Students to meet with UM officials over East Campus debate
School, critics clash over plan to bulldoze nine acres
Administration officials at the University of Maryland, College Park will meet Wednesday with students concerning the school's controversial plan to remove nine acres of on-campus forest to make room for its East Campus project.
The university is scheduled to level nine acres of a 22-acre wooded hillock behind Comcast Center to clear space for mailing and vehicle maintenance facilities that will be displaced by the $900 million project, which will bring housing and retail shops to the area on Route 1, across from the campus' main entrance.
Students, faculty and environmental groups have criticized the move, calling it contradictory to the university's environmentally-friendly image. On Friday, about 25 students and faculty picketed an on-campus ceremony honoring the school as an arboretum and botanical garden.
"The university's really being two-faced," said Phil Hannam, a 22-year-old senior at the school. "Making a statement like that publicly but then in our own backyard chopping down one of the last remaining spots of forest on campus."
Three of the students who led the protest, Davey Rogner, Joanna Calabrese and Hannam, two days earlier declined to attend a May 6 meeting with Ann Wylie, the university's vice president of administrative affairs. The three said they sent her a letter on May 1 voicing their concerns but received no reply.
"We wanted to get a response from them before we went," said Calabrese, 21, senior vice president of the school's Student Government Association.
University officials defended the plan, saying they appointed a committee that carefully considered 12 sites from 2005 to 2007 before choosing the hillock, which they said offered the best combination of cost, proximity to campus, low visibility and minimal environmental impact.
"What we have done is try to balance a number of very difficult issues and come up with an optimum solution," said Frank Brewer, the school's associate vice president of facilities management.
Some critics argued that the university made its decision with little to no student or faculty input and should re-open the selection process, which they believe was incomplete and too heavily driven by cost.
"I think they need to find an alternative to that site ... my suggestion is they find a parking lot on which to build those facilities," said Jack Sullivan, a professor of landscape architecture at the university who attended the May 6 meeting and Friday's protest.
When Rogner and Calabrese spoke before the College Park City Council April 28, they proposed a series of compromises that the university could make if it chooses to proceed in bulldozing the hillock. These included restoring 18 acres of forest elsewhere in Prince George's County, improving water quality in on-campus creeks and protecting the remaining 13 acres of wooded hillock.
Wylie said that while she is "doubtful" that a new site will ultimately be selected, she is still inviting the plan's critics to offer alternate solutions.
"I'm not going to close the door," Wylie said. "They have to find something this committee did not find."
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