Development: Encourage, Not Impede

GUEST POST Matthew Popkin is a graduate student in the School of Public Policy and is running for City Council in District 3. He can be reached at

Driving down Route 1, it becomes obvious that College Park lacks amenities and quality development. For years, developments have been opposed or poorly integrated into the city. As a result, while the University of Maryland has been an attraction and destination, our downtown has paled in comparison. I’m running for city council because with the right collaboration between the city and the University, along with proactive efforts to welcome well-planned development, College Park can become one of the most desirable college towns in the country.

Look at the Knox Boxes. For decades, these units have been an overpriced eyesore. There is now a serious proposal to revitalize the complex. “Knox Village” should provide undergraduate and graduate housing as well as a high quality restaurant, retail, and an outdoor gathering space that is much needed. Ensuring that this happens in a timely fashion is critical.

On the contrary, we have made no progress on the abandoned Sigma Chi fraternity house on Norwich Road. Despite the owners’ serious intentions to redevelop it, the City Council has rejected multiple ideas, leaving a boarded up, broken into, deteriorating structure for over fifteen years. This is unacceptable. In my first month on the council, I will invite the owners, neighbors, and city staff to discuss our options. We will bring our ideas to the civic associations and City Council for review and work to make this house more than just a neglected eyesore.

Downtown College Park should have a grocery store that we can access without getting in a car or on a bus. For someone who doesn’t have a car, getting food is a frustration that takes money and time. The US Department of Agriculture agrees, having declared much of College Park a “food desert” — a dense, relatively low income community over a mile from a grocery store. A grocery store would reduce traffic along Route 1 and provide access to healthy food.

Last spring, I created a pilot bus service that went directly from student apartment complexes to the Beltway Plaza Giant to address the problem. This program would be unnecessary if the city would work with the grocery stores that have already expressed interest in building a location here in the city.

Ultimately, we need to create a town center that fosters a sense of community. Silver Spring and Hyattsville went through this transformation with much success, but College Park lags behind by not having a movie theater or classy dining options. We need to bring together the owners of property along Route 1 from College Ave. to Guildford Road to work with the City and University with regard to amenities and aesthetics and survey the community to convey what College Park desires. Many opportunities are on the horizon so long as the process and governance does not hinder aspirations. With such a town center, we will be able to showcase College Park – to prospective students, families, faculty, and our Big Ten peers.

Overall, we need to alleviate traffic, incentivize development, improve safety, and better connect the region by welcoming the Purple Line and Capital Bikeshare. We need to facilitate, not impede, those who want to work to build a better College Park.

 All of this infrastructure will take time to implement and build, but we need to start now. Long-term improvements to the community will be well worth it and enhance the charm and character of the city. Within a few years, Downtown College Park could rival Rockville Town Center, Downtown Silver Spring, and Hyattsville, but we have to be welcoming and proactive to transform College Park into that great college town.