Residents concerned redistricting will separate core neighborhoods
By Will Beltran
The College Park City Council’s ongoing redistricting debate continued at city hall on Sept. 27, with residents and councilmembers questioning the Redistricting Commission about their proposals.
The commission proposed five maps, each of which would separate the four core District 3 neighborhoods: Old Town, Calvert Hills, College Park Estates and Yarrow. The proposed maps would remove College Park Estates and Yarrow from District 3, and two of them would also remove Old Town from the district, as well.
District 3 resident Kathy Bryant has attended multiple redistricting meetings. She said she is concerned with the possibility of her district being broken up.
“[The commission] kept saying ‘we follow the numbers,’ but it’s disregarding long term neighborhood connections that I feel are very important,” she said.
A consultant hired by the commission created 12 additional maps, two of which would move College Park Estates and Yarrow out of District 3 and into District 2. The commission did not include these maps in their initial presentation and made them available only after receiving requests from the public that they do so.
Bryant, who is president of the Old Town Civic Association, said she heard complaints from numerous residents about the commission’s ignoring the consultant’s maps.
“Everybody’s saying the consultant maps matched more with what exists and preserve the core that already exists,” said Bryant. “So we feel kind of like the commission is disregarding that whole scenario.”
Councilmember Fazlul Kabir (District 1) said that similar issues exist in District 1, which has three core neighborhoods: Hollywood, Oak Springs and Daniels Park. The commission is also proposing that to split these neighborhoods. Kabir said that it is important to keep the district intact.
“People don’t really differentiate between the boundaries of these neighborhoods; they all think as one cohesive community,” Kabir said. “I cannot stress enough to keep these three neighborhoods together.”
When tasking the commission with redistricting, the city council advised the commission to consider the “preservation of the core of existing council districts.” Residents who question and even oppose the commission’s work are not satisfied that commission members upheld this sentiment while apportioning the districts.
Jordan Dewar, vice-chair of the Redistricting Commission, said the consultant’s maps divided individual neighborhoods more than the commission’s maps did. Dewar said the commission decided to separate clusters of neighborhoods while keeping each individual neighborhood intact. The commission believes this is a superior alternative to separating residents from other residents within the same neighborhood..
“We ended up going with the proposals that would keep neighborhoods themselves united,” he said.
Robert Day, chair of the Redistricting Commission, said this approach is best for College Park.
“We had to look at this not only from our district view but from the city view as a whole,” he said.
Day served as a District 3 councilmember for five terms, from 2011 to 2021. He said this is his third time being involved in College Park redistricting. (Editor’snote: One does not have to serve on the council to participate in redistricting.)
The national census takes place every 10 years, and based on results, governments at all levels are required by federal law to draw new districts to better represent the population. While this process would ideally create districts throughout the country with equal headcounts, it is extremely difficult to obtain this balance. As a compromise, redistricting must result in a headcount within 5%, plus or minus, of the target number.
College Park’s high student population impacts redistricting: Students are counted as residents, even though they are far less likely to vote in city elections. This makes districts with high student populations have lower voter turnout.
College Park adds census data with voter turnout to get a criterion number.The criterion number is used to apportion districts to create more even voter turnout per district.
Streetcar Suburbs boardmember Stephanie Stullich said student housing developments in specific neighborhoods have changed College Park’s population distribution since the last census. Stullich, a District 3 councilmember from 2007 to 2017, said this further complicates redistricting in the city compared to previous processes.
The council continued the redistricting debate without the commission on Oct. 5 at city hall. Each councilmember shared their concerns for their respective district, giving recommendations for new map proposals.
Councilmembers from Districts 1 and 3 again emphasized the importance of keeping their core neighborhoods intact. Councilmember Stuart Adams (District 3) said residents want to preserve core neighborhoods.
Councilmembers Denise C. Mitchell (District 4) and Susan L. Whitney (District 2) both recognized that their districts are less negatively impacted by the commission’s proposals and that they are willing to work with the other districts. However, Mitchell said that keeping core neighborhoods together would create an imbalance to Districts 2 and 4.
“District 4 will be a team player; we will pivot, we will educate, we will work,” Mitchell said.
The city council will ultimately choose which redistricting proposal to implement and will meet again before making a decision.