Wawa Editorial and the Aftermath

In case you missed it, I wrote an opinion column that was published in last Wednesday’s Diamondback student newspaper entitled “Wawa, good riddance”. To read it, go here.

In summary, I celebrated the demise of the College Park Wawa and how it symbolized the less than desirable conditions of College Park. And while Wawa wasn’t the sole cause of College Park’s decline, it was perhaps the face of it due to routine weekend vandalizing from drunken bar-goers. I hoped that Wawa’s closing could catalyze future fundamental changes in downtown College Park to improve its sustainability and become more pedestrian-friendly. I called on JBG Rosenfeld Retail, the landlord of College Park Shopping Center where Wawa is located, to follow the East Campus Initiative’s lead and recognize the market and need for more attractive options for retail and housing in downtown College Park.

College Park Shopping CenterThe College Park Shopping Center was built in 1949, where a society dominated by car culture called for a strip mall with easily accessible surface parking at the expense of pedestrians. There are several long-term leases on the property, including CVS/pharmacy and Bank of America. JBGR owns this main L-shaped center, as well as the lot one block to the south, which encompasses FedEx Kinko’s and Applebee’s. The official profile of the shopping center can be found here.

Following publication, I received a lot of attention and feedback. However, almost none of it was from undergraduate students, which was my original intention. Even though the scope of my editorial went far beyond Wawa, I hoped that using it as a scapegoat would draw attention from those lamenting the loss of a late-night hangout. Instead, the bulk of feedback came from professionals and alums, most of whom praised my column and agreed with the principle that change was needed in College Park. One individual noted that it was a shame that downtown College Park did not more accurately reflect the presence of a nationally-recognized planning program, as well as the innovative National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education center on campus.

This week, I was surprised to learn that the principal of JBG Rosenfeld Retail, Robert Rosenfeld, teaches a class in Real Estate Finance in the Real Estate Development graduate program on campus. He had read my column and had assigned it to his students in preparation for class discussion. This past Monday, I introduced myself to Mr. Rosenfeld and sat in on his class discussion. While the reaction to my column was overwhelmingly positive, insightful questions such as the perceived lack of financial incentive for JBGR to redevelop the property were brought up. Mr. Rosenfeld responded that long-term leases that give an unusual amount of clout to tenants such as CVS make a revisionary effort in downtown more cumbersome.

However, Mr. Rosenfeld said that his company would observe the progress of East Campus very closely to see what impacts it has on the retail and development climate of downtown College Park. Finally, he offered a tentative plan to redevelop the southern lot with Applebee’s into a mixed-use, multi-story building with retail on the bottom floor and housing for rent on the upper floors. The plan is four years away, he says, but it would go towards transforming College Park from its present state.

In conclusion, I have welcomed all the feedback that I have received from the column and I look forward to yours. The question I grapple with everyday is how to ensure students get a seat at the table when their general apathy towards these issues persists. In the coming weeks, I hope to come up with ideas to encourage active student participation in a time of hope and transition for College Park. Stay tuned.

Improvements Planned for Rhode Island Avenue

County Councilman Tom Dernoga came to the City of College Park Council in September to present a road improvement project for Rhode Island Avenue. The project’s goal is to use traffic circles and install traffic lights to better manage the surge of traffic on the avenue. Residents have made it clear that they do not want Rhode Island Avenue turning into a four lane roadway for commuters to zip through, but would like to maintain the residential character of the neighborhood.

Dernoga and staff presented the three phases of the project: 1) installing a traffic light at Edgewood Road, 2) facilitating pedestrian and bike access, and overall safety north of College Park at Sunnyside Road, 3) burying utility poles and building traffic circles at the intersection of Rhode Island Ave, Indian Lane and Fox Street, and Rhode Island Ave and Hollywood. The plan includes building sidewalks only at the intersections, and continuing the bike trail north of College Park, where it abruptly stops.

East Campus Connections

Will the East Campus Redevelopment project be connected to Old Town College Park with through streets? While the issue is far from settled, rumors have emerged that there are city residents advocating for both blocking and keeping open to traffic the streets connecting East Campus to Old Town to vehicular traffic. We think closing the streets would be a mistake: enhancing connectivity would ease pressure on the intersection of Route One and Paint Branch Parkway, enhance the project, and if designed and managed intelligently would not negatively impact the residential streets.

In November 2006, well before any plans for East Campus were released, we published a list of ten principles for the development of the site. In our list we argued Old Town should be connected both to Paint Branch and also (by implication) the East Campus project. We have heard that there are Old Town residents advocating both for and against such connections, and hope this debate can become more public before any decisions are made. Luckily Foulger Pratt’s plan emphasizes connectivity and a widespread consensus exists that bicycle amenities and paths should be expanded.

Adding connections in both this area and elsewhere could add options and ease bottlenecks by creating a more permeable street grid.

The East Campus public Community Steering Committee meeting on Transportation will be held October 8th, 7:30 p.m., Atrium Room (1107) of the Stamp Student Union.

> East Campus Transportation Meeting Agenda