U.Md. students rally against proposed townhouse development in wooded area

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Some of the 300 students who gathered Friday on the University of Maryland campus to protest a proposed development project on a nearby wooded area. (Maryland Matters/Josh Kurtz)

More than 300 University of Maryland students and residents from nearby neighborhoods gathered on the campus late Friday afternoon to register their full-throated opposition to a proposed townhouse development in a wooded area near the College Park campus.

The Save Guilford Woods rally targeted a plan to turn university-owned land over to a private developer in order to build housing for 300 graduate students — and 81 market-rate townhouses.

University officials have cast the proposal as a chance to begin to meet the campus’ desperate need for graduate student housing. But community leaders, students, environmentalists, and local politicians are increasingly casting the plan as a bad idea that is anathema to the university’s mission to combat climate change. Among other concerns, they say it would exacerbate the heat islands that already exist on the College Park campus.

They also describe the 10-acre wooded area as an important hub for wildlife and biodiversity in a neighborhood that is becoming increasingly congested. The proposed development area represents about 28% of the remaining woods abutting the UMD campus.

The protesters gathered on the steps of Theodore McKeldin Library and heard from an array of activists. The first speaker, Jan-Michael Archer, a doctoral student and co-chair of the campus environmental justice group 17 For Peace and Justice, reminded the crowd that the College Park campus was built on Native American land.

“We can’t have a conversation about the University of Maryland and land use without remembering that the University of Maryland campus occupies the stolen lands of the Piscataway people, the Indigenous people,” he said.

Archer also said the campus community is being offered a false choice by university officials. “We should not be asked to choose between graduate student housing and the environment,” he said. “We want both.”

Another speaker, senior computer science and biology student Vera Gonzalez, took issue with University of Maryland President Darryl Pines’ recent assertion that opponents of the townhouse development weren’t using science to buttress their arguments. But Gonzalez quoted several scientific journals that warned about the environmental consequences of clearing forestland.

“We have not scratched the surface of the true biodiversity contained in these woods,” she said.

State Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s), whose district abuts the campus, said he isn’t inherently opposed to development projects that enhance the university’s mission. But he said this was the wrong one.

“I think we have to criticize the privatizing of our public universities,” Pinsky said, to loud cheers.

Student organizers later read a letter signed by the House members from District 21 who represent the campus — Dels. Mary Lehman (D), Benjamin Barnes (D) and Joseline Peña-Melnyk — opposing the project, and said that Del. Alonzo T. Washington (D-Prince George’s) recently sent a similar letter to Pines.

Students marched down McKeldin Mall at the University of Maryland on Friday. (Maryland Matters/Josh Kurtz)

The protesters marched from the library to the other end of McKeldin Mall, where they gathered again on the steps of the Thomas V. Miller Jr. Administration Building and heard more speeches. Several carried signs opposing the project, some with clever phrases like “Trees Against Pines,” “Stop the Chop” and “We Be-Leaf in Guilford Woods.”

According to rally organizers, more than 2,300 students, faculty members and neighborhood residents have signed petitions opposing the proposed project, and University of Maryland faculty and staff have launched their own petition calling on the university to build graduate student housing as environmentally responsible infill redevelopment projects.

They are also focusing on attempting to persuade the Board of Public Works — consisting of the governor, state comptroller, and state treasurer — to reject the proposed land sale.

University officials could not be immediately reached for comment on the protest.

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