Waiver sought for Revitalization Tax Credit Ordinance: The Whoops Ordinance

Don’t you wish the government (federal, state, county or city), would say, “Whoops, we made a mistake.  That tax amount you owe, never mind…we’ll just let you keep it.” This is essentially what is happening with the new undergraduate housing development, by the Gilbane Development Company.

Except this time, City staff members, contracted attorney, as well as your Mayor and Councilmembers, all missed the fact that this project, now known as Tempo, at 8430 Baltimore Ave., is not eligible for a revitalization tax credit per the City’s ordinance Chapter 175 “Taxation”, Article IV, “Revitalization Tax Credit”, Section §175-13.

 I could possibly see this getting by one, or two, or may be even three staff members, but not the City’s contracted attorney and City Manager, nor all eight Councilmembers and the Mayor.   How did that happen, especially after our last huge fiasco in 2017 when we were dubbed the “Dumbest Town in America”?

This Tuesday, March 9, at 7:30 pm,  there will be a Public Hearing for all to voice their opinions on the matter.  No doubt getting on Zoom again is the last thing you want to do after working all day, or while getting kids ready for bed, but saving taxpayers up to $571,020 in taxes will be worth the 30 minutes it takes.


In 2010, it was determined by the University and the City that College Park should become a Top 10 university town.  It was the vision of a handful of individuals that to do so the City must change the city’s character to attract developers, which would in turn attract restaurants and retail, and perhaps alumni dollars.

Chapter 175 “Taxation”, Article IV, “Revitalization Tax Credit”, Section §175-13 became an integral part of this plan.  Such a revitalization tax credit, used by hundreds of municipalities across America, would stimulate this growth.  In 2015, the construction of undergraduate housing was becoming increasingly popular, so much so,  that the City Council determined it best to terminate such tax credits to UG housing projects. 

Then, in January 2020, in steps the Gilbane Development Company.  The company’s lawyer argues that other projects had received this credit so they should too.  The City staff agree that the project is eligible, and then a whirlpool of mistaken perceptions, lies and perhaps even downright deception ensues pulling the City closer and closer to being sucked down the drain.

Any company would have reviewed, not just its plans, but the project’s budget prior to investing monies in architects and a detailed site plan, and approaching a bank or investors.  In other words, the Gilbane Company and its attorney, knew beforehand, they were asking for a tax credit for which they were not entitled.

And in the end, the City Council with the support of the Mayor, staff and attorney, voted unanimously to approve the credit on January 14, 2020. Such a vote was a legislative error which compounded the original staff error.  

At this Tuesday night’s meeting, the City Council will vote to introduce Ordinance 21-O-03 which would a waiver to the original ordinance, to correct the Council’s prior legislative error, thereby providing the Gilbane company with as much as a $571,020 tax credit over five years.


Let me list some of the negative consequences of this blunder:

1.  It can set a precedent for future development projects, of any type, as well as projects already constructed to request a revitalization tax credit.

2.  City staff will continue to provide erroneous information unchecked.

3.  The Mayor and Councilmembers, perhaps following the staff’s lead, will not perform their due diligence thereby voting without a full understanding of the impacts of their vote.

4.  Use of the same attorney for multiple developments could lead to coordination of positions, such as students’ cost per bed.

On the positive side:

1.  This waiver allows Mayor and Council to provide a partial revitalization tax credit.

2.  This year’s budget could reflect funds for an independent zoning consultant to advise the City on current and upcoming projects.

3.  Mayor and Council could, upon their insistence, be provided with complete details, including financial reviews for developments, when considering any type of vote.

4.  Residents would also be provided the facts and could make their voices heard on issues.

You can make up your own mind.  Unlike many elected officials, I trust you to review the issues and make your own determination. 

To view the discussions regarding the Gilbane Construction Company’s request for an exemption to the County’s school facilities surcharge as well as the request for the City’s revitalization tax credit at the City Council worksession, January 7, 2020, click on the following link, if it is operational.  At this writing, it was not.


“Attend” the City Council meeting. Click on the link below for this week’s Council meeting agenda, as well as to join the meeting, complete with instructions.


If you are unavailable to attend, write to the Mayor and Council at:  cpmc@collegeparkmd.gov.  Your email will be distributed to them.

Or write to your Councilmembers individually.  Click here to be taken to their email addresses.


Bond Bill costs College Park Residents

While Chinese protestors took over the Hong Kong International Airport in a drive for more democracy, the College Park Mayor and Council laughed at its citizens’ efforts to exercise their democratic rights.

At last night’s City Council meeting, six out of eight Councilmembers rejected the appeals of more than 200 residents to put a 19+ million dollar bond bill to referendum in this fall’s elections. The bill combines monies for the soon-to-be constructed City Hall and the Duvall Field renovation.

Councilmembers Kate Kennedy, PJ Brennan, Monroe Dennis, Robert Day, John Rigg and Dustyn Kujawa, without compunction, elected to push forward a motion to borrow nearly 20 million dollars to be repaid over 30 years.  Although Mayor Wojahn was unable to vote on the issue, his stance was aligned with those six members. This vote will cost taxpayers $1 million in interest annually.

Councilmembers Fazlul Kabir and Denise Mitchell presented an alternate motion to postpone the vote until after the issue went to referendum. This motion was voted down.

A dozen residents, one presenting two petitions with 200 signatures, spoke to tax breaks for developers, the cost of artificial turf for Duvall Field, and democratic rights.  They were rewarded with nay votes and the sight of their democratic rights swirling down the drain.

Trash talk just a smokescreen?

The latest topic to heat up on Next Door is just trash talk. Seriously. An inordinate amount of time and energy has been spent discussing the City’s  latest proposal on bulk trash.  I’m not saying this trash talk is unimportant, but let’s be real. There is a simple answer to this.  Communicate with those offenders and fine them if necessary. The Public Works Office keeps track of anyone requesting a bulk trash pickup. So, done! Let’s not waste anymore of our time on an issue which can be so easily resolved.

With such a simple solution at hand,  it only makes sense this trash talk is a smokescreen or a red herring  to divert residents from the real issues: the fiscal year 2020 budget, four-year terms for mayor and council,  a  commitment to the university to spend some undetermined part of $30 million of taxpayers’ dollars on a new City Hall, just to name a few.

It’s spring again, and the FY2020 budget cycle is in full swing.  See below for a complete schedule. It’s worth noting that although Councilmembers and residents have asked for a later budget review process, this year’s is even earlier than usual. Per the City’s Director of Finance, Gary Fields, the proposed budget is scheduled to be distributed to our elected officials posted on the City website is March 8.  A limited number of hard copies will be available on Monday afternoon, March 11.

March 11 is also the second public forum regarding possible charter changes to the mayor and council’s  terms to take place at Davis Hall. The City’s newly appointed Election Commission is mandated to collect public comment and report back to the Mayor and Council on the public’s opinion on four-year terms as well as staggered terms.  (See Residents oppose Four-Year Terms)

As for the new City Hall, taxpayers and dare I say, our elected officials and staff, have no idea of the total bill facing us. Some may remember it started off at $8 million, then it  jumped to $12 million. Now, because the construction is a joint project with the University of Maryland, no one, at least connected with City, is clear on the total costs!

So don’t be fooled!   Don’t be taken in by trash talk! Look at the more important issues before us.

Proposed FY 2020 budget schedule:

Operating Budget worksheets distributed to departments December 20, 2018
Prepare the FY2020-FY2024 CIP (Staff input & document) January 2019
FY20 Budget preview discussion with Mayor & Council
*Review Cost/Fees Study
Tues. January 8, 2019
Mayor & Council requests for FY20 budget due Fri. January 25, 2019
Prepare cost estimates of Mayor & Council requests
Revenue projections & payroll info prepared by Finance
January – February 2019
Department budget worksheets due – returned to Finance Fri. January 25, 2019
Review of department operating budget submittals by City Manager and Finance Director with Dept. Director Mon. Jan 28 – Thursday February 7
(Start in January as completed)
FY20 Proposed Budget & CIP distributed to Mayor & Council and posted on City website Fri. March 8, 2019
Worksessions on the FY2020 Proposed Budget & CIP Saturday, March 23 @ 8 am
Saturday, March 30 @ 8 am
Additional worksessions if needed
FY20 Budget ordinance introduced – City Council Meeting
(includes changes from budget worksessions)
Tues. April 23
Advertisement in Washington Post for Public Hearings on:

  • FY20 Proposed Budget & CIP
  • Constant Yield Tax Rate  (if needed)
Thurs. April 25
Hold Public Hearings on (1) FY2020 Proposed Budget & CIP and (2) Constant yield tax rate (if needed) Tues. May 7
Worksession discussion of changes to the proposed budget as a result of the Public Hearings (if needed) Tuesday May 14 (if needed)
Adopt FY20 budget ordinance (including CIP) Tues. May 21
Effective date of FY20 Adopted Budget July 1, 2019


What’s in store for College Park in 2019

The City Council’s 2019 retreat was held January 6. It was an open meeting attended by three residents from Districts 1 and 4, who took copious notes and photos. Although it was an open meeting, regrettably, it was not streamed or even recorded. As one of those residents and a former City Councilmember, I thought it important to share, through photographs, the results of their discussion. Note that at the point they did the infamous dots exercise, red meant stop working on that item and green meant continue working on it.  New items were not added to the list. See what you think.







What follows are the results of the Council’s discussion about the University of Maryland and College Park City University Partnership (CPCUP).  Again, draw your own conclusions.





Storage Facility looks like Office Building — gets the OK?!

Much to the dismay of many North College Park residents their City Councilmember, Mary Lehman, brought the JDA storage facility project up for a vote on October 22. The vote which took place with no discussion passed 9-0 in favor of the project despite the opposition of the City Council, North College Park Citizens Association and the North Autoville Cherry Hill Organization. As a party of record, I have been waiting since then for the resulting report.  You can read it in full the link below.

This decision by the County Council sets a dangerous precedent for future projects on Rt 1 in College Park.   Moreover,  in a telephone survey done by one of the four appellants, there is no need for additional storage facilities as the current ones located in College Park and Beltsville are underutilized. Moreover, a soon-to-be constructed storage facility approved for the Branchville Industrial area will be added storage space should more be needed.

After nearly two years of meetings, residents on the northwest corner of Rt. 1 had created a plan for their neighborhoods on which they could agree and would minimize future impacts by new development in their area of College Park.  They had agreed to a maximum height of four stories and the Table of Uses.  This was all swept away, with little consideration by the County Council, in October.   It makes residents question why they should get involved in the city/county’s future plans at all.





Four-year Terms, At-large Members and Redistricting?

The information below was provided by City staff to Councilmember Denise Mitchell (D4).

Tonight, the Mayor and Council will discuss four-year terms, as well as possibly reducing the number of representatives and keeping eight Councilmembers of which four will be district- elected members and four will be at-large Councilmembers. This could be done through a non-binding referendum in 2019 or as a charter member which means only five elected officials will need to vote in favor.

During the Mayor and Council Fall Retreat held last year, the 2018 priorities were identified.  Some of those priorities was discuss amending College Park’s Charter to create four-year staggering terms, transitioning four districts seats to four at-large seats; and mid-term redistricting.  These election changes were approved as a priority by the Mayor and Council on Feb. 13, 2018.

In an August Worksession, the City Council invited Rockville Mayor Bridget Newton to provide an overview of Mayor and Council’s switch to four-year terms. To provide some context, the City of Rockville has an approximately 61,000 residents. In order to explore such a significant change, Rockville created a Charter Review Commission that was charged to discuss the following three items:

  1. The length of the elected terms of the Mayor and Council;
  2. The number of members of the City Council;
  3. The schedule by which elections for the Mayor and Council are held.

Their Commission conducted public outreach and conducted interviews with other municipalities to come to their final recommendation.  As for the Mayor and Councilmembers’ term, the Commission recommended the term length should be extended from two years to four years.  On the question regarding the number of Councilmembers on the council, the Commission recommended increasing the council from four Councilmembers to six.  Finally, the Commission recommended elections be held every four years timing them with the Federal elections.

The City of Rockville put these items on an Advisory Referendum during their 2013 election.  After the 2015 election all four council members serve At-Large. Mayor Newton elaborated on that the having council to serve four year terms in her opinion increases accountability and and more is accomplished.

Redistricting — Historical information

College Park began with five districts from 1945-1951 and since 1991 to the present has had four districts with two Councilmembers per district; the Mayor is elected at large.


Dates Council Composition
1945 – 1951
Five districts with 1 Councilmember per district, plus 2 at-large seats, plus Mayor (elected at-large) = 8
1953 – 1965
Six districts with 1 Councilmember per district, plus 2 at-large seats, plus Mayor (elected at-large) = 9
1967 – 1989
Eight districts with 1 Councilmember per district, plus Mayor (elected at-large) = 9
1991 – present*
Four districts with 2 Councilmembers per district, plus Mayor (elected at-large) = 9

Redistricting and Lawsuits 1970s – 2000

  1. A Redistricting Committee was appointed in 1973, Councilman Kushner served as Chairman. In August 1975, the Redistricting Committee under Chairman Kushner stated that redistricting was necessary; the City Council accepted this report. In early 1974, UMD Student Government Representative, Larry Albert, appeared before the City Council voicing complaints regarding the age and residency requirements for registering to vote, as well as the need to redistrict. He noted that such a move was necessary because of the large number of students housed on campus.
  2. Renee Dubois, a university student, also believed the City Council should address the matter. Shortly thereafter, City Attorney, Mr. Topf, informed the Mayor and Council the American Civil Liberties Union [ACLU] was initiating a lawsuit against the City.
  3. On October 1, 1975, the ACLU filed suit representing campus students Renee Dubois and David Johnson in Prince George’s Circuit Court alleging malapportionment in the City’s voting districts. In June 1976, the Circuit Court ruled the students were not legal College Park residents and dismissed the suit. Dubois and Johnson appealed the ruling to the State Court of Appeals. In July 1977, the State Court ruled that the students had standing to sue and sent the case back to the Circuit Court. In October 1977, the students requested an injunction to delay the City’s election in the event that they won their suit. The Court denied granting the injunction; the students appealed that decision to the Appeals Court on Nov. 30, 1977.
  4. Meanwhile Robert Payne, Chairman of the Redistricting Committee, appointed in early 1976, filed a report with the City Council stating that the university students should be counted in any redistricting and that all Councilmembers should run at-large. Worth noting, a minority report from the committee disagreed on both points because they felt that: 1) at-large Councilmembers might result in some areas not being well represented, and 2) on counting the students, such an action would be the inclusion of an undefined population.
  5. In March 1978, the City approved new voting districts based on number of registered voters [128 students had registered]. The Court approved the redistricting plan but also allowed the appeal to continue. The Court ruled in favor of the students in Oct. 1979, and the City’s redistricting plan was ruled in violation of the 14th On Sept. 9, 1980 the City approved and submitted two plans to the Court. The plans included the possibility of having four districts with two representatives from each, keeping the eight districts with one representative each, or redistrict on some other basis [Municipal Scene article]. In Jan. 1981, the City Council revised one of the two plans because of the associated costs and resubmitted Plan A to the Maryland State Courts. The Court approved the City plan based on the number of registered voters in May of 1981. The students filed an appeal of the registered voters redistricting plan to the Appeals Court on Jan. 7, 1982. The Appeals Court, on July 19, 1982, upheld the redistricting based on the number of registered voters. In Oct. 1982 the ACLU filed requesting the Supreme Court to review the seven-year old case. In January 1983, the Supreme Court declined to review the case. The City then canceled the voter books and began an aggressive registration program.
  6. In June 1983, a redistricting committee chaired by Raymond Galloway, submitted two plans to the Council and a public hearing was scheduled for July. There were a total of five plans under consideration by the Council – two from the redistricting committee and three submitted by others. After considerable discussion, a plan was adopted in August 1983. The major problem was dividing the City into districts of equal voter distribution, as compact as possible, and still maintaining neighborhoods and similar interests as much as possible. Students still wanted their own districts so they could elect someone from campus to represent them.
  7. In July 1983, the City Council approved lowering the age to run for Council from 25 to 21 thus enabling a larger pool of prospective candidates from the campus to run. This change was a referendum question on November 1983 election ballot.
  8. Another redistricting commission was approved in October 1988 and appointed in November 1988 for the purpose of providing a redistricting plan. The charge to the commission was to redistrict on the basis of voter registration. Their plans were presented to the City Council in March 1989, and a public hearing was scheduled for April. There were four plans presented: two from the Committee (“Red Plan” and “Blue Plan”) and two from a Councilmember. In June the “Blue Plan” was adopted. It was based on registered voters as of October 1988 and several other criteria. Questions arose concerning the 1982 court decision. A suit was filed against the City over the Blue redistricting plan in early fall 1989, and the City retained counsel to represent the interests of the City in this matter.
  9. A settlement was proposed with six points to be covered by the redistricting plan which the City Council approved in October 1990. There were four settlement documents in all to be considered and then the judge would approve the outcome. In December 1990, the Municipal Scene carried a notice stating that the City Council was considering a resolution to divide the City into four districts with two council members from each. The Student Government representative stated at the January 1991 meeting that “this proposal” seemed fine.
  10. In 1991, a redistricting committee began the process of dividing the City into four districts having two representatives each for the total of eight council members. The districts were to be based on voter registrations numbers and census figures. This change was due to a court settlement of a suit brought by Michael Smith, a UMD student. The plan had to be in effect by May 1, 1991. A report was submitted to the City at the end of March, and five plans were submitted for consideration. The City Council introduced three of the plans at their April 9 meeting and scheduled a special meeting for April 30, 1991 for the adoption of the new redistricting plan. Plan #4 was adopted.
  11. In October 1993, a City resident filed a complaint with the County Board of Elections alleging voter registration fraud in the upcoming election. The City Council discussed what action, if any, they should take to prevent any problems with the election. Several motions were proposed, and the City attorney was directed to attend the hearing and present to the court a proposed affidavit as a solution to the suspected voter fraud. While awaiting a decision from the Court on the injunction request, Council authorized the City Manager to have to the authority to “door drop” notices to all City residents if there were any change to the election to be held on November 2. The election was held without any interruption.
  12. In June 1995, as the result of a complaint lodged with Council about possible voter fraud, Council sent a letter to the U. S. Attorney in Baltimore requesting an investigation of the complaint and the County’s response.
  13. Charter Change – To provide for a more orderly redistricting procedure the Council initiated a charter change to provide for an automatic redistricting after receipt of the regular Bureau of Census population data following each national census. This charter change was introduced and passed in 2001.


Are Our Seniors getting the help They Need?

I have been in a quandary for months.  My neighbors, both about 80 and without children, need help.  A family friend and I have been volunteering our time to meet some of their needs.  We have mowed the lawn, weeded the flower gardens, taken care of the bills, made and accompanied them to their doctor appointments, helped them choose their Medicare advantage program as well appealed hospital bills and homeowners taxes.  After spending six hours in the emergency room with one of them yesterday, I realize it’s time for an intervention.  Today, I have made phone calls to gain some much needed knowledge and expertise as to next steps.

So, why am I writing this?  I guess for some help.  But also to say that despite the tax dollars spent  on senior services in our City, there is still is not enough assistance available to my neighbors or I to move them on to the next step.  I have asked and gotten an extremely limited response.  So now, I am asking you for your suggestions.

In addition, I am including a link to an informative monthly newsletter, Caregiver Connections, for seniors in our area. Included is information for those with dementia as well as their caregivers.  It is published on a monthly basis by the Maryland  Umbrella Group.  Check it out.

Click to access DFAi%20Caregiver%20Communicator%20August%202018edits.pdf


City Council Found in Violation of Open Meetings Act: All Council Members Should Take the Training

The Maryland Open Meetings Act (MOMA) is just what the name implies – a law that requires public bodies to conduct their business in public except for specific exceptions outlined in the Act when the body is allowed to meet in private.   There are rules for closing a meeting, statements that must be completed, reasons cited and the requirement that nothing outside of that allowed reason be discussed in closed session.   For instance, if the public body votes to  go into closed session to get a legal opinion, the public body can speak to the attorney and the attorney can respond but there can be NO discussion among the members of the public body in the closed session.

The elected body, read Mayor and Council, is supposed to be trained in the MOMA and take responsibility for conducting its meetings as per the law.  That is, as per MOMA, the responsibility of conducting the meeting according to the law cannot be left to the City attorney – the Act requires at least one member of the elected body to have taken the Open Meetings training.  The training is available online and its fairly simple to take – I did the training one afternoon and have a certificate attesting to that.

After the discovery last September that the earlier charter amendment requiring a super majority for charter amendments was likely illegal, many of us watched the Mayor and Council go into hiding.  An outside attorney was hired, multiple closed meetings were held, various drafts of revised charter language would show up (when were these discussed and drafted? drafting legislation in closed session is not permissible under MOMA), minutes referred to straw polls which we never saw happen in public and Next Steps were listed as having been discussed in the description of meetings that were closed to obtain a legal opinion.  Clearly a lot more was happening in closed session than appeared permissible by the MOMA.

What is the recourse for citizens when MOMA appears to be violated?   The Open Meetings Compliance Board (OMCB) is a 3-member independent entity appointed by the Governor.  If the OMCB receives a complaint against a public body, the OMCB will request a response from the public body and  issue a finding.  Opinions rendered by the OMCB are published on the website of the Office of the Attorney General.  They are advisory in that they bring no consequences with them.  The expectation is that if a public body is found in violation, the body will take steps to remedy this problem.

Mary Cook, Denise Mitchell and I combed through the minutes of the meetings, studied MOMA, talked to experts on the law and filed a complaint to the OMCB on April 16, 2018 with an addendum on April 23nd, 2018 alleging numerous violations of MOMA. The Mayor and Council responded by and through their attorneys on May 31, 2018.  Their response includes the closed minutes of the closed sessions that are not available to me.  The OMCB delivered its ruling on July 23rd, 2018.  The 8-page ruling found the Mayor and Council in violation on several counts and cleared the council on others.

The OMCB requires the public body, and it specifically says the public body and not its attorney, to make an oral statement in public at the first open meeting after the ruling is made.  That first open meeting is the work session to be held this evening.   We ask you to come to the work session and bear witness.  The OMCB also requires the pubic body to sign a copy of the ruling and return it to the OMCB.

There are several documents that went into our complaint, the Mayor and Council’s response, and the OMBC ruling.  All the material we submitted, the council responded with and the OMCB ruling are available here.  We will hold an open meeting to discuss our action and the response.


Do We Even NEED a Mayor?

If at first you don’t succeed, brow-beat the public into submission.

The Council will once again be voting whether to make the Mayor a member of the City’s “legislative body” on Tuesday, when they consider the adoption of 18-CR-02, the disappointing sequel to Charter Resolution 18-CR-01.

I find it astounding that Councilmember Rigg, the same person who expressed nothing but contempt for having to talk about this issue the last time it came before the Council, is the same person who introduced this latest set of proposed changes. Sometimes people surprise you, but in ways you hoped they wouldn’t. For a group of people who claim to have better things to do with their time, the Council sure has been spending a lot of energy on this (non-)issue.  Why?

Why does College Park even HAVE a Mayor?

The basic problem is that the City is not really a “Weak Mayor-Council” form of government, so much as it is a “Council-Manager” form, like Greenbelt. The difference between College Park and Greenbelt is that our Mayor is separately elected AS a Mayor. Greenbelt chooses their Mayor from amongst the elected Council members, meaning their Mayor is vested with the power of a Councilmember, before assuming the additional role of Mayor. It seems to work for them, and is not a terrible system.

In addition to a Council, College Park has a City Manager, meaning the Mayor really doesn’t have a lot to do.  College Park’s Mayor isn’t busy directing staff, or interviewing new employees, or getting to the bottom of why trash truck #3 is making a rattling noise, and signing repair orders. We have someone to do that. The Mayor’s role in College Park is more akin to that of an ambassador, a central figure that can make the rounds at schools and conferences, and serve as something of a lightning rod to the press. In essence, his job is promotion of the City.  And there is no reason to make a person who is not an elected Councilmember a member of the Council.

There should be no need for the Mayor’s role to be expanded. We already have people to do these things.  While we’re at it, maybe we should be pondering whether having a Mayor is necessary, at all.


College Park: Why do you love it?

I often wonder why people move to College Park.  My husband and I had been looking for a starter home at an affordable price.  We found it in the Cherry Hill neighborhood just across from the College Park Marketplace.  We moved into our new home in 2001 — just three months before the tornado hit.  After nearly 10 years in our little home, we decided to upgrade to our current home just around the corner.

Why do we love College Park.  One reason is the wildlife!  The day I took this photo a groundhog also visited; the fawn and groundhog dined on clover and blackberries in our expansive backyard, known to our friends as the “Back 40”.

Share with us why you love College Park.