Housing Forum in Review

Over 50 people came out to the housing forum tonight including students, several major area developers as well as city and university officials. Topics covered ranged from safety and housing types to parking availability and rental prices. We’ll be posting a full summary of the discussions just as soon as we can put it all together. Thanks to the SGA and GSG – without their support the event would not have been possible. A special thanks to all the developers who took the time to come out and listen to student suggestions – your participation was very encouraging.

~Rethink College Park Staff

Housing Event Monday at 5:30 p.m. in the Union

Just a reminder that our ‘Community Housing Forum’ is taking place tomorrow in the SSU Atrium at 5:30pm. It’s the first of many events that we are sponsoring to bring College Park development discussions offline.

Hope to see you there!

~ Rethink College Park Staff

The following people have RSVPed to attend:

Developers:
Dave Esch and Allan Beall (Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Partnership)
Janet Firth (Knox Box Realty LLC)
Sam Moore (Walnut Street Development)
Jeff Kayce (Bozzuto Development)
Joshua Olsen and Asheel Shah (Monument Realty)
Robert Keane (representing American Campus Communities)
Thomas Gallas and Mark Bombaugh (Torti Gallas and Partners)
Otis Warren and Steve McBride (Otis Warren & Company)

City Government:
Councilmen – Robert Caitlin
Councilmen – Andy Fellows
City Planning – Director Terry Schum

University officials:
Frank Brewer – Associate Vice President of Facilities Management

Student Government:
Laura Moore (GSG President)
Emma Simson (SGA President)
Jesse Blitzstein (City-University liaison)

Housing Forum Monday

Housing Forum FlyerJust as a friendly reminder, the first event co-sponsored by Rethink College Park is planned for Monday, a forum with local developers and university officials regarding housing. Representatives from at least seven development companies looking to invest in our community will attend and all we can say is the list is quite interesting indeed. See you there!

What: College Park Housing Forum
Where: Atrium, Stamp Student Union
When: Monday, October 30, 5:30 p.m.

RSVP on the Facebook

Purple Line Route Stymies Politicians

What’s one thing Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Benjamin Cardin and his Republican opponent Michael S. Steele have in common? Although they have said they support it, neither seem to know where the Purple Line would go. During their televised debate this week Steele caught Cardin off guard with a question about the location of the Purple Line. According to the Post’s account, “After starting to hazard a guess, sputtering out ‘Chevy Chase,’ Cardin snapped, ‘I’m not going to answer your question,’ and pushed back at Steele, asking him about national health insurance.” Yikes. The next day Steele did little better to prove he understood the project, directing reporters to meet him at the Grosvenor-Strathmore Metro Station. The only problem? The terminus now planned is four miles away — in downtown Bethesda. The exchange is on YouTube, thanks to the Cardin campaign: [via JUTP via MoCoPolitics]

Detailed descriptions of the currently planned route is available on the official state website on the Corridor Route and Community Focus Group sections. (The route runs from New Carrollton to Bethesda via College Park, Langley Park, and Silver Spring.) Of course, we have our own Google Map of the route through College Park along with additional background information on our Purple Line Library Page. We think both candidates need to read up, and be reminded that saying they support the project is far from the kind of aggressive support it needs.

Green NOAA Building Coming to M-Square

noaa-building.jpg

College Park isn’t just bursting with new residential development – M-Square (our explanation), the university’s office park, will welcome a 280,000 square foot building that will house the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) new Center for Climate and Weather Prediction. This 50 million dollar center by developer Opus East broke ground in more ways than one last May – it will be the first ‘green’ building in the M-Square development. The project includes a green roof that will help insulate the building and help reduce storm water runoff and an onsite waterfall supplied by collected rainwater. The green roof will also help protect the roof surface – reducing maintenance costs in the future. Over 600 people will work at the center when it is completed.

Besides the visible sustainable aspects, the building will have enough “invisible” sustainable aspects to attain a LEED silver rating. This rating is determined by the U.S. Green Building Council, a leader in sustainable building practices. The new NOAA building will use less water, less energy, and be more comfortable for its employees than most modern buildings. As Senator Barbara Mikulski put it, this is a “world class work environment.”

The Diamondback recently did an excellent piece on the M-Square office park, outlining concerns that the city had about how car oriented the development was shaping to be. “If most people coming to the office arrive by cars, it defeats the purpose of the transit system,” said Councilman Andy Fellows. The new NOAA building is not exempt from this criticism, as it incorporates a large onsite garage. Hopefully future development in M-Square take better advantage of the proximity to public transportation.

University View Overlooked?

Finished University View

Maybe the most reviled building in College Park, the University View has been the subject of much criticism ever since its doors opened last fall. Indeed the building is a bit overwhelming, but the benefits of putting 1,100 students right at the university’s front gate are hard to ignore. Also, the complex actually hasn’t been completed yet. Original plans called for a 177,000 square foot office building immediately in front of the View’s Parking garage – aptly named the “University View Overlook”. Since the lot is zoned “mixed use” and falls under the Route One Sector plan, the planned building will come directly up to the sidewalk and include 5,000 square feet of retail on the ground floor.

College Park Planning Director, Terry Schum, told us that there is no timing requirement for building the office complex and since the developer no longer has the university as a potential tenant (they were originally going to lease the space) the project is currently in limbo. And there is always that pesky #1 liquor store…
Preliminary rendering of the View complex The View

Route 1 Pragmatism

Route 1 PoliticsLast night, the College Park City Council recommended to prioritize the Route 1 reconstruction segment closest to the university – between College Ave and 193 (estimated cost: $38 million). The project, once it’s eventually funded by the State Highway Administration (SHA), will create a tree-lined road median, wide bike lanes on each side of the roadway, and safer pedestrian facilities.

The city had recently made the decision to break the estimated $110 million road reconstruction into 3 segments to make the price tag easier for the SHA to swallow. We applaud last night’s recommendation since the segment closest to the university is the one in most need of improvements – especially given the continuous flow of new developments near the University View and north of the University’s North Gate (including 2 large condo buildings, an office building, and a hotel) and of course the East Campus Development Initiative.

Looking For Your Ideas

As deadlines quickly approach for developers to submit their proposals for East Campus to the university, we’re working on a list of points that we think are essential to the success of the project. Please use the comment function on this post to generate discussion and ideas. We’ll be posting a preliminary list of everyone’s ideas this Thursday and our final recommendations will be sent to developers and university officials as they make major decisions about the project.

East Campus is considered the “single largest private development opportunity on Route 1” and is expected to catalyze the kind of urban development College Park has been lacking for years.

What do you think???

East Campus 1999 Arch Studio

Piecing together the Knox Box Puzzle

Knox Box  Ownership
Image courtesy of the DiamondbackKnox BoxesThe Diamondback reported today on the continued ownership consolidation of the Knox Boxes just south of campus. A quick search through Maryland’s Real Property database (complete with purchase prices) reveals that Knox Village Partners LLC and Knox Box Realty LLC have acquired over half of 52 dilapidated units in just one year. The Diamondback traced these two companies to one owner, Janet Firth, who stated her intention is only to provide “high quality student housing” by renovating the existing buildings. She cited thousands of dollars in renovations to the buildings as proof of this, but failed to mention that much of that money went towards meeting city fire codes (indeed student David Ellis died in a fire on one of her properties last year).

The Knox Box Area is a slum, plain and simple, and it will be redeveloped. It’s zoned for mixed use and will likely become very high density student housing. We’ll be following this important area closely over the coming months and bringing you schematics of proposed buildings that an architecture masters student has been working on for his thesis.

Update:

We would like to point out two oversights of this post. The first, and most important, is that we mentioned the death of David Ellis without mentioning that in his case, even the existing fire codes would not have saved his life.  The fire did, however, lead to stricter fire code enforcement in College Park and exposed flaws in the system which are still being addressed today (at Santa Fe, for instance).

Furthermore, it should be noted that Mrs. Firth led the way in retrofitting all her basement Knox Boxes with larger windows and housed her tenants in a local hotel during the retrofit. Though Mrs. Firth was Mr. Ellis’s landlord, we did not mean to suggest that Mrs. Firth was a negligent landlord.

Second, we are very excited about the potential redevelopment of this area and see the continued consolidation of these properties as a positive step toward that end.  We are glad to see a local developer taking charge to build what will come to benefit everyone.

Car-sharing, the Third Way

At September’s East Campus forum, we reiterated that the campus and surrounding road network could not possibly handle the traffic if yet more students brought their cars. The administrators nodded with approval, but then we noted that the incentives to bringing a car to campus are indeed very strong as there are no grocery stores within walking distance. No, this is not the consequence of a suburban location, as one can easily live without a car in downtown Bethesda or Silver Spring.

Enter Flexcar. Years after the car-sharing service came to Washington, we at the university finally got a taste of its convenience on campus. Though the $9/hour rental rate may seem steep, it’s actually quite sensible to the occasional driver considering the following benefits:

  • There are no mileage limitations.
  • Flexcar pays for gas.
  • Membership includes insurance.
  • One needn’t bother with buying a parking permit.
  • It’s the Flexcar, not the student’s private vehicle, that is subject to P.G.’s astronomical car theft rate.

Although it’s somewhat taboo in America’s rental car industry to rent to any driver under 25 (and absolutely taboo to rent to any driver under 21), Flexcar is even willing to rent to adults under 21, so long as they meet several requirements and pay a refundable $250 deposit. (Adults 21 and older need not pay a deposit.)

On the occasions we’ve used Flexcar, we were very pleased and the only problems we’ve faced were during booking last-minute trips in the afternoon, when it often seems that every car on campus is taken for several hours straight. We’d like to see more Flexcars on campus and perhaps the university could use a tiny fraction of the parking fine revenues to sweeten the deal for the Seattle-based Flexcar. After all, it’s the university, and not Flexcar, that has the stronger interest in improving the quality of campus life.

The District, by the way, uses specially-painted parking spaces and stylish signs (above) to increase public awareness of its car-sharing programs.