IMPORTANT UPDATE – October 28, 2021
On October 28, 2021, after many months of tireless efforts by UMD students, faculty members, staff, local residents and others to save Guilford Woods, President Darryll Pines announced that the University of Maryland “will pause current planning on the Western Gateway development.” This is incredible news because it means that the planned deforestation of Guilford Woods is now on hold. However, there is still much work to be done to ensure that Guilford Woods and Guilford Run are permanently protected. So while we thank President Pines for this great decision and celebrate the news with tremendous relief, our efforts continue!
*** CLICK HERE TO SIGN THE LETTER to University of Maryland President Darryll Pines ***
Dear President Pines,
We, the undersigned, are writing to urge you to protect a significant tract of forested public land adjacent to the University of Maryland campus that is currently threatened by a proposed development. This proposal, the “Western Gateway” project, would involve selling nearly 10 acres of state-owned forested land (Guilford Woods, including the headwaters of Guilford Run) to be largely deforested for the construction of more than 80 townhomes and some graduate student housing. There is a clear need for affordable graduate housing convenient to campus – but such housing should be developed in an environmentally sustainable way.
There are very significant environmental, fiscal, and other concerns with the proposed project. Given these serious problems, we urge you to:
(1) pursue alternative options for affordable graduate student housing that are environmentally and fiscally responsible and that do not include selling public land to a private developer
(2) withdraw the University from negotiations with the Gilbane Development Company for their proposed “Western Gateway” project and reject the sale of forested public land for this project
(3) protect this forested public land (Guilford Woods) as a nature preserve for public use
This development project was designed and proposed by Gilbane and would provide them with great financial benefits. However, these benefits for the private developer would come at the expense of the environment, the University community, surrounding residential communities, and Maryland citizens and taxpayers.
There is broad support for affordable graduate housing and transit-accessible housing in the region, but there are numerous concerns about the current plans for development at this environmentally sensitive site. There are far more appropriate locations for the proposed housing and this site is far more valuable in its natural state.
The proposed project is starkly inconsistent with fundamental principles of sustainable and responsible development and fiscal responsibility. This is not smart growth. Specifically:
- This project would destroy a large portion of a publicly owned forest that is part of the designated Prince Georges County Green Infrastructure Network. This environmental destruction cannot be justified: there are far superior alternative locations for construction of graduate housing on redeveloped sites around campus, and there are many other sites available for transit-oriented private development.
- This project would eliminate the use of this natural area as a campus living laboratory for teaching and research and as a place for members of the campus and surrounding communities to engage with nature, fostering mental-well being. Natural areas on or adjacent to campus are already extremely scarce.
- This project would seriously challenge the University’s stated goals for expanding the campus tree canopy. It would eliminate on the order of a thousand trees of substantial size, including some very large individuals dating back to the Reconstruction era. This forest is an extreme rarity in the campus vicinity after decades of campus expansion.
- This project would dramatically increase impervious surface in an area already prone to severe flooding. Flooding of downstream communities is increasing in severity and frequency, and has been exacerbated by the many acres of impervious surface associated with the UMD campus. Residents of downstream communities impacted by floodwaters are increasingly critical of the University with regard to its poor stormwater management.
- This land deal would involve quietly selling off nearly 10 acres of forested public land for a tiny fraction of true market value. This transaction would prioritize the profits of a private developer over the best interests of the citizens and taxpayers of Maryland.
A better vision is possible:
- Protect Guilford Woods and establish it as a nature preserve. This would preserve extensive tree canopy, scarce wildlife habitat, and an important green corridor. Preserving these woods and the headwaters of Guilford Run would keep intact many acres of water-absorbing trees and soils as important elements of stormwater management in the area, to the benefit of downstream communities. Adjacent to both the UMD campus and several residential neighborhoods, Guilford Woods provides many opportunities for education, research, engaging with nature (with all its demonstrated mental health benefits), and environmental stewardship activities. This preserve could be named to highlight important persons or values associated with the University or the State of Maryland.
- Develop affordable graduate housing at a more appropriate location on or near campus. A number of possible alternative sites are available that could be developed without deforestation of an environmentally sensitive area. These alternative sites would also be convenient to shopping, restaurants, and public transit, as well as natural areas for recreation.
The above bullet points provide a brief overview of the major failings of the proposed project, as well as better visions for this precious parcel of land – visions that consider long-term benefits, not just short-term gains and profits. Much more information can be found at:
Save Guilford Woods: https://saveguilfordwoods.wordpress.com/
- This site describes major concerns and better visions, including some alternative sites for graduate student housing
Friends of Guilford Woods: https://friendsofguilfordwoods.weebly.com/
- This site provides more information about Guilford Woods and Guilford Run
Smart development involves building the right project in the right place. Where and how development happens matters. The University’s reputation and credibility with respect to its professed commitments to environmentally sustainable and fiscally responsible practices would be severely tarnished if it pursues this ill-conceived development plan.
As the new president of the University of Maryland, you have brought inspiring and much needed focus to tackling the big problems we face today, both within the University of Maryland community and in the broader world, with honest reflection and critical analysis. Across your career, you have clearly heeded the exhortation to “let your life speak” and the same should apply to the institution you now lead: its actions should match its values.
The grand challenges our world faces today cannot be met with the tools of yesterday. The University faces a clear choice in its quest for affordable, conveniently located graduate student housing: pursuing a dated, developer-driven approach, which prioritizes the best interests of a private development corporation over those of the University community and the people of Maryland – or seizing this opportunity to show true environmental leadership, creativity, and a commitment to the greater good worthy of Maryland’s flagship University.
We would welcome the opportunity for a small group of us to meet with you to discuss this issue further.
[sign the letter by clicking the link at the top of this page]