A Council Member’s Perspective on Owner Occupancy

The following is a guest contribution from CP District 2 Councilman Robert Catlin. We encourage all members of the community to either send in material for us to publish or comment on individual posts. Here it is:

Two issues seem to emerge with some regularity about why College Park is not moving more swiftly to becoming the College Park people want to see.

One issue we are told is that the University and the City are not working together on development issues.  As an insider, I do not see that to be a significant issue at this time.  I am not aware of any revitalization opportunities which have been missed because of City-University discord.  While the City and the University have some differences, as one would expect they would, various University committees have City staff members and University staff take part in many of the City’s planning activities.

The City–University Partnership, established about 1999, meets regularly to discuss common concerns, discusses development proposals and looks to formulate positions that both parties can support.  I have been a member of this committee for the past four years, as a University appointee!  The Mayor and various City residents are also voting members of the Partnership, along with high level University officials. Various City and University planning staff also take part in the meetings. The City’s attorney and a banker are also on the Partnership. For a brief time we had a high level representative from the County on the Partnership Board.  In recent years the Partnership has developed Guiding Principals for Redevelopment of the Knox Boxes and Guiding Principals for Redevelopment of the Northgate Area.  Recently the Partnership lost John Porcari, Peter Shapiro (a former County Councilmember from Hyattsville) and had Jim Rosapepe elected to the State Senate, so some changes will need to be made in the organization.

A second issue which has surfaced more recently is that development is being hindered in a major way by modest owner occupancy requirements for condominium projects and conditions designed to ensure that luxury apartment projects do not evolve to be student dominated.  No developer has ever expressed a serious concern with our attempts to achieve some standards here.  So far developers have told us that our conditions are legal and will not impact their ability to finance their projects.  Since these conditions do not cost the developers any money, while the myriad of other conditions requested by the City and required by the County (and often County Council members) do have a significant cost, it is curious why some think that such conditions are hindering development.   The force behind obtaining these conditions is primarily residents.  The various projects would not get community support without some assurance that the projects will house the groups the developers say that they are primarily meant for.  Without these assurances, the projects would be fiercely opposed and not be built (JPI and the City Hall proposal, for example), so it is with great irony that some claim they impede development.

When the developer of The Mosaic at Turtle Creek, situated south of the Knox Box area, was asked why a condominium project called intergenerational housing had no place for students, we quickly learned from the developer and the University that the project would not proceed if the City did not halt such talk!

The luxury housing, both apartments and condominiums, proposed for the area, I don’t believe will attract significant student interest, because the price points for such housing are far above what most students are paying.  Many of my council colleagues and residents do not agree with me on this point.  Owner occupancy requirements (75 percent minimum requirement for owner occupied units) for condominiums have a necessary place, if only to assure potential buyers, that spending $400,000 to $700,000 for a condominium will not turn out to be a bad investment, because otherwise investors may target the development as a way to get rich from student renters.  Sometimes it is claimed that parents will buy up the units for their children to live in and therefore comply with ownership requirements.  Surely that will happen on occasion.  Not having ownership requirements do nothing to stop if from happening either.  The only way to avoid it from occurring would not to build any more housing that was not 100 percent for students.  I could say a lot more, but I will retain some thoughts for my response to the neigh sayers out there.