2010 in Review and a Preview of College Park in 2011

Yet another year has disappeared from the city’s screen. Residents and the officials of the City of College Park recently engaged in a lively discussion on what they think about the progress made in the past year and what to expect in 2011.

The city saw its leanest budget in years, due to thousands of dollars of loss in state revenues and property taxes. However, there were signs of progress that several city officials attempted to highlight.

Residents have mixed reactions to the slimmer funds and emphasized improvements.

The issue of public safety is still a hot-button issue. While Prince George’s County overall crime rates have seen a 35-year drop in the past year, the city has seen a modest rise in violent crimes such as assaults, homicides, and robberies. The overall violent crimes against persons, from 2009 to 2010, have increased 10%. Crimes against properties, such as burglaries during the same period have gone down 18.4%.

There are, however, attempts to improve public safety, especially in downtown area. “Crime is an issue, but as a result of a state grant we were able to install about 20 security cameras downtown at year’s end. In 2011 we will be able to judge their effectiveness and determine if such cameras are an economical substitute for adding more police,” said District 2 councilmember Bob Catlin.

There were no such security cameras for North College Park residents. The neighborhood was shocked by a sexual assault incident, wherein a 15 year girl was attacked by a stranger at the north entrance of the Greenbelt metro station in the summer of 2010. Though the suspect was arrested 3 months later, residents felt a security camera at the station entrance could have prevented the incident. The city will soon send a petition with over 300 signatures to WMATA asking for cameras to be installed at the station’s entrance.

There were concerns about police presence. PGPD’s District 1 had a new police chief in 2010 (Maj. Liberati) and  a new community liaison officer (Jaron Black). The new leadership is publishing crime reports for the north and the south areas of College Park on a weekly basis. They also host a weekly morning coffee club gathering to update neighbors about the crime incidents.

Those efforts did not stop some residents from expecting more. “The police still do not get out of their cars and their reports still include inaccuracies and people still have trouble with responsiveness. I don’t think we will see any real changes unless and until we have our own police force, “said Stephen Jascourt, a north College Park resident. However, Mr. Jascourt does think that some attempts have been made to increasingly involve the police in the community and get more information to the community faster.

Continue reading 2010 in Review and a Preview of College Park in 2011

A Rethink College Park Holiday Wishlist

In the spirit of the holiday season, we—the contributors at Rethink College Park—discussed some of the things that we’d be delighted to find bestowed upon our city this year. What follows is our wishlist, a collection of things that might not happen, but that we’d gladly welcome were they to appear.

Sidewalks That Make Sense and Infrastructure for Bikers: We want new ones, and improvements upon the ones that already exist. College Park is dense enough that walking through it is a reasonable option, but the infrastructure to do so is dangerous. Usable, possibly widened, sidewalks up and down the entire length of both sides of Route 1 would support pedestrian traffic. Likewise, as easy as it should be to bike from campus to M-Square, or M-Square to the View, or the View to North College Park, it just isn’t. We want clearly demarcated bike lanes on and off campus that provide a safe passing for those who elect not to drive their cars.

The Purple Line: We know there’s still a ways to go until the plan becomes a reality, but we just can’t wait! Very simply, we’d like to see a resolution of the ongoing alignment conflict that has plagued the UMD administration, students, and residents of College Park so that the project can move forward.

Entertainment Venues: There are currently zero places within walking distance of any point in College Park to see a movie or a live music performance. Though it’s not hard to head to P.G. Plaza, why should one have to do so to catch a matinee? We’d love to see venues of both stripes in College Park. There’s certainly enough audience to support them, between the families, young professionals, and students in the area. And, when not providing a nightlife scene, those spaces could be used by the community for events, meetings, and presentations.

Better Dining Options: There’s no limit on the places we’d like to see sit-down restaurants serving quality food and providing a nice atmosphere. Downtown is a given, of course (though Ledo’s deserves a nod), but what about “midtown,” around the View, and the immediate area surrounding M-Square? College Park could easily accommodate new restaurants, bars, coffee shops, spots for a quick lunch, an ice cream shop, and perhaps even a grocery store that’s accessible on foot…the list goes on. It would be even better if we could attract not just the chains that populate the College Park Shopping Center, but locally-owned businesses, too.

Graduate Student Accommodations: Graduate students have woefully few living options in College Park. Graduate Gardens is the closest to campus; otherwise, it’s off to Adelphi or wherever one can find a place to live. Graduate students deserve well-built, attractive housing options with easy access, whether via bus, bike, or walking, to campus. It would be ideal if graduate student housing could also accommodate a childcare center, which would be beneficial to not just those parents who also need to attend to their studies, but to others in College Park with children.

Some Attention to North College Park: Though this list is skewed toward downtown College Park, we don’t want to forget about those who live just slightly north. Two things that we’d like to see in North College Park are the demolition of the former Mandalay Restaurant building, perhaps to make room for a multi-use structure, and the extension of the Paint Branch Trail to Little Paint Branch Park in Beltsville.

A Good Relationship with President Loh: The city of College Park’s relationship with the University of Maryland did not flourish under former university president C. Dan Mote; while town-and-gown relations weren’t bad, they were generally nonexistent. Now that Wallace Loh has taken the reigns of what’s often called the Maryland University System’s “crown jewel,” we hope that he’ll open a dialogue with the world that lives just outside of academia. College Park could be a great college town, but it needs the college in question to respond, integrate, interact, listen, and even offer requests or suggestions. One of our contributors described the ideal relationship as an “honest to goodness partnership for the good of the whole city,” and that’s precisely what we’d like to see. And while we’re talking local officials, how about a trustworthy county executive? Rushern Baker is off to a good start, so let’s hope he keeps it up.

Two More Requests: We’d really, really like to take down the “livable community” sign at the entrance in North College Park…and we’d love it if the state adequately plowed Route 1 this year.

We enjoyed putting together this list and did so in a lighthearted manner. We certainly don’t expect an massive, imminent overhaul of sidewalks, for example, even if we think it’d be great for College Park. Sometimes it’s just useful—and fun!—to consider wishes, however unattainable they might be.

This year, what would you wish for in the city of College Park?

Our college town is great for families, too!

College Park Patch reported earlier today that College Park has been named by Bloomberg Businessweek as “Best Place to Raise Kids in Maryland.” The nice little blurb includes the following:

“Home to the University of Maryland, College Park was developed starting the late 1800s. Part of the city is part of the Calvert Hills Historic District, and a number of historic sites are in the area, including College Park Airport, the oldest continuously operated airport in the world. According to longandfoster.com, many families move to College Park for its good schools (four elementary schools, three middle schools, and four high schools) and its proximity to Washington, D.C., about 10 miles away and accessible by metro. The area’s population is 37.7 percent black and 12.2 percent Hispanic, according to data from Onboard Informatics.”

Patch notes that the school count isn’t entirely accurate—some of those 11 schools do fall outside of the city’s boundaries. And, despite the cultural diversity and attractive historic sites, College Park does leave some things to be desired. Improved streetscapes and bike paths, as well as better pedestrian infrastructure, would be welcomed, and there’s a demand for more businesses (UMD students wishing for bars notwithstanding!).

Overall, however, we won’t quibble too much with the distinction. It’s an honor, after all!

College Park Resident Survey Now Available!

The City of College Park Resident Satisfaction Survey is back!

Tell us what you think about where you live in the 2010 City of College Park Resident Satisfaction Survey.

What is the purpose of the survey?
The City uses the Resident Satisfaction Survey as a tool to see how well we serve you through City services. The last survey, completed three years ago, provided us with valuable input that helped develop our budget and make service improvements. This year, the survey is ONLINE! This allows you to access the survey at anytime and to get your results to us faster.

How can I complete it?
Go to
www.collegeparkmd.gov/survey to complete the survey starting November 3, 2010. Please complete only ONE survey per household. You can save and exit your survey and come back anytime to complete it.

What if I want a paper version of the survey?
Give us a call at 240-487-3501 and request a survey in either Spanish or English and we’ll send one to you.

Complete your survey TODAY! All surveys, online and paper, must be submitted by January 10, 2011.

For questions, contact Chantal R. Cotton at

For more information and survey results, go to the City Website.

Rectifying Route 1, A Pedestrian Perspective: College Avenue and Route 1

Few people will deny that Route 1 is well overdue for major improvements. Motorists are fed up with traffic, bicyclists despise its lack of bike lanes and high speed traffic, and pedestrians loath the poor condition of sidewalks. Traffic speeds, up to seven travel lanes (none safe for bicyclists), and long light cycles make this road equally as miserable to cross. Most everyone will also agree that vast stretches of Route 1 are not aesthetically pleasing and that restaurant and retail options are lacking. The Route 1 Sector Plan was established to address many of these issues, but it appears funding will continue to be a major hurdle to implementing that plan.

This is the first installment of what I hope to be a series on analyzing specific intersections along the Route 1 corridor. This series will focus on bicycle and pedestrian safety, and to a lesser degree, aesthetics and economic development. The goal is to analyze current conditions and facilitate conversation on ways to improve each intersection. It is my hope that increased public conversation on this topic will highlight the necessity for long overdue improvements and make Route 1 a funding priority.

The intersection at Route 1 and College Avenue is one of the most critical in College Park and deserves immediate attention. It links the southeast entrance to the University, the city’s retail corridor, and the Old Town neighborhood. Because of this, one could assume it handles the highest level of pedestrian crossings of any in College Park.

Continue reading Rectifying Route 1, A Pedestrian Perspective: College Avenue and Route 1

A Better Project is Always Just Around the Corner

“We need to create a housing balance and start attracting redevelopment that will help spur a greater variety of restaurants, stores and housing for professionals, graduate students, as well as undergraduates.” ~ Eric Olson, Dist. 3 County Councilman

“When it comes to development, it’s important to have a balance. At this point, we’ve done so much to address [the demand for student housing], I’m worried about going too far in that direction.” ~ Stephanie Stullich, City Councilwoman

That’s right, a better project is always just around the corner or so we’re so often told by our political leaders when it comes to the redevelopment of Route 1. It’s a theme we’ve examined time and time again on this site and a worldview that’s repeated by politicians and everyday citizens around the country over and over again during the development review process. Those sentiments become stronger in existing communities where the stakes are high and NIMBYism, complex economic and community impacts, and us-vs.-them thinking can hijack the dialogue and take our eye off the ball. The controversy erupting over the proposed redevelopment of the Maryland Book Exchange is no exception.

City Councilwoman Stephanie E. Stullich said Tuesday that “building more student housing has been a priority” but noted major new and planned projects will add more than 4,300 beds in off-campus housing within the next few years. ~ From the Washington Examiner (9/14/2010)

The local political establishment has been taken by the idea that there is too much student housing being built in College Park and that it’ll ultimately be at the peril of other types of development that can bring variety and interest to the community. This line of thinking, if taken to it’s logical conclusion, could really destroy the momentum of redevelopment in the city. It’s a mindset and position that purports to understand what the community needs, but ignores that projects need to be economically viable in order to be achievable. When the Book Exchange went up for sale last spring, it wasn’t high end condos, retail and office developers, or boutique hotels inquiring about the property. It was national and regional student housing developers seeking to cash in on a potential for a smart growth, urban infill redevelopment student housing project just across from UMD’s south gate.

Why are we surprised that a private developer has come along, put this property under contract and proposed a student housing project completely in line with the zoning for the property? What precedent does that set for the local development community if our politics are completely at odds with the policies on the books? What right does anyone have to decide what types of people can fill what types of property when the public has already gotten together and agreed on the intensity of development allowed at a site?

route1illustrativeplanIt should come as no surprise to anyone that a student housing proposal is exactly what we got at the Book Exchange. RTCP is not making the argument that it’s an unreasonable public policy goal to want to attract professionals and graduate students to downtown College Park that will in turn diversity the retail offerings. What’s unreasonable is to expect such a housing proposal to materialize against the realities of the market. UMD in partnership with the City and County are embarking on a highly ambitious, publicly-assisted and financed project with the East Campus Redevelopment Initiative. That public assistance along with the sheer size of East Campus makes new housing products in downtown marketable to the general population and therefore financially feasible. There is no such opportunity in place for a purely private project like the one being proposed for the Book Exchange site. What this property does have working to its advantage is its location in an Impact Fee Waiver zone that gives incentives for private developers to build housing for University of Maryland Students in specified areas near campus. Let’s work from the proposal in front of us today instead of holding out for a pure high-end apartment building or condo proposal on the site, which may not materialize for 5 years or more if ever.

We do believe it’s a worthy end to get non-undergraduate housing and other types of retail in College Park. That’s only achievable with a)public financing or b)a mix of housing in one project that includes a sizable portion of student beds which make the project financially feasible. On this project, the developer Ilya Zusin has already committed to marketing roughly 17% of this project to non-undergrads. That 17% would be housed in a self-contained building to the rear of the site. Given that Zusin qualifes for the school facilities impact fee waiver, which reduces his development costs substantially, we think it’s worth looking at ways that he can blunt community criticism and set aside some portion of the other 83% of beds (255 units) specifically for graduate students for some period during the annual leasing process once the complex is built. This arrangement could be similar to how the Mazza Grandmarc operates, but flaws in that system should be examined and addressed to ensure graduate students do ultimately occupy the units intended for them.

On the retail side, Zusin seems legitimately interested in delivering some sort of small grocer to the complex. We suggest that he look at ways of attracting the Maryland Food Co-op, currently located in the Student Union, into the ground floor of his complex along Yale Avenue. These would be good faith efforts on the part of the developer to avoid having the barrel through the county planning process without political support. These efforts would hopefully avoid the need for a lengthy and expensive (for the developer and county) court fight. The Maryland Book Exchange plans to lease the 10,000 square feet of retail on Route 1. It’s great that we can retain this local retailer in the community.

Ultimately, its worth remembering that student housing doesn’t create more students. UMD’s undergraduate population is stable and is actually lower now than it used to be. Multiple private student housing projects have been and are currently being built in College Park. Once complete, they will effectively drain many of the student renters from single family home neighborhoods. Since many of these units are designated student housing, they are separate from the larger rental market and rents will have to be low in order for beds to fill up. Yes, there will still be some students left in neighborhoods, but there will be a dramatic locational shift. Students get cheaper, better housing in a vibrant urban corridor. Neighborhoods get students out and into a slim, transit-ready section of the city along Route 1 as well as access to new retail. Everyone wins.

“Possibilities to add convenience, intensity and cheer in cities… are limitless” ~ Jane Jacobs

City Councilwoman Stephanie E. Stullich said Tuesday that “building more student housing has been a priority” but noted major new and planned projects will add more than 4,300 beds in off-campus housing within the next few years.

Read more at the Washington Examiner: http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/local/College-Park-student-housing-development-meets-resistance-860399-102906834.html#ixzz0zbvK6200

Prince George’s County Council Election

Those who read this blog on a regular basis know that the founder of this blog (David Daddio) and District 1 County Councilman Tom Dernoga had more than their fair share of disagreements on redevelopment issues in College Park over the years.   Months ago I spoke with Tom about these disagreements, in particular over the Route One Sector Plan and he told me that the future of development on Route One north of the 193 and in the Hollywood Commercial District would probably depend as much (if not more) on who replaces him on the county council than on what actually went into the sector plan.

This isn’t to say that the sector plan and zoning issues don’t matter to the redevelopment process – they clearly do matter a great deal – but the influence that those on the County Council have over what type of development takes place in their districts cannot be understated.  After all most council members practice “district courtesy” where they assume that the local council member knows best about the needs of his or her district and will vote on a local development issue based on how the council member who represents that area votes.  The Prince George’s County Council may vote on projects but whoever gets elected to represent District One on the Prince George’s County Council for all intents and purposes will decide what development projects takes place and which ones do not, as well as which conditions potential development projects will have placed on them.

That being said Tom Dernoga is termed out and five candidates are running to replace him.   The candidates are  Valerie Cunningham, Sam Epps, Fred Smalls, Mary Lehman, and Crystal Thompson.  The two favorites in my estimation are Mary Lehman (who is being endorsed by Tom Dernoga and Delegate Joseline Pena-Melnyk)  and Fred Smalls (who is being endorsed by Delegates Ben Barnes and Barbara Frush).   I could be wrong, but Fred is already serving on the Laurel City Council and Mary is the chief of staff for Delegate  Pena-Melnyk so both are already well known in certain communities and actually have a base of support.

Who are you supporting for County Council and who do you think will do a better job on redevelopment and revitalization issues in North College Park?  Also where do you want our next county councilperson to stand on the whole Daddio/Dernoga debate?  Should we be fast tracking any development project that meets code to promote much needed redevelopment or support a longer process that seeks the opinions of locals to try and make sure redevelopment does not unfairly hurt local neighborhoods? (There is also a race in District 3, but Eric Olson is a pretty safe bet to be re-elected and his record on promoting redevelopment within his district is pretty strong).

College Park Patch

We have a new online news website in the City of College Park called the College Park Patch. It launched yesterday and is part of the national Patch network run by AOL. The national Patch site says that they look for communities of 15-100k people that they believe are drastically under served by media and would benefit by having access to local news and information about government, schools and business. The College Park version is run by Lauren Evans and is currently looking for contributors, so if you’ve always had an itch to write and have strong insight on a local issue contact Lauren to see if you can get on board.

The Patch seems interesting as it looks like it is trying to be a combination news website and local social networking medium. Unlike traditional online news sites (like the Gazette online for example) the Patch allows you to make a profile for yourself, add local events to their online calendar, and comment on stories (The Diamondback already has that last feature). They Patch is also unique in how they are trying to build themselves into the community by having 5% of their ad space donated to local charity organizations and making all Patch employees spend 5 working days each year volunteering in the communities they serve.

What are your thoughts on this new online news website coming to College Park?

Best Buy & The Original Ledo’s Opening Soon

A local establishment and a powerhouse national chain are both moving into College Park over the next month with the long anticipated opening of the original Ledo’s Pizza in about two weeks and Best Buy slated to open in the College Park Market Place in early September.  I think both will help College Park in different ways.  The Original Ledo’s will give downtown College Park a destination location at last and will hopefully help increase the use of the downtown parking garage.  Best Buy will be taking the place of the closed down “Linens and Things” and hopefully will add a nice little boost to our city tax revenue.

These two new store openings remind me of the soon to be voted on College Park City Council Strategic Plan. One of the action items in this plan is to “Create a list of 10 most desired retail/restaurant businesses and actively pursue encouraging them to locate in College Park.”  So what retail/restaurant businesses locations do you think College Park should be pursuing?  What type of retail/restaurant businesses would help turn College Park into the vibrant college town we all know we can and should be?  Feel free to list one location or ten and feel free to say something general (a coffee house) or specific (Trader Joe’s).  You can list one retail/restaurant business or ten – but also think about WHERE you think you’d like to see such a business open.

National Night Out


National Night Out is a community-police partnership event that provides a unique opportunity for residents to increase awareness about crime prevention and safety, get to know their neighbors, meet local law enforcement officers with the goal of preventing crime and drug activities in their neighborhoods.

Many College Park neighborhood associations will  participate in this year’s event on Tuesday evening, August 3.  Specific information about the activities is being distributed by the associations and Neighborhood Watch groups in the community. The following neighborhood events have been scheduled to date:

Berwyn: 7:00 p.m. meet in the Park Pavilion for a Neighborhood Walk followed by an ice cream social.

College Park Woods: 6:00-8:00 p.m. meet in the CPW Park.

Cherry Hill: 6:00-8:00 p.m. meet in the park

Lakeland: 6:30 p.m. meet at the Community Center.  March to Berwyn on bike trail with the Tropical Breeze Steel Orchestra
North College Park: 6:00-8:00 p.m. meet at Duvall Field

All residents are requested to turn on your porch lights, meet your neighbors and community leaders, and learn what you need to know about crime prevention and public safety in College Park.