How do I cross thee? Let me count the ways

Countdownpedestriansignal.jpgIt’s not often that one can hold up the District government as an exemplar of innovation, but we’ve become fond of the crosswalk timers the city started installing several years ago. Initially these timers only adorned traffic poles downtown, but they now appear all over DC even at barely-trodden intersections.

Good ideas, much like commuter students who drive, typically arrive in College Park rather late. Though there are some recent pedestrian improvements installed in the vicinity of the View, we’re anxiously counting down the seconds until the presence of timers becomes, well, pedestrian.


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).

North Gate Park – A new era of collaboration?

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Last week we reported on the imminent construction of North Gate Park – a project coordinated by the City-University Partnership and whose final design was derived from a 22-student sophomore Landscape Architecture class competition. Add in some grants, several organizations, and some very meaningful stakeholder participation and out comes a project whose benefits can’t be emphasized enough.

The park will provide a bus shelter and much needed pedestrian link to campus while respecting the Paint Branch’s forested stream buffer and incorporates sustainable design and building materials. It will contain a rain garden to reduce runoff, environmental interpretive signs, and an orchard for your gorging pleasure. Since our first post we’ve spoken with Jack Sullivan, the instructor and assistant professor who worked closely on the North Park effort (see more details). He was kind enough to send us this pamphlet with some other great schematics of the project. We hope North Gate Park will be a powerful model and constant reminder of how different members of the community can and do work towards common goals.

With technical and artistic expertise, academic curiosity and scholarship, and unbounded enthusiasm, students have created a beautiful, comfortable and sustainable 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.

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Public Meeting Monday on Massive ‘East Campus’ Project

Rethink College Park just noticed this article reporting the University will host an important public meeting about the East Campus Redevelopment Initiative tomorrow, Monday, September 11, at 3:30 p.m. in the Colony Ballroom of the Stamp Student Union. We wrote in August about the project when the university launched a website targeting developers.

University leaders hope to build offices, housing, stores, and a conference center on 38 acres of University land bounded by Paint Branch and Route 1. The facilities currently occupying the land — including the Shuttle-UM bus barn, maintenance shops, and mail facilities — will be relocated elsewhere on campus. University officials are also holding a “Developer Information Session” on Thursday, September 14 at 9:30 a.m. in Ritchie Coliseum. We encourage community members to attend the meeting Monday to learn about this important project and learn how they can contribute input in the process.

What: Public Meeting on East Campus Redevelopment Initiative
When: Monday, Sept. 11, 3:30 p.m.
Where: Colony Ballroom, Stamp Student Union

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Redevelopment Area in Purple

Two Bars to Open on Route 1

Thirsty TurtleThe Diamondback reported yesterday about two bars opening this fall on Route 1 in downtown College Park. The Mark will be a lounge serving tapas with a sophisticated atmosphere, and the Thirsty Turtle is a large bar with a live music venue upstairs.

When we stopped in the Thirsty Turtle today the bar manager said he was hoping finish work would be completed by next Friday, but noted they had a lot to do before opening day.

> Diamondback: “Double Vision: Two New Bars Hit Route 1

City Council Rejects 1-Story Bank

The College Park City Council has voted unanimously to oppose a proposed 1-story Commerce Bank. The proposed building would go at the site of the abandoned Showcase Furniture building on Route 1 between Calvert Road and Guilford Road. This quote is from the Gazette story:

College Park resident Leo Shapiro was one of many to speak out against the proposed bank. ‘‘This does nothing at all to move us toward our vision for College Park and it would be an enormous and shameful waste of an opportunity,” said Shapiro, adding that the single-story single-use structure would not be consistent with the Route 1 Sector Plan. ‘‘Here’s an opportunity not to waste this space on a bank.”

> Gazette: “City opposes using property for bank