Collecting College Park: The Weekly Link Round-Up

Welcome to Collecting College Park, a new weekly feature here at Rethink College Park. On Friday mornings, you can expect to see this weekly news roundup of stories relevant to development, planning, transportation, and quality of life around the city and the campus.

The View by rethink college park on Flickr.
  • Down in polls, Ehrlich tries to focus on January (Post): “Upon taking office, Ehrlich said he also would order government contractors to halt work on the proposed Purple Line rail project that would connect points in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties. “The dollars aren’t there,” Ehrlich said, restating his preference for rapid bus service along the route instead. Ehrlich aides said stopping the Purple Line and a proposed rail project in Baltimore could save the state $300 million in engineering costs that could be spent instead on local road projects.” More at Action Committee for Transit and Streetsblog DC, but in short: It’s still going to cost $300 million in engineering costs to get the Purple Line going, but Ehrlich would like to reappropriate those funds to roads. The Diamondback also notes that O’Malley is currying more favor than Ehrlich with repeated visits to campus.
  • Prince George’s council rejects zoning change, new stormwater rules (Post): “In its final legislative session, the Prince George’s County Council killed a bill Tuesday that would have allowed a developer to change the zoning on property in Fort Washington and rejected new storm water management regulations for the county…Supporters of the measure, including numerous municipal leaders, said the bill would improve the environment. Developers argued that it would stymie redevelopment.”
  • County liquor board to consider Thirsty Turtle license (Patch): “The Nov. 3 hearing will deal with alleged underage drinking at the bar. At the Nov. 10 hearing, commissioners will hear from police and others who are expected to claim that the three-year-old establishment is a detriment to the College Park and university communities.” More at the Diamondback (and, the UMD SGA will be testifying against the establishment).

That’s it for this Friday! If you’ve got tips, suggestions, or pointers for next week’s edition of Collecting College Park, leave them in the comments or email Alex at lxdlnbc@gmail.com.

Don’t forget to add to our Flickr pool! If you’ve got pictures in and around College Park, tag them with “rethink college park” on Flickr, and they’ll show up here (maybe you’ll even see one featured in Collecting College Park post…).

Questions Arise with the Varsity’s Wall

Construction continues on The Varsity and Starview, College Park’s next-in-line for undergraduate, off-campus student housing.  The progress is beginning to show how the new buildings will improve Route 1’s streetscape.
The Varsity:varsity full
Starview:starview full

The Varsity has begun installation of a wide sidewalk stretching south from the main entrance toward the bridge passing over Paint Branch Trail. The new sidewalk is much wider than the current sidewalk and provides a buffer of about 12 feet from the heavy traffic on Route 1. Land has also been cleared for the long-awaited Northgate Park located to the south of building along Paint Branch Creek.
varsity sidewalk 2

However, questions remain about the imposition of a wall fronting Route 1 that will separate pedestrian traffic from the retail entrances located on the ground floor of the Varsity. Councilman Bob Catlin has informed us that the reason for the wall is to prevent these retail establishments from falling within the Paint Branch flood plain. This Diamondback article makes reference to similar concerns raised by council members at the time of the project’s approval several years ago.

A recent site visit indicates that the wall is 5 to 6 feet tall and stretches the entire length of the building fronting Route 1, potentially disengaging pedestrians from the building and the retail that locates there.

varsity wall 2
varsity steps 2


As the Route 1 corridor continues to develop, pedestrian traffic will be an integral part of the streetscape and retailers will depend on passing foot traffic for a significant portion of their business. Long, blank walls discourage an active street scene and break down lines-of-sight between storefronts and pedestrians—all negative elements that undermine the advantages of ground floor retail.

It appears that there will be three staircases leading up to the first-floor storefronts, but this may not be enough to entice passerby if they are unable to see the actually see what’s going on inside. Active and entertaining streets create a lively pedestrian environment, and active streetscapes and successful retail corridors are made possible when stores and outdoor seating are directly accessible and visible to passing pedestrian traffic. Visually appealing window displays and an abundance of activity entice pedestrians into stores.

An active, enticing streetscape:
Potential Streetscape

Walls serve as barriers to this visual appeal. They prohibit the instinctive curiosity pedestrians possess that causes them to stop, peruse, enter, and patronize. Hopefully, the Varsity will draw an abundance of strong anchor tenants that will create a “destination location” and overcome the wall’s design flaws.

Collecting College Park: The Weekly Link Round-Up

Welcome to Collecting College Park, a new weekly feature here at Rethink College Park. On Friday mornings, you can expect to see this weekly news roundup of stories relevant to development, planning, transportation, and quality of life around the city and the campus.

McKeldin Mall (image via the Rethink College Park Flickr Page).
  • $93 million Seven Springs Village Loan Granted One Year Extension (Citybizlist Baltimore): The refinancing process of Seven Springs Village is expected to be pushed to September 2011. The 1967 building “is currently 95.6% occupied with upward leasing momentum leading into the fall.”
  • Housing Development Meets New Opposition (Diamondback): A follow-up to our post earlier this week that includes this tidbit: “State Sen. Jim Rosapepe (D-Anne Arundel and Prince George’s), who lives on Patuxent Avenue just north of Old Town, said he agrees with residents’ objections and believes their case is strong enough to block the planned housing.”
  • New Maryland Law Aims to Protect Cyclists, But Will It? (College Park Patch): Drivers are now legally required to give cyclists biking to the right-hand side of the road a three-feet margin when passing, but the good intention could prove problematic: “How do you determine what three feet of space looks like when traveling at 30-plus mph?…To make things more ambiguous, the three-foot space requirement only applies when the road is wide enough for the driver to legally pass at this distance (bonus: This Patch article is written by our own RTCP, Mark Noll).
  • New Speed Cameras Part of City Effort to Make Crosswalk Safer (Diamondback): “The Paint Branch Parkway location is the first of six where the city hopes to install the cameras; others include University Boulevard, Metzerott Road and Route 1. The cameras will eventually issue $40 tickets to drivers who travel 12 miles per hour or more above the posted speed limit.” Right now, the damage the cameras can do to your record is limited to a mere ticket, but get into the habit of slowing down now. See College Park Patch for more on the matter.
  • Aging Buildings Go Unfixed (Diamondback): A slew of buildings on the UMD campus—many of which surround McKeldin Mall—are worse for the wear. Fixing the structures carries a hefty price tag: “This past spring, on request from the Board of Regents, university administrators submitted a detailed “Restore the Core” seven-year phased plan to address the campus’s growing infrastructure problems, which have added up to a $625 million backlog in deferred maintenance.”
  • College Park Denied Funding for Bike-Share Program (College Park Patch): The D.C. metropolitan area, which includes College Park, was deemed unworthy of funding from the TIGER II grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. “Had the request been approved, College Park would have had 59 bicycles at 11 stations around College Park and the University of Maryland campus.” Ouch.

That’s it for this Friday! If you’ve got tips, suggestions, or pointers for next week’s edition of Collecting College Park, leave them in the comments or email Alex at lxdlnbc@gmail.com.

“You’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a high-end hotel”

The Varsity, a student housing project set to open Fall 2011, has just launched its leasing website. They appear to have taken a page from Mazza GrandMarc’s cheesy marketing campaign, but then they took it to a whole new level.



They’re selling a lifestyle and experience rather than housing (complete with tanning beds, a game room, and fitness center):

College life is full of events you’ll remember forever. Many of the memories you will create with friends will happen where you live. At The Varsity, we believe your apartment is not just a place to keep your stuff and sleep in at night; it is an experience. We have worked hard to create a student housing community that is all about you… sophisticated yet down-to-earth, edgy yet classic, luxurious yet comfortable and private.

The Varsity at College Park Lobby

Rectifying Route 1, A Pedestrian Perspective: College Avenue and Route 1

Few people will deny that Route 1 is well overdue for major improvements. Motorists are fed up with traffic, bicyclists despise its lack of bike lanes and high speed traffic, and pedestrians loath the poor condition of sidewalks. Traffic speeds, up to seven travel lanes (none safe for bicyclists), and long light cycles make this road equally as miserable to cross. Most everyone will also agree that vast stretches of Route 1 are not aesthetically pleasing and that restaurant and retail options are lacking. The Route 1 Sector Plan was established to address many of these issues, but it appears funding will continue to be a major hurdle to implementing that plan.

This is the first installment of what I hope to be a series on analyzing specific intersections along the Route 1 corridor. This series will focus on bicycle and pedestrian safety, and to a lesser degree, aesthetics and economic development. The goal is to analyze current conditions and facilitate conversation on ways to improve each intersection. It is my hope that increased public conversation on this topic will highlight the necessity for long overdue improvements and make Route 1 a funding priority.

The intersection at Route 1 and College Avenue is one of the most critical in College Park and deserves immediate attention. It links the southeast entrance to the University, the city’s retail corridor, and the Old Town neighborhood. Because of this, one could assume it handles the highest level of pedestrian crossings of any in College Park.

Continue reading Rectifying Route 1, A Pedestrian Perspective: College Avenue and Route 1

Olson, Stullich…We’re waiting for real leadership on the Book Exchange redevelopment

olsonbus
Local leaders have really put themselves in a quandary over the Book Exchange controversy. An array of officials who are reliably pro-smart growth have teamed up with Old Town Civic Association (OTCA) in an effort to quash the proposed 6-story project that could bring 830 student beds to downtown College Park—along with roughly 170 beds geared towards graduate students and young professionals. They think the site could be better used. The debate has become almost farcical. Handpicked neighborhood committees are staking their positions, and misinformation and hysteria abound in ways not seen with any other project.

The developer has not submitted formal plans or even presented the concept to the City Council, but the battle lines are drawn. The preponderance of the key decisionmakers, including county councilman Eric Olson, are squarely in the camp opposed to the project. At the starting gate, the project seems almost destined for a court battle; it’s completely within the zoning, but opposed by most of the local political establishment. The basic realities of the situation and the Route 1 Sector Plan (area zoning) have taken a backseat to an anti-student hysteria brewing among a handful of the most politically active and vocal Old Town residents.

A letter dated October 1 from OTCA (READ HERE) to the City effectively sums up the basis for the adjacent neighborhood’s opposition:

“We shall be completely marginalized and without hope should this project go forward.”

Later: “OTCA believes the influx of up to 1,000 more undergraduates would symbolize ‘kiss of death,’ for College Park’s downtown, as the likelihood of more upscale, adult-oriented eateries and shops would forever be lost to sandwich shops and fast food venues, the market of choice targeted to undergraduates. If downtown is completely dominated by undergraduate residents, it will not attract more diverse retail. If this project goes forward, the opportunity to change the nature of downtown will forever be lost.”

The letter concludes with: “We cannot support the proposed development at the Maryland Book Exchange, as it is likely to have grave and irreversible impacts on our community.”

The basic premises of the opposition to the Book Exchange Redevelopment are faulty. City councilwoman Chris Nagle, who supports the project, describes the situation best:

“The project will not result in an increased enrollment at the University of Maryland. Student housing at the Maryland Book Exchange location will provide students who want to live within walking distance of UMD and downtown College Park with an alternative to living in Old Town. I thought that was what the residents of Old Town wanted: for students to move out of existing single family and into multi-unit student housing dwellings.  The developer is working with residents and has sought their input into the commercial component of the project.”

bookexchangeA unanimous vote (24-0) on Septemeber 27th, 2010 by OTCA recommended the proposal not go forward. Unfortunately, those who are supposed to be voices of reason in the community are playing to the deepest fears of a neighborhood that has convinced itself its very future is in jeopardy. This gut emotion stems from the development’s proximity to the neighborhood, not from any reality of its potential impacts on the community. In fact, the project would create the exact reverse effect of what residents fear: It will contribute to draining students out of single-family homes.

We’re not saying that there isn’t room for adjustments around the edges. We’ve already proposed that the developer seek the Maryland Food Co-op as a retail tenant and look at ways to better ensure graduate students can comfortably occupy part of the complex. That said, if Olson, other local leaders, and OTCA can’t answer the following key questions, then the project should be allowed to proceed:
Continue reading Olson, Stullich…We’re waiting for real leadership on the Book Exchange redevelopment

From North College Park Comes Support for Book Exchange Development

Unlike their neighbors to the south, most of whom oppose the undergraduate housing component of the Book Exchange redevelopment proposal, most North College Park residents gave their blessings to the project.

With a few exceptions, that was the general tone of the North College Park Citizens Association’s (NCPCA) monthly meeting last Thursday at Davis Hall. The project’s developer, Mr. Ilya Zusin, made a presentation about the plan and took questions from NCPCA members. Some 35 residents attended the meeting.

Earlier, the residents in Old Town College Park rejected the proposal due to concerns of excessive noise that undergraduate residents of the building might bring to the surrounding neighborhood.

Though the noise concern worked against the proposal in the south, it seemed to work in favor in the north—but for a different reason.

“You want these students to be present near the campus, and be watched by their managers, you want them to be out of the neighborhood and you don’t want them to drive (in the neighborhood), right?” asked Mark Shroder, supporting the plan. Mr. Shroder is the North College Park Citizen’s Association President and has previously served on the City Council.

Though in minority, not everyone agreed with Mr. Shroder. “I’ve been there with our code enforcement officers in the Friday nights, and I haven’t seen so horrible things in my entire life: Waves of students going down the streets, singing, partying, and making noises,” said Mary Cook, former District 4 councilwoman, as she voiced her concerns with the Old Town residents. “I don’t want to be living next to that place [proposed housing]. I’ll have to move out from that place,” added Ms. Cook.

Marcus Afzali, Ms. Cook’s successor in District 4 and UMD graduate student, is also skeptical about the plan. “Something better can be built in this place” commented Afzali.

Afzali’s comment provoked sharp question from Mr. Zusin: “What better option do we have?” Mr. Zusin asked.

“There are a whole lot of them. How about a hotel?”Afzali answered back.

“Having a hotel is not a viable option. We’ve also approached several grocery stores, none has expressed interest yet. Trader Joe’s said they are not interested but that doesn’t mean that another operator won’t be,” Mr. Zusin responded, refering to his attempts to draw a grocery store for the ground floor retail component of his project.

During his presentation, Mr. Zusin was asked to explain the reasons for oppositions against his proposed development. “They [the Old Town residents] do not want to put more students in their area; they don’t want this [development] in their backyard”.

“But we don’t want it in our backyard, either,” commented North College Park resident Marcia Booth, drawing a laughter from the audience.

“The plan does not affect us. I think he [Mr. Zusin] has a damn good plan. I’m all for it,” commented Bill Robertson, another long time North College Park resident. Mr. Robertson’s comment was greeted with applause and later echoed by a few other neighbors in attendance.

Some residents supported the proposal citing the economic aspect of the development. “I fear if someone else, such as UMD, can get the property, the city will lose important tax revenues [from the development],” commented Sarah Jasz, another North College Park resident.

At least one North College Park resident wanted the students moved deep into the campus. “Why has somebody not brought the idea of building more student housing inside the campus?” asked Hollywood resident Peter Lakeland.

Some also spoke about the proposal’s compliance with the Route 1 sector plan. “I believe in a land owner’s rights and as long as the project is within the constraints of the sector plan and the zoning then they [the developers] should be allowed to move forward,” said James Woodhouse.

Responding to Mr. Zusin’s proposal, District 1 councilmember Patrick Wojahn said, “What we’re hearing is only one side of the story. I propose that NCPCA invites someone from the Old Town neighborhood to speak to this audience in next month’s [NCPCA] meeting.” Mr. Wojahn strongly opposes the proposed development.

Council members Chris Nagle and Bob Catlin were also in attendance, but refrained from speaking.

Unlike the Old Town Civic Association, The NCPCA did not make an official resolution on the proposed development.

North College Park to Discuss Proposed Book Exchange Development Tomorrow

bookexchange
The proposal to turn the Book Exchange site into a 6-story mid-rise apartment building for students and professionals has stirred quite a bit of discussion among City’s southern inhabitants – University students and Old Town residents. Being so close to the campus, UMD, smart growth proponents and students would love to see this proposal go through. On the other hand, some long time residents fear that the proposed development is an invitation to more trouble for them – stuff like “late night parties, noise ” etc. will be very common, they think. While the project appears to be in line with the recently updated zoning for the property, but political opposition could delay the project considerably and ultimately quash it.

Does north College Park have anything to do with this property development? Directly the answer may be no, but indirectly, definitely yes. North College Park has a sizable student populations living in its houses. If more and more rental housing is built in the south, students will likely to leave north and concentrate closer to campus. This may or may not have an effect to the northern neighborhoods.

In the meantime, the four council members representing the north part of the city have been divided on the proposal. While District 1′s Chris Nagle supports the proposal, her counterpart in District 1 Patrick Wojahn does not. District 4′s Dennis Michelle is also against the proposal. The other District 4 council member and UMD graduate student Marcus Afzali is publicly undecided but skeptical.

Ilya Zusin, the developer of the proposed development will be at tomorrow’s North College Park Citizen Association (NCPCA)’s meeting (Oct 14). The session will start at 8:10pm. A detailed agenda can be found here.

Earlier this month, the members of the Old Town Civic Association overwhelmingly rejected the proposed development. Tomorrow’s discussion has been billed as an informational session for NCPCA’s members. This means that the members are unlikely to take an official position on the matter.

College Park Day – Let’s Celebrate City’s Diversity and Heritage

Tomorrow is College Park Day. For the first time in its history, the residents of College Park will descend upon one place to celebrate the richness of this city that they call home.

Nearly a year ago, when my fellow North College Park blogger Joe Smith and I started writing about the challenges our city was facing, we had no idea where our blog posts would lead to a year later. The very few readers, who kindly made trips to our blogs, probably ignored those posts  as typical “rants” that they see as so common in our digital blogosphere.

Fast forward, a few months later, after a busy work day, Joe and I found ourselves at our first organizing committee meeting with a small group of City officials. The five of us that attended that meeting had one goal in our minds – let our city residents explore and celebrate the richness of our city’s diversity and heritage.

Since then, dozens of committee meetings have taken place, hundreds of emails have made their ways to committee members’ inboxes, yet we managed to stay focused on our original goal and vision. Tomorrow, we’ll be witnessing the hard work of these committee members coming to fruition. The last six months truly seemed so short.

Are we going to achieve the goals that we started working towards several months ago? For the most part, yes.

On the diversity front, we managed to reach out to each and every community group in the city, including civic associations, faith groups, local businesses, schools, scouting groups – you name them. The list of these groups rapidly started growing, so much so that their numbers made our our logistics subcommittee members nervous – they could only have so many!

The support and active participation of UMD’s so many diverse groups were also significant. The sheer experience to witness so many UMD groups working together with the various residents’ groups has simply been astounding. This may be the first time that I’ve ever seen these two distinct yet so close groups come together and work on a city matter for so long and with so much passion.

The City’s effort to promote this community relations is also praiseworthy. Not only has the City made the largest contribution to the event, but also various City officials have spent countless hours to bring the event’s work to the finish line. Along with that, the contributions from various sponsors were also significant. Without them, it would have been impossible to support so many projects we took on as part of the event.

Because of this event, we were also able to energize many of our City’s very young residents. Some 70 students at our 6 schools, many as young as 5 years old, have taken part in an exciting poster contest, called ‘This is My Culture’. The organizing committee has treasured these art works so much so that they have decided to put each one of them on display at the event. This really could not have been possible without the active support of our school principals and teachers; I can already feel a strong sense of excitement emerging from the work that they’ve conducted over the past few weeks. One principal wrote to me: “I have not seen such an organized City event ever before.”

Though the TOCP (Taste of College Park) has now gone into “defunct” status, our organizers will be presenting a number of ethnic foods for residents to enjoy. What greater way to experience city’s diversity other than tasting the delicious delicacies that our disperate cultures offer? The most important part is –  you don’t need to spend a single cent to taste them.

Though the diversity is an important strength of our town, we should also be proud of the long and rich history and heritage that our city offers. Known as the cradle of American aviation, our city is also the home of several local and national museums. All of them – The National Museum of Languages, The College Park Aviation Museum and the National Archives will all be there. We’ll also be showing you two documentaries and posters on the rich history of our city.

College Park Day was created for you, and only for you. It was designed to explore the richness of the city that you call home.

Please be there, explore and enjoy!