DRAFT Minutes of October 2021 Meeting

North College Park Community Association
October 14, 2021 – Regular Meeting At the VFW and via Zoom

Attendees included Councilmembers Kabir, Kennedy, and Mackie; Prince George’s County District 1 Chief of Staff Michelle Garcia.

Meeting Started: 7:03 p.m.

Treasurer’s Report: Treasurer Carol Macknis is still working on getting the bank’s (SECU) financial information. The Bylaws Subcommittee continues to review the bylaws.

President’s Report:A motion was approved by the NCPCA to send a letter to the county on the recent zoning issues.

Election For Secretary:Dylan Burns was elected as the Association’s Secretary.

Report on County Redistricting
County Councilmember Tom Dernoga’s Chief of Staff, Michelle Garcia

Michelle Garcia, County Councilmember Tom Dernoga’s Chief of Staff, came on to talk about the county’s redistricting plan and other issues of concern to the NCPCA. Councilmember Dernoga voted no on the new Derrick Davis redistricting plan. There will be a public hearing. Most of College Park will be part of District 1 if the plan passes. The plan will be finalized in November. There is no clear reason as to why this process was done this way; Michelle Garcia said Councilmember Dernoga was expecting to vote on the independent committee’s map. Councilmember Kabir noted, “We would lose a county representative representing College Park under this plan.” All motions to adjust the new map proposal in any way did not pass

Candidates Forum for 2021 Mayor and Council Elections

Lineup:

  1. Kate Kennedy
  2. Maria Mackie
  3. Fazlul Kabir
  4. Denise Mitchell
  5. Patrick Wohjan

Question 1: What are your plans to ensure that all people feel safe and welcome in our community?

Kate: Make sure people feel part of our community. Bring people together. Whether it is through farmers’ markets, neighborhood watches, or just making sure people feel connected. Traffic is a concern. Cameras will be a tool against traffic, which people feel unsafe around.

Maria: I will echo what my associate said. Need a good presence of police. Expand police presence. We need to use our contract police. Work with UMD. I support the Neighborhood Watch program. It encourages people to know who their neighbors are. We need community-building activities (ex: Halloween bash).

Fazlul: Public safety is a big issue for me. I support the police-community meetings, held every second Monday of the month at 7:30. We are supporting a Neighborhood Watch initiative. We are supporting pedestrian safety improvement, like the crosswalks and improvements on Rhode Island Avenue, trying to build bike-safe buffer lanes, working on the camera program to expand them across the city.

Denise: We need to work on enhancing our contract police program. Our residents need to see their presence so they can feel safe. We should support our Neighborhood Watch program to include checks on seniors and the disabled. Create enhancements to combat increased speeding, and improve walkable areas to keep pedestrians safe.

Question 2: How can you, as a city Councilmember, help to ensure that city/county code regulations are enforced? Ex: pitbull ban and six-foot fences.

Kate: Make sure the policy in place reflects our community. Not going to comment on the pitbull issue. We are pretty strict on six-foot fences.

Maria: Need to make sure our city code and county code are working together for the same purpose. Need to give code enforcement the ammunition they need. People are concerned about the number of people who live in a house. This is a tough issue to enforce since people know in advance of the inspection. We need to properly supply code enforcement. On the issue of pitbulls, that is a county regulation. The city works hard to be on top of that. You need a permit for a six-foot fence.

Fazlul: I hear that the system as a whole has become compliant based. If no one complains, nothing happens. Could be a staffing issue. Instead of making it complaint-based, we are trying to make it community-based. If you see something, you should not have to jump through hoops to report issues. Developing a CRM system to streamline reporting. This is something coming very soon.

Denise: CRM system is wonderful. Councilmembers are given reports every month on tall grass but should include 6-foot tall fencing to support our code enforcement officers. Residents are scared that people will know that they were the ones who gave a report, and we need to make them feel comfortable when giving a report. We need to support our code enforcement officers. Pitbull issue is a county issue.

Question 3: Through the American Rescue plan the city will receive $22 million for COVID relief. What are your thoughts on how the city is using these funds, and what changes would you make?

Kate: Early stages of rolling this money out. The first round of money has been put out to support food banks, small businesses, and putting out rental assistance. In the next round of money, we want to be more strategic, including putting money aside to help senior housing and putting money aside to flip student rentals into owner-occupied housing. We want to do more long-term thinking.

Maria: Repeat what Kate said. Make sure that our city’s infrastructure is strong. We have had a stormwater problem in this city. We can use this money to plan for the future. We need to take care of people who are really in need – people who have a fixed income or are disabled. We should support affordable housing. We need to support a senior living space, so they can live here for less.

Fazlul: Compare to our annual money, which is $20 million. This is a lot of money, we have never had this much. By 2024 or 2025 we have to spend it. Repeats housing and stormwater concerns. We have opportunities to invest in restorative justice issues. I am passionate about spending this on Capital Improvement Projects and infrastructure projects.

Denise: I agree with Kennedy on the seniors. We should put money aside for seniors who are aging in place and need to improve their homes. Propose $3-4K. Help residents when it comes to local transportation through buses for important things like doctor’s appointments. I want a town hall with residents to get their input on how this money should be spent.

Question 4: City is having discussions about taking over the permitting process. Name advantages and disadvantages of this move.

Kate: One advantage is speed. It is really going to help small businesses that are going into a business that already exists. The cost should be neutral. Bring in people to take on the permits, and contract out the permits. Benefits outweigh the risks.

Maria: The city will be controlling things that the city has not been able to control so far. Once the city found a mistake that the county made before, but it went forward. The city will have control. More things will get done in a timely fashion. I don’t see many disadvantages, but this is new territory. There will be growing pains. I think that we can work it out though.

Fazlul: The city council has been advocating for this. The residents will save time in getting permits. For small things like building a driveway, you have to run to two places including City Hall. People will save from 21 days to 10 days. This will also save money for residents since they won’t have to pay for two different places.

Denise: (Her internet failed on her)

Question 5: Pitbulls being off-leash in a dog park is an issue with the new dog park. Why is the city allowing this?

Kate: This question is inappropriate but I will answer this. This is my family. Dogs causing problems are not pitbulls. The dogs causing problems are young and have energy. Pitbulls not a problem unless they are trained to be an issue. My dog is a mixed lab, but also a mixed pitbull. She is officially a lab though. This rule is wrong.

Maria: I thought the owners would police the dog park themselves. I did not think it was the city’s responsibility to take care of that issue. I don’t know why these dogs are being aggressive, but it is an owner’s responsibility.

Fazlul: The dog park has been well used. It is very active. Want to bring people to our community based on their interest, and so I am happy about the dog park. We (city council) were asked to weigh in on pitbulls from the county. To me, the law is the law. As lawmakers, we should support the law.

Denise: (Rejoins the call) Maybe there should be a registration for the dog park. We should work with animal control on this issue.

Question 6: What is your response to the county’s zoning map amendment?

Kate: This started before I was even on the council. I appreciate what Kabir said about bringing the Hollywood Commercial District to the next level.

Maria: There are a lot of things in the map amendment I did not appreciate. Afraid that the infrastructure of College Park was never really addressed. I don’t like the idea of too much development until we address the infrastructure of different areas.

Fazlul: This is an upzoning proposal. It will allow more density. We have housing, residential housing. I don’t want to see high-rises in our neighborhood. This is to attract development, but we have a better idea. We want to revitalize the commercial district in North College Park. I oppose this map amendment.

Denise: This is for the south of the county, not for us in College Park. This is for bringing development to the south of the county and is not what we are looking for in College Park. There needs to be more transparency in the process.

Question 7: What are you doing to improve the quality of life of the residents so that they will not move out of the city?

Kate: Create incentives for people to move in and buy a house for people making under $200k. We want the percentage of rentals to drop, and owner-occupied home percentage to increase.

Maria: Make sure our crime rates are low. People want to walk at night. We need safe roads, trails, and bike lanes. We need to preserve green space and not overdevelop. Make better educational opportunities for our young people.

Fazlul: People want to move for many reasons. Sometimes when the family grows and their children graduate from elementary school, they move out. Education is a big issue. We have funded $40k to a tutoring business to provide tutoring in Hollywood Elementary School. Lack of amenities. We are working on the Duvall Field project. We also need a space for people to relax indoors, like a North College Park Community Center.

Denise: Quality of schools is an issue. Make sure that people have available early childhood education programs. We need to provide affordable childcare to parents. We want to create other amenities provided by small businesses like Posh for example. We also need good code enforcement and contract police.

Question 8: There have been clashes between the city and county councils, and even residents, concerning developments in North College Park. Who do you side with?

Kate: *Skipped”

Maria: I try to work with the county council. It’s important to hear from the residents. I respect our councilmembers even if we don’t agree.

Fazlul: I side with the residents. That is my job, to represent the residents. We are fortunate to have a county councilmember that listens to the concerns of North College Park. He fought for us on the recent zoning issues.

Denise: We should always be listening to our residents. We should work with the county. We not only have two county council representatives, but also two more at large. When we come to the table to talk to them, we need to be clear with what our ask is. Try our best to find a win-win scenario.

Question 9: There have been many changes in College Park in the last two years. What is the accomplishment which you helped with that you are most proud of?

Kate: : I am proud of my work on the dog park. But I am very proud of the work we are doing on the tutoring program at Hollywood Elementary School. Hard to have an influence on education, since it is a county thing. Our tutoring programs help kids at a crucial part of their educational development.

Maria: Very thankful that we did the literacy program. Happy we started the pilot there since Hollywood is where we have the most College Park kids. I want to expand it to all schools we have kids in. I am thankful that I got to work with my colleagues to use the CARES money to help the people in my community.

Fazlul: Proud of the work we did to get a community newspaper in College Park Here & Now. We have also brought down the tax rate. I am also proud of the dog park as well.

Denise: I was able to have forums for critical issues in the community. Bringing closed captions in the city for those who are hearing impaired. We brought faith-based healers into the community on the issue of Black Lives Matter. The Youth Advisory Council is also something that I am proud of.

Patrick Wojahn (Mayor of College Park)

Question 1: How do you make sure that you continue to make decisions based on the views expressed by your constituents, and not your personal views?

I think that this is a conversation, and it is important to listen to the residents. Bring forward policies that will benefit the residents. It is paramount we listen to the residents. We need to bring ourselves to the table as well. We don’t decide issues by just having a poll. I go out and talk to residents all the time. The most vocal residents are not necessarily the majority of residents. That is why I created the email I send to the residents every week. I do my best to reach out to the community.

Question 2: What are your future plans regarding your position as the Mayor?

I have not fully decided that yet. This will be my fourth term since I have no opposition. There is a chance that I may not run for re-election, but there are issues I want to see through. Like the new city council for example. Eventually, I need to turn over the reins and give someone else a chance at the position.

Question 3: How would you describe your relations with UMD officials and Senator Rosapepe? How does this affect how you govern?

I have a good relationship with them. We have a strong working relationship with Tom Dernoga as well. I am particularly proud of how we worked together to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. We needed to balance keeping the community safe and our ability to function as a community. We have one of the lowest infection rates in the Big Ten schools. This does not mean we always agree, since I will go toe to toe with them if necessary. But we have a great working relationship.