Zusin Files Plans for Book Exchange Redevelopment with County

Book Exhange elevation from College Ave
On July 14th, R & J Company, LLC filed a detailed site plan to build a 6-story apartment building on the site of the Maryland Book Exchange at the corner of College Ave. and Route 1 in Downtown College Park (SEE RENDERINGS). From what we can tell, the details of the proposal are basically the same as they were last fall:

  • 341 units
  • 14,366 SF of ground floor retail (with a little less than 10,000 leased by the Maryland Book Exchange in a new space)
  • 321 parking spaces underground (the City Council nixed a request by the developer to pay for fee in lieu parking in the city’s empty public garage two to the south of the site)
  • LEED Silver at a minimum

Although proposed to be constructed as one building, developer Ilya Zusin envisions a structure that would from an architectural standpoint “read” as two buildings from College Avenue. The two sections would not be connected internally and have separate entrances. About 2/3 of the units would be contained in the section on the Route 1 side of the parcel and contain approximately 830 dedicated student beds. The remaining 1/3, with about 170 bedrooms, would be marketed to professors, graduate student, and young professionals.

Unlike recently approved and constructed, dense student housing projects on Route 1 to the north, this proposal is immediately adjacent to a residential neighborhood – Old Town College Park. Although the vast majority of Old Town is rental housing, there is still a contingent of about two dozen residents vehemently opposed to siting any student housing on the east side of Route 1 downtown. Even without the student housing component, a 6-story building would be far taller than anything in the immediate vicinity (with the exception of the city’s parking garage which is slightly shorter).
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A letter dated October 1, 2010 from Old Town Civic Association (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 project will no doubt be one of the most controversial development proposals in recent memory for the city. Despite the opposition and the public perception that the development approval is up for popular vote, Zusin’s project appears to be perfectly within the bounds of the zoning for the property. That is the basic reality of the situation and the Route 1 Sector Plan, but that doesn’t mean the project can’t be obfuscated by politics and end up in a drawn out court battle. The project will go before the Prince George’s County Planning Board on October 20th.