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.


Energy Efficiency Workshop July 24th

The Committee for a Better Environment is sponsoring a workshop on energy efficiency on July 24th at 7pm at the City Hall Council Chambers, 2nd floor, 4500 Knox Road, College Park

Does your home have rooms that are always hot in the summer and cold in the winter? Do you have high energy bills? Come to this presentation and find out how  Groundswell (, a local nonprofit, can help you get an energy audit for only $100 and complete weatherization work on your home for over 70 percent off!

Rachel Binstock will present information about Groundswell’s energy-efficiency program called Strong Homes. In this program, homeowners join groups to pool purchasing power and to negotiate discounts on weatherization work from contractors. All contractors are local businesses, certified by the Building Performance Institute (BPI),and chosen based on competitive prices for weatherization work as well as the social benefits they afford employees.

Groundswell simplifies the process by helping homeowners every step of the way and also helps homeowners take advantage of state and federal rebates towards home-energy improvements. It is also offering an additional $300 rebate for weatherization work performed by August 23.

Come learn about how you can make your home safer and more comfortable, save money on your energy bills each month, and support local businesses all while reducing the environmental footprint of your home!

Book Exchange Compromise In The Works

Book Exchange Compromise

A compromise regarding the design of the proposed 431 unit Maryland Book Exchange project may be in the works. There will be a public presentation by the R&J Company at next Tuesdays City Council meeting to present a possible alternative for the structure.  As outlined in this previous post one of the main issues has to do with the step-back requirements  towards the residential zones surrounding the property. This very preliminary rendering of the possible redesign shows a step down from 6 levels near Route 1 down to 4 levels closer to Yale Avenue. This is certainly more in line with the Route 1 sector plan.

The Prince George’s County Planning board has already given the go ahead for the project despite the strong objections of the City Council. Therefore the developer could forge ahead with the existing plan however the City had planned an appeal which could drag on the process.

More details to come in the upcoming Council Session on October 9th.




July Development Update

The City of College Park released its regular Economic Update. Highlights include.

  • NATIONAL OCEANIC AND ATMOSPHERIC ADMINISTRATION: Over 800 employees will occupy the building once it is completed in August 2012.
  • MARYLAND BOOK EXCHANGE: After listening to arguments from both sides, the District Council took the case under advisement and they have until October 9 to render a vote.
  • CAFRITZ PROPERTY at RIVERDALE PARK: The District Council resumed the rezoning case on July 9 and voted 7-2 in favor of the rezoning application. The developer next plans to submit a DSP application and hopes to break ground in 2013.
  • BRANCHVILLE PROPERTY SELLS FOR NEARLY $1.3 MILLION: The 1.179 acre property is located to the east of Pizza Hut and AMF College Park Lanes was purchased by Four Thousand Four Branch Avenue LLC.

College Park Development Update – July 2012

Cafritz Plan Approved 7-2


The District Council approves the Cafritz Plan by a vote of 7-2. College Park Patch reports that despite objections from the the City of College Park and from Councilman Olson to push forward a motion for denial, the vote to approve the zoning change for the Cafritz development was passed 7-2.

The 37-acre plan in Riverdale Park is slated to be the home of the first Whole Foods grocery store in Prince George’s County in addition to 900 units of multi-family housing, a 120-room hotel, and additional office space.

County Passes Groundbreaking Bill for Cyclist and Pedestrian Access

Time to count one for the bike/ped community. In a 9-0 vote, the County Council passed a bill that will require the Planning Board to take into account the surrounding areas access to pedestrian and bikeway facilities when evaluating new development. In planning terms, the bill is an adequate public facilities ordinance (APFO) for sidewalks and bikeways.
Route 1 in CP


For years bike/ped access was barely an afterthought when a new development submits its plans to the county as the focus has always been on traffic impacts and automobile access. For instance, a development projected to increase car trips at a nearby intersection may be required to add turn lanes and reconfigure the traffic signal, but would only be required to build sidewalks immediately next to the development.

This ordinance will give the Planning Board the tools they need to require developers to make off-site pedestrian and bike improvements when a development proposal is projected to increase such trips. For these improvements, developers must now build bike and pedestrian facilities in the nearby public right-of-way approaching the site to the “maximum extent possible” (up to a specified maximum cost depending on the size of the project).

County Council Vice Chairman Eric Olson (D-College Park) and council member Mel Franklin (D-Upper Marlboro) sponsored the bill which is expected to be signed by  County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D).

“When new development occurs, developers can now be required to invest in off-site improvements for walking and biking, rather than just cars.  As we seek to create healthier, more walkable mixed-use communities, this is an important step forward.” – Eric Olson

Greg Billing of the Washington Area Bicyclists Association called the county’s approach “a very simple solution.”

“If you can only get to a development by car, the development loses out,” he said.

In Prince George’s, most of the affected developers would be in what is known as the developed tier, inside the Beltway and relatively close to the county’s Metro stations. – The Washington Post

Bill sponsors believe the scope of the bill is unprecedented nationally. It may become a model for improving non-motorized transportation. Read the bill HERE. The press release is below the break.

Continue reading County Passes Groundbreaking Bill for Cyclist and Pedestrian Access

Coming Soon – Trolley Trail From Paint Branch to Calvert Rd.

Trolley TrailThe City is moving forward with Phase IV of the Trolley Trail which will complete a missing link from Paint Branch Parkway to Calvert Road. Prospective bidders have until April 12 to submit final proposals for completing this half million dollar project. Once complete residents in the Calvert Hills will be able to pedal uninterrupted to their closest grocery store– MOM’s 3 miles away in Hollywood. That is until Whole Foods comes to town.



College Park Metro Walk Score Ranks Among the Worst

Greater Greater Washington recently did a story on the Walk Scores of Metro stations and predictably found Prince George’s County bringing up the rear with an average score of 49.8 out of 100… which is considered Car Dependent. Using an address on the west side of the Metro station gives a score of 49 while the east side give a horrendous score of 37.

walkscoreThis probably isn’t news to anyone who works near M-Square or uses the College Park Metro station with any regularity. There is a complete lack of any viable options for those wishing to move towards a car-free lifestyle and using the current M-Square master plan as a guide, not much will chance in the future.

As Matt Johnson from GGW points out, Prince George’s County in particular is having challenges taking advantage of its Metro stations.

Prince George’s has 15 stations, which is more than any other jurisdiction aside from the District. The county is at a disadvantage because of the placement of many stations. Even so, Prince George’s has not committed to transit-oriented development around its stations. The county has a history of allowing development on the fringes of the county to short-circuit demand for offices and retail near Metro.

In the past, there have been grand plans for development near the Metro that have gone nowhere for one reason or another; however, M-Square is moving forward with three “suburban style” office buildings that would  do very little to bring up that Walk Score. It’s time to take M-Square and the area surrounding the Metro seriously.

It’s Time to Rethink the Book Exchange Proposal

When I became aware of new development coming to the Maryland Book Exchange site I thought, “Great! We are finally getting some student housing downtown.” So many of the previous development had been farther north that this project looked to be right in the sweet spot giving real incentive for tenants (most of which will be students) to abandon their cars and help revitalize downtown.
Then I heard about grumblings from the City Council and other residents of Old Town on the project: — “Its too large.” — “There will be a thousand students roaming the streets of Old Town looking for parties.” — “It doesn’t fit in with the residential neighborhood.”

My initial reaction? Give me a break.

Continue reading It’s Time to Rethink the Book Exchange Proposal

UMD Wants More To Live Near Campus

cp-hereIf you work on campus the University of Maryland wants you to live here. The Gazette is reporting on a study being performed by UMD to determine what folks are looking for in a neighborhood to better market the surrounding area to faculty and staff.

We’ve profiled Live Near Your Work programs before which have a marginal success rate at best.  Currently only 33% of faculty/staff live in Prince Georges county. What is really needed is a radical change in the perception of the area among potential homeowners. Although College Park was voted the Best Place to Raise a Family in 2011 by Bussinessweek, there are still several factors that push people to Montgomery, Howard, and even farther out in Prince Georges county. Concerns about public safety, the consistently low performing public schools, and high taxes are high on potential homeowners minds when they look to settle in the area.

So why is it that more faculty/staff do not  live near campus?

Continue reading UMD Wants More To Live Near Campus