By Meg Oates
A year ago, my street flooded. Today, the University of Maryland’s (UMD) proposed Western Gateway project threatens to make future flooding even worse. UMD President Darryll Pines has an opportunity to change that by relocating planned graduate housing and preserving Guilford Woods.
The university and Gilbane Development plan to remove approximately 1,000 trees, on what is currently publicly owned land, in order to build 81 private town houses and some graduate housing. I live one mile from the proposed development, but more importantly, I live downstream from Guilford Woods. The woods provide headwaters for Guilford Run, buffer storms, and support biodiversity. With porous soils and water-absorbing trees and vegetation, Guilford Woods provides important stormwater flood protection for my neighborhood. This is even more important as climate change promises more intense rain events. Without the woods, flooding will get worse.
While Western Gateway is bad news for residents, it’s no good for the University either. Over 400 University of Maryland faculty and staff who oppose the project have already signed a letter (available at tinyurl.com/7fbh8jx9) that elaborates on why this development is so problematic. The project would deforest 9 acres of woods — 28% of the remaining forest on campus. Yet only a fraction of that land would be for graduate housing. Meanwhile, tearing down a forest takes away teaching and field research opportunities, and backtracks on the university’s climate and sustainability goals.
Fortunately, there are smarter choices. Lot 1, Leonardtown and Graduate Hills all offer opportunities to reduce existing stormwater runoff while providing graduate student housing close to campus and transit. Unfortunately, little consideration has been given to redeveloping these locations before proceeding with the Western Gateway project. The university can build graduate student housing and simultaneously live up to its commitments to sustainability by protecting Guildford Woods. But doing so will require strong leadership from President Pines and a willingness to do what is hard rather than what is easy.