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).

University Chooses the Cordish Company to Develop East Campus

On Friday July 23, 2010, the University of Maryland announced it had begun exclusive negotiations with The Cordish Company to develop the East Campus site.   The negotiations are expected to lead to a formal partnership with the Cordish Company becoming the project’s master developer.

Read more about this story at:

For more information about the Baltimore- based Cordish Company, use the following link:

Updated Varsity Renderings and Construction Time-Lapse

The Varsity

Here are a few updated renderings of The Varsity project near the main entrance of the UMD campus. These images provide us with not only the latest glimpse of what the building will look like, but also its relation to Northgate Park which was redesigned during the development review process after a land swap between UMD, MNCPPC and the developer (the building is built right on top of what was originally proposed as a publicly-owned rain garden). We also found this great time lapse camera from the construction site.

While the design doesn’t push the architectural envelope, it is another welcome improvement in the Northgate Development District. The Varsity will add to the increasingly urban feel for the part of Route 1 next to the University View complex. The retail tenants for the ground floor are still a mystery, but any enhancement to the business climate should be a plus. We don’t generally weigh in on architectural issues, but RTCP is concerned that the color schemes used for The Varsity, University View, and Starview Plaza are all nearly identical. Including some distinguishing color schemes along Route 1 could add some some vibrancy and avoid a potentially monotonous built environment.  A vibrant color scheme will let people know they have actually stepped off campus into the City of College Park. Going forward, perhaps there can be more emphasis on distinctive color schemes during the planning phase for new projects.

The Varsity

RTCP Sponsored Mazza GrandMarc “Hard Hat Tour” May 17th

Mazza 11x17 Site PlanRethink College Park is extremely pleased to announce that it’s sponsoring a “hardhat tour” of the nearly complete Mazza GrandMarc Student housing project in North College Park. Ten years in the making, Mazza’s final approval was the subject of a protracted battle between student leaders, Rethink College Park and County Councilman Tom Dernoga in 2007. Once the retail portion of the project is complete, it will be the first transit-ready, mixed-use redevelopment project in northern College Park. Leasing has already begun for the Fall 2010 semester.

The $43 million, 630-bed complex is geared primarily towards University of Maryland graduate students, will be serviced by Shuttle UM and provides a public trail connection to Paint Branch Trail just behind the complex. The event is open to the entire community. Citizens, students, prospective tenants, local leaders and press are all welcome.

When: Arrive May 17th @ 5:30 PM (tour to begin promptly at 5:45)

Where: 9530 Baltimore Avenue just north of Jordan Kitt’s Music. The group will convene just in front of the new leasing office in the permanent building.

What: Leasing agents will be on hand to provide a guided tour of the nearly complete project and the adjacent Paint Branch Trail connection. RTCP staff will field questions about the project and it’s implications for Smart Growth in College Park.

RTCP will provide a carpool from College Park City Hall which will leave promptly at 5:15 PM. Please RSVP for the event on Facebook and comment if you will be a driver or passenger in the carpool.

Form-based Codes Debate Hits Email

We thought our readers might be interested in a fiery email debate going on between Tom Dernoga, the District 1 County Councilmember leading the effort to prevent the use of form-based codes (FBC) in northern College Park, and myself. Our respective screeds each lay out a fairly complete case against and for the use of form-based codes north of MD-193 in College Park (Dernoga’s portion of the city).

Tom’s basic argument is that the county’s planning department (MNCPPC) is not to be trusted and that county political figures and citizens should maintain their current influence on development projects at all stages of the development review process. Tom’s viewpoint comes from his nearly 8 years on the County Council and time as a Citizen Association President and pro-bono lawyer for citizen groups before that. The Washington Post once called him: “The Lawyer Who’s Wanted When Development is Not.”

My argument is that this system leaves too much power in the hands of individual County Councilmembers and their most vocal (often ill-informed) constituents. This creates uneven development standards across council districts and I believe goes a long way towards explaining why there is so little development activity in Northern College Park…. despite plenty of development interest. I argue that form-based codes will de-politicize the process while still providing opportunities for public input. I’ve included the two most recent and productive emails in the exchange between Dernoga and myself, so keep in mind that there may be references to earlier emails that aren’t included here (for the sake of brevity). Please read and consider carefully before commenting.

Continue reading Form-based Codes Debate Hits Email

Squashing the Vision

Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. That’s the definition of insanity. ~ Albert Einstein

The community’s vision for Route 1 is to have a compact, dynamic, mostly 4-6 story mixed-use corridor. That vision has been formally codified in the Route 1 Sector Plan – the primary zoning document for College Park – for the better part of a decade. As one planner put it recently, the community’s long term vision for Route 1 is to create “a network of sustainable, transit-supporting, mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented, medium- to high-density neighborhoods.” This basically translates to housing (and some office) on top retail which fronts streets and wide sidewalks (depicted below) all along the corridor. Increased traffic would be handled by a more frequent, more reliable Route 1 bus service with “superstops” shared by the various transit agencies and sited in areas with the highest concentration of planned development… a vision set out in a recent transportation study completed for the City.

Continue reading Squashing the Vision

Fundamentals of CP Student Housing Still Strong

Street Pattern

Of the seven active construction projects (listed on our area projects by number page) in College Park right now, five of them are student housing. The other two are University-led office buildings in M-Square. Indeed, there is an unprecedented amount of dirt moving on Route 1 right now; proving that while the national economy may still be floundering, CP student housing fundamentals are still strong. If you include South Campus Commons #7 (which was just completed near Van Munching Hall) we’re witnessing the completion of about 3,600 public, private, and public-private (partnership) student beds over the course of about 3-4 years. That’s an incredible number when you consider that the first six Commons buildings and the first phase of University View only amounted to 2,925 beds.

This surge in construction has led some to speculate that perhaps we’ll witness a student housing bubble since all of these units are dedicated student housing and totally separate from the larger area rental market. These developers who are breaking ground don’t seem to think so. We think it’s too early to tell, but a bubble wouldn’t be such a bad thing for student rents. Otis Warren’s planned University View phase III (8350-8400 Baltimore Ave. in image above) which will house about 1000 beds is apparently stalled because of market conditions (they leased out their 8400 Baltimore Ave office building for another year). UMD is also holding tight on Commons #8. If either of these projects get moving again in 2011 or soon thereafter, it will be a clear indication that developers and financiers still see profit potential in student high rises.

Here is a construction rundown: Continue reading Fundamentals of CP Student Housing Still Strong

Speaking of Eminent Domain… City Looks to Seal the Deal on #1 Liquors

U View and #1 Liquor
Apparently, the city’s patience with #1 Liquors is wearing thin. After nearly a decade of begging, prodding, and cajoling tactics, councilmembers are starting to contemplate eminent domain proceedings on College Park’s most infamous homestead holdout. According to the Diamondback the city would like to acquire the parcel in order to create “a park”:

The council voted last night to try to buy the property or to try to get it condemned if its owner refuses to sell. Some View residents said they would miss the store’s convenient location and were skeptical of plans to create such a tiny park.

The lot is a questionable location for a new park seeing as the City-University partnership is creating the 5-acre North Gate Park just south of the liquor store where Paint Branch Stream Northgate District (looking towards campus)passes under Route 1. But the plan may be the city’s only real means to get rid of the squat one-story building in the emerging North Gate Development District. The store would be surrounded on three sides by major development in the area that includes the University View’s nearly complete complex and Mark Vogel’s planned 700-bed Varsity Student Housing project. The area is but one small glimmer of hope in College Park’s otherwise grim real estate environment. Perhaps the store owner would have been wise to take an offer for a ground floor retail spot in the University View’s new building. They would have had a captive audience of literally thousands of students in complexes either planned, approved, or already built.

Incidentally I just did a lengthy post at about eminent domain and a recent New York State court case that has catapulted the controversial issue back into the public spotlight. As I explain in the post, the tool can benefit communities, but it has several pitfalls. Councilwoman-elect Christine Nagle put it well in her quote in the Diamondback article where she expressed her disagreement with the city’s plan to remove businesses it “just doesn’t like”:

“We’re just starting Route 1 redevelopment,” Nagle said. “How many little parks are we going to have? Every time someone doesn’t make a deal?”

Continue reading Speaking of Eminent Domain… City Looks to Seal the Deal on #1 Liquors

Rt.1 Sector Plan Update: December Charettes, Boundary Amendment Decisions

At the end of October, the County Council authorized a new Route 1 Sector Plan update and planning process.  The update rescinded a previously proposed, controversial, southern amendment of area to add to the sector.  The amendment would have included Rt.1-fronting properties and the Cafritz Property.  The Sector Plan is a document of policies and recommendations to guide development, public amenities, and transportation within the sector’s defined boundaries.

Community charettes will be held in early December (see calander along top left column of this page, or MNCPPC website).  They will be the premier forum for affected residents and business owners to air opinions to planners and politicians.

The old plan (left) included the proposed southern amendment Rt.1-fronting residential properties from Pineway and Carleton Terrace south to East-West Hwy., as well as the Cafritz Property.  The updated plan (right) took out that southern amendment.  The proposed northern amendment of areas including Ikea, Cherry Hill Rd., and parts of the Hollywood neighborhood was kept.

State Highway Administration [SHA] financing for many improvements the Sector Plan recommendations (bus slips, sidewalks, bike lanes) is now shrouded in doubt.

Rally to Improve Route 1 on November 12.

Route 1 in CPOur beloved Route 1. Its not the ICC but its improvement is important to  College Park and the entire area. The District 21 Delegation is staging a rally on November 15th at 9am at the State Highway Administration Building, 9300 Kenilworth Ave., Greenbelt. 

Get out there and let them know you want our funding restored. We surely can do better than the picture on the left. HERE is a flyer about the event suitable for plastering all over your workplace. 

For more infor contact Delegate Peña-Melnyk’s office: (301) 858-3502; or Mary Lehman, Legislative Aide, (301) 538-0436;