One of the most important policies relating to the future of downtown College Park continues to make its way through a convoluted approval process that involves more lawyers than College Park Residents.
When it is implemented, the Old Town Historic District will require property owners within the designated area (shown on a map here) to apply to the County’s Historic Preservation Commission for a special permit before major construction, alteration, or demolition of any buildings. It is difficult, but not impossible, for a property owner to demolish a historic structure under the county’s law. A section of the district is sandwiched between East Campus and the Terrapin Trader facility, envisioned as a potential phase three to the East Campus project.
If implemented, the policy could effectively prohibit many of the ideas discussed during the College Park charrette, such as adding new development along corridors to connect the Metro station and Downtown. Although the criteria for new construction are designed to be flexible, the Design Guidelines prepared for the area by a city contractor describes the generally low-density character of the contributing resources. At the very least it would create additional regulations for any property owner seeking to develop in the area.
After it was approved by the city and HPC in 2006 the law has been appealed twice by a group including the Prince George’s Property Owner’s Association. Under county law, appeals relating to land use are first heard by the Zoning Hearing Examiner (ZHE). After the first appeal the ZHE ordered the city to take measures to better inform property owners including signs in the Old Town neighborhood. The decision from the second appeal was released on September 26th, and both parties have appealed the decision to the County Council. The council will hear the case at 10 a.m. on Monday, November 19th in Upper Marlboro. Issues of contention in the second appeal include what standards should apply to new construction, and whether a local advisory committee should weigh in on issues not concerning existing historic buildings.
Already a controversy has arisen about the long vacant Sigma Chi fraternity house, which county officials have prohibited the fraternity from demolishing. We hope property owners, renters, and others get involved now to learn about the impact of the policy so when it is implemented there are no surprises.