store.  The current City Hall site will become luxury condominiums; the Knox boxes will be redeveloped to house more students.  There will be fewer changes along Route 1 near Berwyn; traffic problems will be fixed, and condominiums are planned.  In north College Park, development near IKEA will provide 500 apartments, with restaurants.  The city needs big projects to serve as catalysts for small projects.  Good residential development is a prerequisite for development of good retail and restaurants.

 

 

Open Questions:

 

1.   Good schools are essential if families are to be attracted to communities.  Local public schools need to be improved.  With help from the University of Maryland, schools will improve and test scores will soar.  Can the university’s Education Department become involved with the local schools?  When the Friends School moves out of College Park, will another school move into the building?

 

Mr. Catlin:

 

The Paint Branch Elementary School already has programs such as the Lakeland Stars.  There have been discussions about developing a lab school.  The University of Maryland wants to be more of an area-wide school.  These issues should be taken up when the School Board returns to being an elected body.   Schools in the District of Columbia are coping well; College Park should be able to do better.  The county has no plans for charter schools at this time.  The Friends School has a lease through May.  The site is still in the running for the new City Hall site.  In addition, two individuals are interested in having a private school at the Friends School site, but there are no plans. 

 

Mr. Perry:

 

While an elected School Board will help improve the schools, much of the interest and improvement in education has to come from parents.  All of his children graduated from Parkdale High School, and did well.  Prince George’s county needs to do more; they have difficulty keeping superintendents.  The University of Maryland already works with Paint Branch Elementary.

 

 

2.       The city and county are overwhelmed with crime.  How should citizens vote on the police referendum?

 

Mr. Perry:

 

The referendum will cost the city money no matter which way it goes.  The question is, how much do citizens want to pay for police services?  A police department is expensive to run, and has liability issues.  Mr. Perry plans to vote “no” on the referendum question.  Prince George’s county needs to step up and provide protection to the city; responsible people need to be in office.  It is not right to sell debt and defer the problem of payment.

 

Mr. Catlin:

 

College Park has a poor tax base for funding a police department.  The city needs a stronger tax base, or needs to be prepared to spend a lot of money on contract police or other policing programs.  Additionally, the county plans to expand their police force; if College Park creates a department and the county force improves, in several years there may be duplicated efforts. 

 

 

3.       Has there been any discussion regarding increasing the University of Maryland police department and having them control the entire city?

 

Mr. Catlin:

 

Prince George’s county has responsibility for College Park; the University also has policing authority in downtown.  The university police have their own objectives on campus.  Mr. Catlin has never heard of a university police force that polices an entire city.

 

Mr. Perry:

 

The city would not get a positive response from the campus police.  If campus police were responsible for the entire city, the university crime statistics would look bad when compared to similar universities.  Additionally, young officers would obtain training and experience in College Park, and then leave.

 

 

4.       The Resident Trooper program costs approximately $120,000 for one officer; $1.2 million dollars for ten officers.  How would such a program be implemented, and where would the money come from?

 

Mr. Perry:

 

The city spends less than 3% of its budget on police; additional money could be allocated.  The Resident Trooper program is a good one, because the city would get a fully trained trooper, who has experience on the road.  The city might be able to get a break on the cost, due to the presence of the University of Maryland.

 

Mr. Catlin:

 

The city currently spends $200,000 on police services.  This year, the city allocated an additional $70,000 to increase the contract police program; this increase easily passed in the city council.  An additional modest cost increase would probably be passed by the council without a referendum.

 

 

5.       Citizens are already paying more because of the increase in crime, for household security, and education.  Is this a better approach?  How could resources be better spent?  What are your priorities and personal preferences?

 

Mr. Catlin:

 

The county is responsible for both policing and schools.  Taxes in College Park are the lowest in the county; to fund better police protection and schools, the city needs redevelopment, which would lead to a higher tax base.  With the current development, revenue should be better in five to ten years.

 

Mr. Perry:

 

Better schools will draw families.  The city needs to increase the tax base; college students do not pay the same taxes as homeowners.   

 

 

6.       Education and safety are both important issues.  Considering safety first, is paying an additional $1 per day too much to spend for the safety of the community?

 

Mr. Catlin:

 

The estimates suggest that the cost will be $480 per household per year, which is slightly more than $1 per day.  Police cannot eliminate crime, but in neighboring towns with police departments, the rate of crime in Hyattsville is about the same.  Greenbelt’s crime rate is higher, although crime seems to be concentrated around Springhill Lake.  While spending the money may help citizens feel safer, it may not actually decrease the rate of crime.

 

Mr. Perry:

 

He says that one dollar per day will not make him feel any better.  Mr. Perry promotes personal responsibility for personal safety.

 

 

Board and Committee Reports

 

  1. Treasurer’s Report: The BDCA treasurer, Al Cutino, did not attend, so no treasurer’s report was given.
  2. Park Committee: Kris Moss will plan a meeting with National Capitol Park and Planning to discuss the proposed changes to the playground equipment.  Installation of new equipment is expected to be done in the spring.  Some dead trees have been taken down, and the roller slide has been removed. 
  3. October bonfire: Although the bonfire was rained out, it was successfully held on Sunday.  Approximately 100 people attended.  Any residents who are interested in collecting ashes for use in their garden is invited to help themselves.
  4. Neighborhood Preservation Coalition: The next general meeting of the NPC will be held on November 19, from 8 – 10 AM at Fealy Hall, during which the committee to nominate  new officers will be discussed.  The NPC is currently writing a letter for Realtors to stress that we are a residential neighborhood, not an investment opportunity.  The NPC is also interested in hearing a report on how well the annexation of University Hills into Hyattsville has progressed, including how problems with rental properties have been handled.  The NPC is also interested in exploring ways to bring the University of Maryland into discussions about quality of life in College Park. 
  5. The BDCA and the Washington Post have an agreement that the BDCA will inspect the outer canal at the periphery of the Post property.  This inspection is scheduled for November 19, 2005, at 10 AM following the NPC meeting, based on the weather.  A call for volunteers will be included in the Berwyn News. 
  6. There is a need for two people to work at the election on November 8.  Hours are 10 AM to 9 PM.  This is a paid position.  Anyone who is interested should contact Maxine Gross at 301-345-3365.

 

 

New Business

 

  1. A concern affecting both the Lakeland and Berwyn communities is that there is no barrier between the CSX tracks and the Lakeland community, including Paint Branch Elementary School.  A barrier could be placed both for safety and for noise abatement.  Mr. Dennis commented that this has not been discussed at the Lakeland Civic Association meetings, but he will put it on the agenda for a future meeting. 
  2. With so many students living in Berwyn, it might be helpful to have a column in the Berwyn News written by a University of Maryland student who lives in the community.  The BDCA will contact Emily Suskin, University of Maryland student liaison, as a starting point to locate a student resident who might be interested in writing a column.
  3. The BDCA is interested in taking a position on the Trolley Trail crossing with Paint Branch Parkway.  A motion was passed that the BDCA supports a traffic light at this crossing.  Mr. Shute and Ms. Moss will draft a letter to be sent to the appropriate authorities regarding this issue. 
  4. A preschool education fair will be held on November 5, 2005, from 2 – 4 PM.   
  5. The College Park International Festival will be held on November 5, 2005, from 2 – 7 PM at Ritchie Coliseum.  Details are available on the city’s web site, http://www.ci.college-park.md.us/events_&_news.htm . 
  6. The College Park history book has been published.  Many historical pictures of Berwyn and Lakeland are included.  Copies are available at Smile Herb Shop.

 

 

The BDCA would like to thank everyone for coming out for the Candidates’ Forum.  Special thanks to Mr. Monroe Dennis for moderating the discussion.

 

The next BDCA meeting will be held November 17, 2005.   Janeen Miller has arranged for Captain Kevin Davis to speak on public safety issues.  Captain Davis is the acting commander of Prince George’s County Police District 1.

 

 

Meeting attendees:

 

Jerry Anzulovic

Althair Adams

Elizabeth Adams

Steve Brayman

Bob Catlin

Monroe Dennis

Chris Dullnig

Fanny Featherstone

Doug Hunter

Maria Hutter

Heather Iliff

Chuck Ireton

Derrick Loley

Thelma Lomax

Helen Long

Kris Moss

Coleman O’Donoghue

Jack Perry

Harry Pitt

Jill Reese

Mary Selis

Mark Shute

G. Smith

Stephanie Stullich

Mary Katherine Theis

Forrest Tyler

Sandy Tyler

Brenton Walker

Larry Wenzel

Kevin Young

 

Andrea Carpentieri

Recording Secretary, BDCA