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New proposal to repurpose University of Maryland golf course being considered

Five years after plans were scrapped to build an academic village and a mixed-use commercial development on the site of the University of Maryland golf course, school officials are now considering repurposing four of its holes to help quell the campus' growing space crunch.

The initial proposal includes constructing a track and field complex on the 18th hole, a 600-space surface parking lot on the ninth hole and five football-length intramural fields on holes 1 and 10.

“It’s very much a work in progress,” Carlo Colella, the university’s vice president for administration and finance, said Friday.

The details of the proposal were discussed at a meeting earlier this week inside the course’s clubhouse. Colella said there will be further discussions and potential fine-tuning before the the proposal is presented to the university’s facilities council sometime this fall.

If accepted, it will go to university president Wallace D. Loh for a final decision.

But there is a long way to go before that happens, Colella warned. Loh was unavailable for comment.

“This is not even a concept design. It’s really to test out what can fit in different locations,” Colella said.

After looking at more than a dozen sites, the majority of which were on the main part of campus, Colella was part of a group of administrators who were asked to look at other locations, including the golf course.

“When we were looking at meeting the programatic needs of track and field and rec fields, most of of sites were very limited in what they can do,” Colella said. ”When we explored the golf course … it offered the opportunity to be able to address more of the rec field shortage that we already have as well as parking losses that we have experienced in recent years for important new academic projects and public transportation projects.”

Opponents to the proposal question the need to build on on one of the few remaining expanses of green space on the campus.

“It’s unreasonable,” said Norman Starkey, the chairman of the Maryland Golf Course Coalition and a former president of the Friends of the Golf Course booster group. “Why do they need to put a track, five fields and parking at the same location?”

With the course being certified as one of 19 in Maryland that meet Audubon International’s criteria for a cooperative sanctuary for golf, Starkey said: “It’s a golf course issue, but it’s also a heavy, heavy environmental issue. It’s a community issue. ... Once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

Starkey said financial support for a reconfigured 18-hole course or eventually a nine-hole course would dwindle dramatically.

According to Starkey, roughly $1.5 million has been raised by Friends of the Golf Course since the booster group was established in 2005. The money is used for the upkeep and improvements of a course that has been ranked among the top 30 college venues in the country.

“That’s fairly impressive for a university course,” Starkey said of the donations.

The course underwent a major renovation in 2008 and 2009, and is used for more than 35,000 rounds a year. The Maryland state high school championships are played there, and the course also hosted to a Nationwide Tour event in 2010 and 2011. Ironically, the school’s golf teams don’t play tournaments at the course.

Starkey called this current battle to keep the golf course unscathed “Round 2.” But winning this round might prove to be more problematic than coming out victorious in “Round 1” given that the group might not have enough time or gain enough support to do so.

In 2013, Owings Mills-based mixed-use developer Greenberg Gibbons proposed plans to build an access road from Interstate 95/495 into the west side of campus onto the golf course, which would have also been used for an academic village as well as big-box stores and condominiums.

“It would have destroyed the property,” said Starkey, 68, who has played the course since moving from Indiana to an apartment on nearby Adelphi Road when he was a child.

After learning of the 2013 proposal, Starkey formed a group to help fight those plans that were strongly supported by Loh. With the involvement of United States Congressman Steny Hoyer and other local politicians, the proposal was eventually withdrawn.

“We worked basically for four months pretty hard,” Starkey recalled Thursday. “We have a short timer to fight this one."

One of the local politicians who argued vehemently against the proposal five years ago will be more apt to seek a compromise this time.

Maryland State Senator Paul Pinsky, whose District 22 is just south of College Park, said this proposal is a lot more palatable since it does not involve constructing a connector to the interstate or using green space for a commercial property.

As the chairman for the Senate Education, Health and Environment committee, Pinsky is still concerned about taking away green space, but when briefed recently on the current proposal, he had a far different reaction.

“It didn’t offend me,” he said. “I don’t put it on the exact par as what transpired five years ago.”

Pinsky is still conflicted because part of the current issue has to do with the completion of the Maryland Transportation Administration’s Purple Line on the Washington Metro, which would take away some of the land used for field events such as the shot put as well some parking spaces.

“I was one of the first people in the county and the state to advocate for the Purple Line,” Pinsky said. “It’s finally happened. … If the Purple Line cuts into some of the parking spaces or cuts into part of the track, I helped create part of that [plan]. I feel somewhat responsible for that.”

Pinsky said he has proposed building one fewer intramural field or using two holes rather than four, while shortening the others to keep it as an 18-hole course.

Colella said he is open to discussing how to maintain the integrity of the course, but added: “The track and field facility itself and bleachers and some associated parking, that’s a substantial amount of acreage that goes with that. Even a few rec fields requires a significant amount of acreage. … I’m not sure we can address the programatic goals with just two holes. We’re very early in this process and we have to see what can fit before advancing further.”

Said Pinsky: “I would like to see it be a win-win situation. I would like to preserve as much [of the course] as possible, but to blow off the university's other needs, I think that’s unfair, too. … If I was going to a public meeting, the first question I would ask is, ‘OK, you’re taking four [holes] now, what’s going to give me confidence that you’re not going to take another four in a few years?’ I think they are fair questions.”

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