Shopping for low-lying fruit

The university is carefully devising plans for the East Campus development project and intends for this new development to rectify some of the most urgent problems detrimental to campus life. Among these problems is the fact that there is not a single grocery store within walking distance of the campus. Rather than waiting years for the East Campus plan to come to fruition, we’re sure the university could knock this off its to-do list quickly by leasing existing, underused floor space to a grocer. Enter, Pocomoke Building.

The Pocomoke Building is a stately neo-Georgian building located next-door to the Maryland Book Exchange on Route 1 downtown. Right now it houses maintenance garages, expansive storage rooms and spare offices. We recommend the university partner with a grocer to renovate part of the building to turn the first floor into a supermarket.

This partnership between the university and a private grocer would be mutually beneficial. The university would enhance the quality of life for the car-less population thus quickly ameliorating some of the usual student grievances (e.g. nothing to do, no way to shop, etc.). It would also remove one of the strongest incentives students have to bring their cars to College Park.

The grocer would benefit not only from an irresistibly low rent, but also from a hungry student body desperate for options. The publicly accessible location facing Route 1 would welcome passersby and town residents as well as setting a fine example of street-fronting development along Route 1.

The East Campus Market Analysis notes that many students have expressed a desire to see a Trader Joe’s set up shop on East Campus. The California-based grocery chain is known for its Hawaiian décor, interesting variety of foods and—most importantly—its low prices.

Though we’re not sure what exact incentives would attract an operation like Trader Joe’s, one can be certain that a $1/year lease for the entire space would be compelling to any retail business.

Since the building is rather spacious and located very nicely on the edge of campus and downtown, we would also like to see the second floor renovated and leased to a café, so we can finally have an option besides the one Starbucks by Wawa. The last thing we need is yet another chain coffee shop, so we’d like to see an independent place like the successful, but remote, College Perk or Adams Morgan’s Tryst.

The beauty of this plan is that with relatively little cost to the university we can finally get a grocery store and another coffee shop downtown long before the first spades hit the dirt on East Campus.

We here at Rethink C.P. think of everything, so we put together a 3D model of what we envision.

The current building configuration (above) puts two doors on either side of the front façade. We recommend opening up the façade with floor-to-ceiling windows and a glass sliding door in the center (below). We kept the building symmetry since that is a key element of Georgian architecture.

Six garage doors currently pierce the south façade (above). Rather than bricking them in, we suggest replacing them with tall windows to bring in the light (below).

We also imagined piercing the ceiling with skylights (below) to brighten up the second floor. In addition we recommend capping the tops of the façades with some sort of pre-cast ornamental ledge.

We also imagine joining the two floors into a grand hall (above) with the second floor becoming a wide balcony holding the café. This would be reminiscent of some of the old public marketplaces like Faneuil Hall in Boston (below).

Campus Master Plan Unfolds

Years of funny looks and speculation from underclassmen may be coming to an end as UMD issues eviction notices to its staff still residing in three small cottages next to the Cambridge Community on North Campus. Some of them have lived on campus for 20 years. Officials are poised to demolish the buildings (circa 1945) which they say are a safety hazard. Clearly the university feels the structures are out of place among the nearby highrises. The demolition was apparently called for in the 2000 Campus Master Plan in order to make way for an expansion of La Plata Beach – the only true greenspace on North Campus.

>>Diamondback (10/4) – Campus Residents Face October Eviction



Our Response to “Shell of a Town”

Last week we discussed the Washington City Papers cover story “Shell of a Town”. This week’s publication contains our letter to the editor reproduced here:

We agree with David Morton that route 1 in College Park has the “locational charm of a highway rest stop.” Indeed, much of the reason College Park isn’t listed among America’s great college towns—Berkeley, Ann Arbor, Charlottesville—stems from its unfortunate location. The city’s commuter-friendliness to much of Maryland’s population centers and its physical division brought on by the poorly funded and perennially congested Route 1 have conspired to create a town that University of Maryland students continually revile.However, the same unfortunate location and dismal conditions that Morton describes in his article have actually laid the foundation for efforts that will transform College Park over the next decade.

According to market research, there are nearly 8,000 for-sale residential units under construction, approved, proposed, or planned within the College Park area. This fall, the university is soliciting bids by private developers for the half-billion-dollar East Campus construction project, which will add millions of square feet of office, retail, and housing to Route 1 directly across from the university’s main entrance. University administrators expect that this project, along with the massive new research park already underway near the College Park Metro station, will catalyze even more development along Route 1.

Students are playing an active role in this transformation. In April, more than 100 students attended a design charrette sponsored by the student government, where they collaborated with architecture students and faculty to envision the College Park of the future. The city has done its part with progressive mixed-use zoning and a soon-to-be-adopted “form-based” zoning code. Last summer, we launched a new Web site,, to serve as a clearinghouse of information and public participation outlet for students, administrators, city residents, and developers about all the coming development activity.

College Park may be a “shell of a city” now, but current trends mean it won’t remain so for long.

Rob Goodspeed

David Daddio

College Park, Md.

Historic District Considered Near Downtown

College Park StreetcarA proposed Old Town College Park Historic District could prevent or slow new, pedestrian-scale development connecting the campus and downtown to the Metro station. The proposed district includes structures on both sides of Calvert Road, a street several groups from last spring’s design charrette targeted for dense development to create a pedestrian corridor running from the Metro station to downtown, the Knox Road area, and the campus.

If approved, the historic district would require all property owners within the district boundary — whether or not their property was identified as “historic” — to obtain a special “Historic Area Work Permit” from the County before engaging in any type of Historic Houseconstruction. Owners of “historic” properties would be eligible for tax credits/incentives on approved restoration and construction projects. When the City Council approved the nomination at their May 9, 2006 meeting several citizens spoke against the proposal, calling the additional permits that would be required a “hardship,” “headache” and “hassle,” and complaining it could be difficult to find contractors familiar with historic district restrictions. Several speakers cited a poll that found a majority of homes in the proposed district area did not want the district, although the minutes record the Old Town Civic Association submitted a letter in support of the district.

According to information provided to us by city planner Elisa Vitale, the historic district was conceived in 2000 by city officials and approved in 2004 by the county. However, she describes what happened after an appeal:

The HPC decision was appealed and the case was forwarded to the Zoning Hearing Examiner. The Hearing Examiner heard the case, and issued her decision in November of 2005. This decision upheld the designation of the area as a historic district as appropriate, but recommended that the case be remanded to the HPC due to failure of HPC staff to follow notice requirements. On March 13, 2006, the District Council heard oral arguments on the ZHE’s recommendation. On March 27, 2006, the District Council issued an order of remand and returned the case to the HPC. The HPC held a second a public hearing on the proposed district on June 1, 2006, and again voted in favor of designating the district. The HPC also adopted the revised
Design Guidelines.

However, the June 1 decision has been appealed and will return to the Zoning Hearing Examiner. They have not yet set a hearing date, although we will post here when we hear when the date is set. We imagine this issue has proven so controversial because it involves not only historic preservation but also the property values of property owners, and whether or not the number of renters will increase in the neighborhood.

To read more about the restrictions of a Historic District, see the proposed design guidelines for Old Town, or view a map of the proposed district visit the new Old Town Historic District page in our library.

North Gate Park – A new era of collaboration?


Last week we reported on the imminent construction of North Gate Park – a project coordinated by the City-University Partnership and whose final design was derived from a 22-student sophomore Landscape Architecture class competition. Add in some grants, several organizations, and some very meaningful stakeholder participation and out comes a project whose benefits can’t be emphasized enough.

The park will provide a bus shelter and much needed pedestrian link to campus while respecting the Paint Branch’s forested stream buffer and incorporates sustainable design and building materials. It will contain a rain garden to reduce runoff, environmental interpretive signs, and an orchard for your gorging pleasure. Since our first post we’ve spoken with Jack Sullivan, the instructor and assistant professor who worked closely on the North Park effort (see more details). He was kind enough to send us this pamphlet with some other great schematics of the project. We hope North Gate Park will be a powerful model and constant reminder of how different members of the community can and do work towards common goals.

With technical and artistic expertise, academic curiosity and scholarship, and unbounded enthusiasm, students have created a beautiful, comfortable and sustainable design.

Urban Design and Crime

newlightsbullard21.jpgWith recent robberies making headlines and a crime alerts from the U-M Department of Public Safety in our inbox, it is clear that crime is a problem facing the city. The campus and city is generally safe, but recent robberies are clearly troubling. Although crime is a complex problem with complex solutions, we think good urban design can play a role in enhancing public safety.

Maryland graduate Justin Auciello recently sent us an email pointing out an op-ed he wrote for the Diamondback last spring. In the article he describes how the community of Sarasota, Florida used a Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design Plan (CPTED) to reduce crime along their “gateway corridor” not unlike Route 1. Their law improved lighting in streets and parking lots, encouraged balconies and mandated shorter shrubbery, among other changes. Auciello argues the relatively low-cost changes of such an ordinance could reduce the “perception and reality” of crime in College Park. In particular, he urges the College Park City Council to create a subcommittee to study the issue. Do you think design can reduce crime?

> Diamondback Op-Ed: “Reducing crime through smart design

We’re in the Gazette

TheGazettesArt.jpgThis week’s College Park edition of The Gazette newspaper features an article reporting on the launch of this website. The article includes quotes from co-editor David Daddio and I about our vision for the site and intent to engage the broader community to achieve the goal of building a great college town.

The paper also included this story about the city’s plans to partner with a developer to construct a new parking garage, condos, and town hall building downtown.

>> The Gazette: “Bloggers ‘rethink College Park’ downtown area