Experience College Park Tour Monday 5/24

Come to the first official Experience & Enjoy College Park Tour this Monday May 24th at R.J. Bentley’s. We are trying to bring together folks who work, live, and play in College Park to talk about local issues and patronize a local establishment. Come join College Park Mayor Andrew Fellows,  Councilman Marcus Afzali, Patrick Wojahn, Bob Catlin, and more. We have the front “open area” reserved for the event. RVSP via facebook.

Share a meal with fellow residents, help the local economy, and have a great time! Hope to see you there.

Mote Leaving, Chancellor Kirwan Responds, Regents Meeting and A New Purple Push

“I’m not going to kill the campus to get the Purple Line” ~ Dr. CD Mote, President of UMD, 5/13/2010

“When he’s convinced that something is good for the university, [Mote] latches on to it,” Farvardin said. “If this is what you call stubborn, then that’s stubborn.”

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Back in February we did our retrospective on Dr. CD Mote’s 12-year tenure as UMD President. Last week the Diamondback had an excellent take on Mote’s presidency (“The Visionary“) which similarly praised him for taking UMD out of academic obscurity, but brought up criticisms from groups like RTCP related to transportation planning and Smart Growth:

Perhaps no group knows this better than smart-development advocates, who have been left baffled and angered by Mote’s deeply held contrarian positions. Mote continued to push for a connector road between the university and I-95 when city and Prince George’s County officials had zero interest in the proposal. And his administration continues to rail against near-universal support of a Campus Drive alignment for the Purple Line.

From our retrospective:

When it comes to planning, gut instincts and shooting from the hip rarely lead to favorable planning outcomes. More often than not Mote’s stubbornness resulted in the further deterioration of the surrounding community. Rather than embracing the university’s shared destiny with College Park, Mote ran from it. He sought to build a bubble around the campus, alienated local leaders and consistently pursued the university’s narrow interest instead of its shared future with College Park.

CampusDriveFence_013With the presidential search in full swing and Mote packing his bags and leaving College Park this August, RTCP feels it’s time for 21st century campus leadership on transportation policy and a bold new direction. We’re tired of the UMD administration sidelining transit and talking about the Purple Line as if it will be a freight train coming through campus. That’s why, in this time of transition, RTCP has worked with student leaders and other area advocacy groups to take the fight to keep transit (and the Purple Line) on Campus Drive beyond the UMD administration and to the Board of Regents. Our May 12th letter to Brit Kirwan, Chancellor of the University System of Maryland, was specifically timed to come before a presentation by the Maryland Transit Administration’s Purple Line Planning team to the Board of Regents on May 17th. The letter echoed other correspondences approved and sent by the Prince George’s County Council and College Park City Council demanding that Campus Drive be left open to buses and that UMD take into account the realities of the Purple Line Planning Process.
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Kirwan responded to our letter and other groups with this message just before MTA’s presentation: Continue reading Mote Leaving, Chancellor Kirwan Responds, Regents Meeting and A New Purple Push

Mazza Tour Recap

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About 15 people turned out Monday for the RTCP-sponsored tour of the nearly complete 630-bed Mazza GrandMarc graduate student housing community in northern College Park. Half of the City Council was in attendance along with interested community members and the press. Each got the opportunity to tour the complex’s different unit configurations (1-4 bedrooms), check out the communal amenities (pool, weight-room, study areas), see the extensive stormwater management system in the rear of the building, and walk down the new community trail connection to the Paint Branch Stream Valley.

The consensus seemed to be that the building’s interior was quite nice and high end. The unit layouts are a bit larger than other newly-constructed student housing in the area. They also boast 9-ft ceilings, sweeping forested views, furnished rooms, and higher-end kitchens. There was some grumbling about the rental prices which range from $889 to $1560 a bed depending on whether you’re talking about a 4br unit or 1br unit. That’s comparable to other similar new-construction private student housing complexes like University View and University Town Center…. but Mazza is in a decidedly less desirable location to those buildings. Its is close to the beltway and CP grocery store, but Mazza’s Route 1 facing 10,000 SF retail component is at least 2 years away and there aren’t tons of amenities in the immediate area… Shuttle UM will provide service to campus every 20 minutes during the day come fall.

Concerns were raised that rental prices were high for a project that was sold to the community during the development review process as a graduate student housing complex. Graduate students generally don’t have as much money as undergrads (whose parents often foot rent bills) and some are worried the complex will end up being predominantly undergrads. RTCP feels it’s important to remember that Mazza was always intended to be market-rate student housing. It’s not subsidized in any way and at a cost of$43 million, the developer has substantial loans to pay off. It also took considerable risk on their part and 10 years to get the project from concept to completion. Nobody is “making a killing” here. The developer is legally required to only lease to grad students until April 1 each year at which time they can (and did) open up leasing to undergrads. That said, many new grad students don’t enroll at UMD until April 15th. It shouldn’t be any surprise then that this building (which most people have never heard of) is currently only 10% leased for the Fall 2010 semester. Applications are now rolling in and many of the 1-br units are already filled.

Mazza has reserved 1/3 of its units in one section of the building exclusively for graduate students and is providing generous deals only for grad students including 10% off rent and reduced fees through its “Graduate VIP Program.” Mazza leasing agents predict about half the building will be grad students when all is said and done this fall. These measures go above and beyond what is legally required of the developer. Not only are they good faith efforts to deliver on the developer’s promise of a grad student community, but they also reflect the stiff competition that exists for student tenants in College Park.  With 2,700 other designated student beds coming on line in College Park by Fall semester 2011, student rents will stagnate across the city. They have nowhere to go but down.

RTCP Mazza GrandMarc Tour Today

Don’t forget that RTCP’s Mazza GrandMarc Hard Hat tour is today. The building is located just north of Jordan Kitt’s Music at 9530 Baltimore Avenue. Please arrive at 5:30 PM. RTCP will run a carpool from City Hall at 5:15PM. RSVP HERE. Background:

Rethink College Park is extremely pleased to announce that it’s sponsoring a “hard hat tour” of the nearly complete Mazza GrandMarc Student housing project in North College Park. Ten years in the making, Mazza’s final approval was the subject of a protracted battle between student leaders, Rethink College Park and County Councilman Tom Dernoga in 2007. Once the retail portion of the project is complete, it will be the first transit-ready, mixed-use redevelopment project in northern College Park. Leasing has already begun for the Fall 2010 semester.

The $43 million, 630-bed complex is geared primarily towards University of Maryland graduate students, will be serviced by Shuttle UM and provides a public trail connection to Paint Branch Trail just behind the complex. The event is open to the entire community. Citizens, students, prospective tenants, local leaders and press are all welcome.

When: Arrive May 17th @ 5:30 PM (tour to begin promptly at 5:45)

Where: 9530 Baltimore Avenue just north of Jordan Kitt’s Music. The group will convene just in front of the new leasing office in the permanent building..

What: Leasing agents will be on hand to provide a guided tour of the nearly complete project and the adjacent Paint Branch Trail connection. RTCP staff will field questions about the project and it’s implications for Smart Growth in College Park.

Coalition Mounts Broadside Against UMD Bus Plan, Purple Line Position

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Purple Line 7BREAKING: In an unprecedented show of unity, a diverse coalition of student leaders, local elected officials and advocacy groups have mounted a broadside against the University of Maryland’s planned summer trial closure of Campus Drive to most buses. In a letter written to University System of Maryland Chancellor Brit Kirwan, they connected the UMD administration’s bus plan, which is set to begin in June, with UMD’s continued opposition to the only feasible Purple Line route through campus. They implored the University to keep “the buses where they are,” and to “become an ardent champion and outright supporter of the Purple Line.” The coalition called the proposed at-grade Campus Drive alignment “the only achievable option” and demanded the University coordinate campus transportation plans more effectively with the Maryland Transit Administration and the Purple Line planning process.

Purple Line MultimodalThe letter, drummed up and drafted by Rethink College Park Founder and Co-editor David Daddio, represents the consensus view of every major local stakeholder on and off campus and joins a chorus of other voices (including the Prince George’s County and College Park City councils) opposed to UMD’s transportation plans. The two-page salvo was signed by the leaders of the Student Government Association, the Graduate Student Government, the Residence Hall Association, the Action Committee for Transit President, and Purple Line NOW (signed on behalf of their board – on which Prince George’s County Councilman Eric Olson and College Park Mayor Andy Fellows sit). The letter today represents the strongest and most diverse coalition ever put together to support the Campus Drive alignment and is timed to alter UMD’s planned summer bus trial so it will support rather than work at cross purposes to the Purple Line: READ THE LETTER.
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Adios to the Santa Fe Cafe

Following in the path of the recently closed  Varsity and 94th Aero Squadron another College Park original is closing its doors for good. The Diamondback reports that May 22nd will be the final day to grab a cold one at the Santa Fe Cafe.

“The Fe” has been in a battle with the city over the long overdue installation of a sprinkler system. This issue will now become a problem for the new tenants.

“My lease was up, and me and the landlord just couldn’t come to an agreement on pricing,” Srour said. “It’s business. She went in a direction I couldn’t go in.”

But after years of conflict, some city officials were less diplomatic.

“Goodbye and good riddance,” District 2 Councilman Jack Perry said in an interview. “He doesn’t want to comply with the law — what else can I say? I agree with the decision of the courts. And if he has to go, then so be it.”

Updated Varsity Renderings and Construction Time-Lapse

The Varsity

Here are a few updated renderings of The Varsity project near the main entrance of the UMD campus. These images provide us with not only the latest glimpse of what the building will look like, but also its relation to Northgate Park which was redesigned during the development review process after a land swap between UMD, MNCPPC and the developer (the building is built right on top of what was originally proposed as a publicly-owned rain garden). We also found this great time lapse camera from the construction site.

While the design doesn’t push the architectural envelope, it is another welcome improvement in the Northgate Development District. The Varsity will add to the increasingly urban feel for the part of Route 1 next to the University View complex. The retail tenants for the ground floor are still a mystery, but any enhancement to the business climate should be a plus. We don’t generally weigh in on architectural issues, but RTCP is concerned that the color schemes used for The Varsity, University View, and Starview Plaza are all nearly identical. Including some distinguishing color schemes along Route 1 could add some some vibrancy and avoid a potentially monotonous built environment.  A vibrant color scheme will let people know they have actually stepped off campus into the City of College Park. Going forward, perhaps there can be more emphasis on distinctive color schemes during the planning phase for new projects.

The Varsity

City Council to Vote on Campus Drive Closure

At the upcoming meeting this Tuesday (8pm) the City Council plans on voting on sending a letter to campus concerning the closing of Campus Drive to all traffic. The public is encouraged to attend so feel free to come out and let your voice be heard.

The text of the proposed letter is shown after the break.

Continue reading City Council to Vote on Campus Drive Closure