CLARIFICATION: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story referred to real estate developer Brian Gibbons’ plan as “transit-oriented.” It specifically targets car drivers, not general transit.
Although little headway has been made in a proposed redevelopment of the university golf course, officials and a local developer are receiving strong backlash from opponents.
University alumnus and real estate developer Brian Gibbons has yet to present a formal proposal for his concept of an academic village and new entrance to the campus at the current location of the university golf course. But the concept is already stirring up debate among city officials and the College Park community.
In a letter sent to Gibbons last week, 16 state, county and city lawmakers urged him to withdraw his proposal to develop the car-oriented shopping center on the site of the campus golf course. Letter-signers included College Park’s County Councilman Eric Olson, Sen. Jim Rosapepe (D-Anne Arundel and Prince George’s) and College Park Mayor Andy Fellows.
The letter outlined their various concerns, from the concept’s violation of “smart growth” principles to its diversion from the proposed East Campus and College Park Metro Station area developments.
“A smart growth development must utilize a compact building design, create walkable neighborhoods, preserve open space, strengthen existing developments, utilize a variety of transportation choices, and encourage community and stakeholder collaboration in development decisions,” the lawmakers wrote. “This proposed development fails each of these criteria.”
The golf course reopened in 2009 after a $3.5 million upgrade, which the local council members, senators and delegates also stated in their letter to Gibbons.
University President Wallace Loh met with eight of the 10 Maryland Golf Course Coalition members Thursday to discuss their concerns about the plan’s potential damage to the university’s golf course.
Norman Starkey, chair of the Maryland Golf Course Coalition, said he was happy to hear that Loh plans to maintain an open dialogue with concerned parties if real estate developer Greenberg Gibbons submits a formal proposal for the concept.
Loh said the developer’s idea is to build an “academic village” on part of the university’s golf course with a connector road to the Beltway/I-95 interchange to relieve the increasing traffic congestion on Route 1.
“When a respected alumnus and developer comes to the university with what appears to be an interesting — though very preliminary — idea, it’s my responsibility as president to listen,” Loh said. “Many individuals and organizations come unsolicited to the University of Maryland with ideas for major projects. I try to keep an open door and an open mind to all ideas and viewpoints.”
Until he receives a detailed work plan and timeline for the golf course redevelopment, Loh said, he could not predict what the future of the golf course and west campus will be. Once a proposal is submitted, there could be months of negotiation between the university and the developer.
Starkey said there should be great consideration with Gibbons’ concept because it would involve damaging one of only 14 certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuaries in the state of Maryland. The university’s golf course has met all six qualifications for this title for the past 10 years, and it is the only one such site in Prince George’s County.
Gillian Pommerhen, a spokeswoman for Greenberg Gibbons, told The Washington Post in a written statement that the company was surprised to receive the letter requesting it withdraw a proposal it hadn’t even released.
Gibbons could not be reached for comment, but he previously told The Washington Post he plans to invest about $100 million and use roughly 50 of the course’s 150 acres.
For those opposed to the development, the issues involve more than the potential loss of green space, Starkey said.
The golf course hosts about 60 to 70 fundraising events each year — half of which directly support the university’s various colleges and athletic teams, he said.
Students, faculty, alumni and even Washington and Virginia residents play about 35,000 rounds of golf there each year, Starkey said. It also provides opportunities for prospective students to see the university.
“The Maryland state high school championships for men and women are played every year here on the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of the last week in October,” Starkey said. “The point is, that is the first time a lot of high school students are exposed to the University of Maryland.”
Alex Hoffman, a redshirt freshman on the Terrapins men’s golf team, said it would be awful to see the golf course affected by this sort of development.
“The on-campus golf course is why I transferred here from Memphis,” he said. “Not to mention the course is in the best condition I’ve ever seen it in.”