Thirsty Turtle Update

Thirsty TurtleStudents who face lines, crowds, and repetitiveness at the current downtown College Park bars have eagerly awaited the opening of The Thirsty Turtle since the beginning of this fall semester. While nobody knows exactly how long that wait will continue, we at least have some idea why it exists.

We have heard from several sources that The Thirsty Turtle has not opened due to a conflict between the bar owners and the owner of the alley behind the property. Apparently the alley-owner will not allow The Thirsty Turtle to open its back doors to the alley. Without this back exit, the bar does not meet the fire safety requirements that would allow it to reach its several hundred person maximum capacity. Rather, with just the front doors accessible in case of emergency, the bar is only allowed to have about 50 people inside at any one time, simply not enough to do business.

Supposedly The Mark is having similar issues, but having its back doors open to the alley would only increase maximum capacity from about 50 to 100. So, The Mark has been able to operate despite the back-door hurdle.

This conflict is unfortunate. Students in College Park frequently decry the lack of bar options downtown, especially compared to other college towns. In addition, some people will go as far as saying that the reduced crowding more bars would likely produce could have a positive impact on the climate in downtown bars.

University View Overlooked?

Finished University View

Maybe the most reviled building in College Park, the University View has been the subject of much criticism ever since its doors opened last fall. Indeed the building is a bit overwhelming, but the benefits of putting 1,100 students right at the university’s front gate are hard to ignore. Also, the complex actually hasn’t been completed yet. Original plans called for a 177,000 square foot office building immediately in front of the View’s Parking garage – aptly named the “University View Overlook”. Since the lot is zoned “mixed use” and falls under the Route One Sector plan, the planned building will come directly up to the sidewalk and include 5,000 square feet of retail on the ground floor.

College Park Planning Director, Terry Schum, told us that there is no timing requirement for building the office complex and since the developer no longer has the university as a potential tenant (they were originally going to lease the space) the project is currently in limbo. And there is always that pesky #1 liquor store…
Preliminary rendering of the View complex The View

Beer, Crime, and Urban Design

Student Government leaders lead university and government officials around campus last night during their annual safety walk. They considered lighting, camera coverage, and overgrown shrubbery that could aid criminals (all topics that we explored briefly a couple weeks ago). Officials repeatedly swayed the conversation on crime to one of its root causes – drinking. A brief jaunt through CP’s crime alerts will confirm their arguments in case you have any reservations about them.

Still, we think a more vibrant and dynamic College Park, with new economic and residential diversity, can vastly alleviate the dire crime situation we find ourselves in. More activity, more people, more eyes on the street can, does, and will stop crime. A police officer on every corner is not a feasible nor a desireable goal.

We’ll defer to the Diamondback opinion staff’s brilliant editorial on “Fixing College Park’s afflictions” through development. Here’s our favorite part:

Until the city and developers can get on the same page, College Park will continue to hemorrhage opportunity with each passing day. And as a result, the city will continue to suffer from heightened levels of crime, underappreciated businesses and worrisome housing conditions – all negative effects of a downtown nowhere near its potential.

Shopping for low-lying fruit

The university is carefully devising plans for the East Campus development project and intends for this new development to rectify some of the most urgent problems detrimental to campus life. Among these problems is the fact that there is not a single grocery store within walking distance of the campus. Rather than waiting years for the East Campus plan to come to fruition, we’re sure the university could knock this off its to-do list quickly by leasing existing, underused floor space to a grocer. Enter, Pocomoke Building.

The Pocomoke Building is a stately neo-Georgian building located next-door to the Maryland Book Exchange on Route 1 downtown. Right now it houses maintenance garages, expansive storage rooms and spare offices. We recommend the university partner with a grocer to renovate part of the building to turn the first floor into a supermarket.

This partnership between the university and a private grocer would be mutually beneficial. The university would enhance the quality of life for the car-less population thus quickly ameliorating some of the usual student grievances (e.g. nothing to do, no way to shop, etc.). It would also remove one of the strongest incentives students have to bring their cars to College Park.

The grocer would benefit not only from an irresistibly low rent, but also from a hungry student body desperate for options. The publicly accessible location facing Route 1 would welcome passersby and town residents as well as setting a fine example of street-fronting development along Route 1.

The East Campus Market Analysis notes that many students have expressed a desire to see a Trader Joe’s set up shop on East Campus. The California-based grocery chain is known for its Hawaiian décor, interesting variety of foods and—most importantly—its low prices.

Though we’re not sure what exact incentives would attract an operation like Trader Joe’s, one can be certain that a $1/year lease for the entire space would be compelling to any retail business.

Since the building is rather spacious and located very nicely on the edge of campus and downtown, we would also like to see the second floor renovated and leased to a café, so we can finally have an option besides the one Starbucks by Wawa. The last thing we need is yet another chain coffee shop, so we’d like to see an independent place like the successful, but remote, College Perk or Adams Morgan’s Tryst.

The beauty of this plan is that with relatively little cost to the university we can finally get a grocery store and another coffee shop downtown long before the first spades hit the dirt on East Campus.

We here at Rethink C.P. think of everything, so we put together a 3D model of what we envision.

The current building configuration (above) puts two doors on either side of the front façade. We recommend opening up the façade with floor-to-ceiling windows and a glass sliding door in the center (below). We kept the building symmetry since that is a key element of Georgian architecture.

Six garage doors currently pierce the south façade (above). Rather than bricking them in, we suggest replacing them with tall windows to bring in the light (below).

We also imagined piercing the ceiling with skylights (below) to brighten up the second floor. In addition we recommend capping the tops of the façades with some sort of pre-cast ornamental ledge.

We also imagine joining the two floors into a grand hall (above) with the second floor becoming a wide balcony holding the café. This would be reminiscent of some of the old public marketplaces like Faneuil Hall in Boston (below).

Historic District Considered Near Downtown

College Park StreetcarA proposed Old Town College Park Historic District could prevent or slow new, pedestrian-scale development connecting the campus and downtown to the Metro station. The proposed district includes structures on both sides of Calvert Road, a street several groups from last spring’s design charrette targeted for dense development to create a pedestrian corridor running from the Metro station to downtown, the Knox Road area, and the campus.

If approved, the historic district would require all property owners within the district boundary — whether or not their property was identified as “historic” — to obtain a special “Historic Area Work Permit” from the County before engaging in any type of Historic Houseconstruction. Owners of “historic” properties would be eligible for tax credits/incentives on approved restoration and construction projects. When the City Council approved the nomination at their May 9, 2006 meeting several citizens spoke against the proposal, calling the additional permits that would be required a “hardship,” “headache” and “hassle,” and complaining it could be difficult to find contractors familiar with historic district restrictions. Several speakers cited a poll that found a majority of homes in the proposed district area did not want the district, although the minutes record the Old Town Civic Association submitted a letter in support of the district.

According to information provided to us by city planner Elisa Vitale, the historic district was conceived in 2000 by city officials and approved in 2004 by the county. However, she describes what happened after an appeal:

The HPC decision was appealed and the case was forwarded to the Zoning Hearing Examiner. The Hearing Examiner heard the case, and issued her decision in November of 2005. This decision upheld the designation of the area as a historic district as appropriate, but recommended that the case be remanded to the HPC due to failure of HPC staff to follow notice requirements. On March 13, 2006, the District Council heard oral arguments on the ZHE’s recommendation. On March 27, 2006, the District Council issued an order of remand and returned the case to the HPC. The HPC held a second a public hearing on the proposed district on June 1, 2006, and again voted in favor of designating the district. The HPC also adopted the revised
Design Guidelines.

However, the June 1 decision has been appealed and will return to the Zoning Hearing Examiner. They have not yet set a hearing date, although we will post here when we hear when the date is set. We imagine this issue has proven so controversial because it involves not only historic preservation but also the property values of property owners, and whether or not the number of renters will increase in the neighborhood.

To read more about the restrictions of a Historic District, see the proposed design guidelines for Old Town, or view a map of the proposed district visit the new Old Town Historic District page in our library.

Urban Design and Crime

newlightsbullard21.jpgWith recent robberies making headlines and a crime alerts from the U-M Department of Public Safety in our inbox, it is clear that crime is a problem facing the city. The campus and city is generally safe, but recent robberies are clearly troubling. Although crime is a complex problem with complex solutions, we think good urban design can play a role in enhancing public safety.

Maryland graduate Justin Auciello recently sent us an email pointing out an op-ed he wrote for the Diamondback last spring. In the article he describes how the community of Sarasota, Florida used a Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design Plan (CPTED) to reduce crime along their “gateway corridor” not unlike Route 1. Their law improved lighting in streets and parking lots, encouraged balconies and mandated shorter shrubbery, among other changes. Auciello argues the relatively low-cost changes of such an ordinance could reduce the “perception and reality” of crime in College Park. In particular, he urges the College Park City Council to create a subcommittee to study the issue. Do you think design can reduce crime?

> Diamondback Op-Ed: “Reducing crime through smart design

Bethesda Park???

While doing some research for our presentation to the SGA last night, we came across some shocking data. Even though we are one of the most outspoken organizations constantly exclaiming College Park’s ‘ripeness for redevelopment’ and are on record talking about CP’s imminent “massive development campaign” several times, putting these numbers in one place really took our breath away (italics indicate our confidence that the project will be built):

-> East Campus Development Initiative (extensive housing – 1000 units?, office, retail)
-> M-Square Research Park (extensive office, 490 condos)
-> Private Investments in the pipeline

  • Mosaic at Turtle Creek (8 stories, 300 condos behind Hillel)
  • City Hall deal (9 stories, 165 condos, 350 space downtown garage, retail)
  • Northgate Condominiums (17 stories 204 condos, retail)
  • Starview Plaza (110 units, office, retail)
  • University View Overlook (office, retail in front of University View)
  • Berwyn House Apartments (additional 72 units)
  • CP Metro Station (400 condos)
  • Hillcrest Heights (140-160 condos, retail – now considering combining with Lasicks and providing student housing)
  • Mazza Grandmarc Apartments (211 unit student housing – North CP)
  • Knox Redevelopment???
  • Universal Barber Site – Condos???
  • North Gate Luxury Hotel???

We got most of this information from the College Park Development Update. Although some of these projects are still in the conceptual stage and have a rigorous approval process ahead of them, they represent literally billions in potential investment for the area. Even if only half of these projects come to fruition in the next 10-15 years, College Park will be forever changed by the influx of both diverse buyers/renters and retail. Alas, the condo market, politics, and planning are notoriously fickle – potentially thwarting plans from year to year and changing the nature of projects.


City Hall Site Deal Moves Forward

The City Council agreed at their Wednesday meeting to proceed with a Preliminary Site Agreement (PDF) for the redevelopment on the existing city hall site just behind Smoothie King. The site will be transformed by Capstone Development Corp into a no more than 9 story building with roughly 165 condos plus retail and/or commercial space. The parking garage we reported on yesterday and also part of the deal, would be located directly across Knox Rd. If the current plans go through, City Hall will be relocated at the (to be reconstructed) Friends School Building near campus. An informational meeting will be held September 21st at 7pm in City Hall.