College Park Development Update – March

The Development Update is a bi-monthly newsletter prepared by the City of College Park Planning, Community and Economic Development Department covering development activity in the City. This edition features updates on the City’s Community Legacy application, Domain at College Park, and East Campus. If you have any questions or would like to subscribe, please feel free to contact Michael Stiefvater at (240) 487-3543 or mstiefvater@collegeparkmd.gov.

UMD Wants More To Live Near Campus

cp-hereIf you work on campus the University of Maryland wants you to live here. The Gazette is reporting on a study being performed by UMD to determine what folks are looking for in a neighborhood to better market the surrounding area to faculty and staff.

We’ve profiled Live Near Your Work programs before which have a marginal success rate at best.  Currently only 33% of faculty/staff live in Prince Georges county. What is really needed is a radical change in the perception of the area among potential homeowners. Although College Park was voted the Best Place to Raise a Family in 2011 by Bussinessweek, there are still several factors that push people to Montgomery, Howard, and even farther out in Prince Georges county. Concerns about public safety, the consistently low performing public schools, and high taxes are high on potential homeowners minds when they look to settle in the area.

So why is it that more faculty/staff do not  live near campus?

Continue reading UMD Wants More To Live Near Campus

Route 1: A Main Street by Default

Route 1

A recent article in The Diamondback commended the rise of mixed-use development on our university’s main street, as it should. After years of housing shortages and blight, College Park is finally being rejuvenated. But in current discussions of College Park’s redevelopment, there is a huge elephant in the room: Route 1 itself.

Dangerous and traffic-clogged, our principal road hardly functions as a hub of campus life. A typical main street is lined with independent businesses for meeting friends, street furniture for sitting and chatting and wide sidewalks for leisurely strolls. Route 1, however, is a different story. As evidenced by the constant rotation of restaurants in Terrapin Station, this street has managed to extinguish business in our downtown corridor. Lacking infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists, this unsafe road seems set on exterminating our human population, as well.

Two major factors contribute to an establishment’s success. The first is population density, a store’s customer base. The second is foot traffic, the stream of pedestrians from which stores can fish out these customers. Clearly, College Park has the population density to support a bevy of businesses, yet we are lacking the foot traffic. Why? Because traversing Route 1 on foot is a death-defying feat. Anyone who has tried to cross Route 1 at Hartwick Road knows I’m not being hyperbolic.

Sadly, the ills of Route 1 are not unique to College Park. In Hyattsville, where Route 1 also serves as the default main street, the city has been trying to bring life back to a strip that was, until recently, dominated by vacant lots and used car dealerships. While the development project is anchored by a Busboys and Poets and features intriguing locally owned businesses, the speed and noise of Route 1’s traffic prevents Arts District Hyattsville from becoming a comfortable environment for spending an afternoon.

Particularly telling is a bench located outside of Busboys. Instead of facing outward toward the expansive view of the surrounding neighborhoods, as benches typically do, it faces inward toward an unsightly brick wall. Hyattsville’s developers are trying to build public space that fosters a thriving community and economy, yet these four lanes of traffic make that impossible to do.

Route 1 is in desperate need of traffic taming — steps that would retain the street’s automobile capacity, yet make the road more comfortable for pedestrians. By narrowing lanes of traffic as currently planned, we could finally widen sidewalks, install bike lanes/cycle tracks and add street furniture and greenery. These measures would attract College Park residents from their homes to the street, helping to repopulate our downtown corridor and ensure the success of our new businesses.

Roads are the building blocks of our communities, and it is simply impossible to build community around six lanes of traffic. We cannot continue to herald new businesses when they come to town, yet neglect to create an environment where they can thrive. The establishments in the new mixed-use high rises require a Route 1 that accommodates both cars and people.

There is nothing “new” about Route 1. It remains a main street by default, not by definition.

Zusin Files Plans for Book Exchange Redevelopment with County

Book Exhange elevation from College Ave
On July 14th, R & J Company, LLC filed a detailed site plan to build a 6-story apartment building on the site of the Maryland Book Exchange at the corner of College Ave. and Route 1 in Downtown College Park (SEE RENDERINGS). From what we can tell, the details of the proposal are basically the same as they were last fall:

  • 341 units
  • 14,366 SF of ground floor retail (with a little less than 10,000 leased by the Maryland Book Exchange in a new space)
  • 321 parking spaces underground (the City Council nixed a request by the developer to pay for fee in lieu parking in the city’s empty public garage two to the south of the site)
  • LEED Silver at a minimum

Although proposed to be constructed as one building, developer Ilya Zusin envisions a structure that would from an architectural standpoint “read” as two buildings from College Avenue. The two sections would not be connected internally and have separate entrances. About 2/3 of the units would be contained in the section on the Route 1 side of the parcel and contain approximately 830 dedicated student beds. The remaining 1/3, with about 170 bedrooms, would be marketed to professors, graduate student, and young professionals.

Unlike recently approved and constructed, dense student housing projects on Route 1 to the north, this proposal is immediately adjacent to a residential neighborhood – Old Town College Park. Although the vast majority of Old Town is rental housing, there is still a contingent of about two dozen residents vehemently opposed to siting any student housing on the east side of Route 1 downtown. Even without the student housing component, a 6-story building would be far taller than anything in the immediate vicinity (with the exception of the city’s parking garage which is slightly shorter).
mbx

A letter dated October 1, 2010 from Old Town Civic Association (READ HERE) to the City effectively sums up the basis for the adjacent neighborhood’s opposition:

“We shall be completely marginalized and without hope should this project go forward.”

Later: “OTCA believes the influx of up to 1,000 more undergraduates would symbolize ‘kiss of death,’ for College Park’s downtown, as the likelihood of more upscale, adult-oriented eateries and shops would forever be lost to sandwich shops and fast food venues, the market of choice targeted to undergraduates. If downtown is completely dominated by undergraduate residents, it will not attract more diverse retail. If this project goes forward, the opportunity to change the nature of downtown will forever be lost.”

The letter concludes with: “We cannot support the proposed development at the Maryland Book Exchange, as it is likely to have grave and irreversible impacts on our community.”

The project will no doubt be one of the most controversial development proposals in recent memory for the city. Despite the opposition and the public perception that the development approval is up for popular vote, Zusin’s project appears to be perfectly within the bounds of the zoning for the property. That is the basic reality of the situation and the Route 1 Sector Plan, but that doesn’t mean the project can’t be obfuscated by politics and end up in a drawn out court battle. The project will go before the Prince George’s County Planning Board on October 20th.

Graduate Housing in East Campus: We’re Glad we were Wrong!

We’re happy to report an important error in our post on the Nov. 30 East Campus Forum. Although discussions at the meeting suggested that graduate housing was no longer a priority for East Campus, we have since learned that graduate housing remains a central component of the project.

Ann Wylie, UMD’s Vice President for Administrative Affairs, said, “Graduate housing has been our number one housing priority from the inception of this project.” Blake Cordish, Vice President of the Cordish Companies, wrote “Everyone will gain from a graduate population in East Campus.”

There are no plans to include undergraduate housing in East Campus Phase I.

Wylie is a former Dean of UMD’s Graduate School, and has been a strong advocate for affordable graduate housing in the university’s new town center. As described in the university’s April 2010 request for proposals for the project (p. 5), an ongoing possibility is that the graduate housing could be financed through tax-exempt bonds from the Maryland Economic Development Corp (MEDCO), one of various ways to ensure affordability for the graduate housing. MEDCO bonds have been used previously to fund UMD undergraduate housing, totaling around 2900 beds in recent years.

The East Campus graduate housing could be built as a separate building. The April 2010 RFP suggests Block F in the schematic (see below) as a possible location, adjacent to the proposed site for the Birchmere music hall (Cordish have already made it clear that they prefer to break up the development into smaller blocks).

An interesting alternative possibility is that the graduate housing could be intermingled with the market-rate housing. This could be an excellent way to use the new development to foster integration of students and city residents.

In contrast to the sturm and drang that accompanies most proposals for new undergraduate housing in College Park–and is currently surrounding the Maryland Book Exchange development–graduate housing in East Campus seems to be an all around crowd pleaser. There are good reasons for this:

  • Grad students have really boring parties. Residents love this.
  • And they drink far too much coffee. Café owners love this.
  • Grad students tend to be year-round residents. Much better for local businesses than students who are gone away for close to 6 months of the year.
  • The campus needs to be a more appealing for grad students. The university’s ambitions depend heavily on its ability to compete successfully for top grad students.
  • They tend not to have cars, and want to live in a place where they can walk to the grocery store. Good for parking and the carbon footprint.
  • A grad student who lives in East Campus could save up to $150/month over commuting from Columbia Heights, in metro savings alone (peak rate).
  • Some grad students have young children. This is good for diversifying the community.

“You’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a high-end hotel”

The Varsity, a student housing project set to open Fall 2011, has just launched its leasing website. They appear to have taken a page from Mazza GrandMarc’s cheesy marketing campaign, but then they took it to a whole new level.



They’re selling a lifestyle and experience rather than housing (complete with tanning beds, a game room, and fitness center):

College life is full of events you’ll remember forever. Many of the memories you will create with friends will happen where you live. At The Varsity, we believe your apartment is not just a place to keep your stuff and sleep in at night; it is an experience. We have worked hard to create a student housing community that is all about you… sophisticated yet down-to-earth, edgy yet classic, luxurious yet comfortable and private.

The Varsity at College Park Lobby

Olson, Stullich…We’re waiting for real leadership on the Book Exchange redevelopment

olsonbus
Local leaders have really put themselves in a quandary over the Book Exchange controversy. An array of officials who are reliably pro-smart growth have teamed up with Old Town Civic Association (OTCA) in an effort to quash the proposed 6-story project that could bring 830 student beds to downtown College Park—along with roughly 170 beds geared towards graduate students and young professionals. They think the site could be better used. The debate has become almost farcical. Handpicked neighborhood committees are staking their positions, and misinformation and hysteria abound in ways not seen with any other project.

The developer has not submitted formal plans or even presented the concept to the City Council, but the battle lines are drawn. The preponderance of the key decisionmakers, including county councilman Eric Olson, are squarely in the camp opposed to the project. At the starting gate, the project seems almost destined for a court battle; it’s completely within the zoning, but opposed by most of the local political establishment. The basic realities of the situation and the Route 1 Sector Plan (area zoning) have taken a backseat to an anti-student hysteria brewing among a handful of the most politically active and vocal Old Town residents.

A letter dated October 1 from OTCA (READ HERE) to the City effectively sums up the basis for the adjacent neighborhood’s opposition:

“We shall be completely marginalized and without hope should this project go forward.”

Later: “OTCA believes the influx of up to 1,000 more undergraduates would symbolize ‘kiss of death,’ for College Park’s downtown, as the likelihood of more upscale, adult-oriented eateries and shops would forever be lost to sandwich shops and fast food venues, the market of choice targeted to undergraduates. If downtown is completely dominated by undergraduate residents, it will not attract more diverse retail. If this project goes forward, the opportunity to change the nature of downtown will forever be lost.”

The letter concludes with: “We cannot support the proposed development at the Maryland Book Exchange, as it is likely to have grave and irreversible impacts on our community.”

The basic premises of the opposition to the Book Exchange Redevelopment are faulty. City councilwoman Chris Nagle, who supports the project, describes the situation best:

“The project will not result in an increased enrollment at the University of Maryland. Student housing at the Maryland Book Exchange location will provide students who want to live within walking distance of UMD and downtown College Park with an alternative to living in Old Town. I thought that was what the residents of Old Town wanted: for students to move out of existing single family and into multi-unit student housing dwellings.  The developer is working with residents and has sought their input into the commercial component of the project.”

bookexchangeA unanimous vote (24-0) on Septemeber 27th, 2010 by OTCA recommended the proposal not go forward. Unfortunately, those who are supposed to be voices of reason in the community are playing to the deepest fears of a neighborhood that has convinced itself its very future is in jeopardy. This gut emotion stems from the development’s proximity to the neighborhood, not from any reality of its potential impacts on the community. In fact, the project would create the exact reverse effect of what residents fear: It will contribute to draining students out of single-family homes.

We’re not saying that there isn’t room for adjustments around the edges. We’ve already proposed that the developer seek the Maryland Food Co-op as a retail tenant and look at ways to better ensure graduate students can comfortably occupy part of the complex. That said, if Olson, other local leaders, and OTCA can’t answer the following key questions, then the project should be allowed to proceed:
Continue reading Olson, Stullich…We’re waiting for real leadership on the Book Exchange redevelopment

North College Park to Discuss Proposed Book Exchange Development Tomorrow

bookexchange
The proposal to turn the Book Exchange site into a 6-story mid-rise apartment building for students and professionals has stirred quite a bit of discussion among City’s southern inhabitants – University students and Old Town residents. Being so close to the campus, UMD, smart growth proponents and students would love to see this proposal go through. On the other hand, some long time residents fear that the proposed development is an invitation to more trouble for them – stuff like “late night parties, noise ” etc. will be very common, they think. While the project appears to be in line with the recently updated zoning for the property, but political opposition could delay the project considerably and ultimately quash it.

Does north College Park have anything to do with this property development? Directly the answer may be no, but indirectly, definitely yes. North College Park has a sizable student populations living in its houses. If more and more rental housing is built in the south, students will likely to leave north and concentrate closer to campus. This may or may not have an effect to the northern neighborhoods.

In the meantime, the four council members representing the north part of the city have been divided on the proposal. While District 1′s Chris Nagle supports the proposal, her counterpart in District 1 Patrick Wojahn does not. District 4′s Dennis Michelle is also against the proposal. The other District 4 council member and UMD graduate student Marcus Afzali is publicly undecided but skeptical.

Ilya Zusin, the developer of the proposed development will be at tomorrow’s North College Park Citizen Association (NCPCA)’s meeting (Oct 14). The session will start at 8:10pm. A detailed agenda can be found here.

Earlier this month, the members of the Old Town Civic Association overwhelmingly rejected the proposed development. Tomorrow’s discussion has been billed as an informational session for NCPCA’s members. This means that the members are unlikely to take an official position on the matter.

What’s Ailing Old Town?

Old Town Rental Units 2006
In 2006, roughly 23% of the single-family homes in College Park were rental units. In Old Town (the area bounded by Route 1, Paint Branch Pkwy, Calvert Rd and the Metro tracks) about 3 in 4 houses are rented (red and blue dots above). This is according to a detailed GIS study conducted by Eric Raasch, former RTCP contributor and UMD Real Estate Development Student in 2008. A similarly dramatic percentage of rental units exist in the southern part of the College Park Woods neighborhood just south of Metzerott Road. The percentage of rental housing in neighborhoods close to UMD is a whopping three times larger than the city as a whole. Presumably the vast majority of these are student group houses. The student influence on rental homes further from UMD (like in northern College Park) declines abruptly as it’s subsumed by the larger Prince George’s county rental market.

These maps will come as no surprise to those of us familiar with the city. Students, for the most part, seek out low cost units as close to UMD as possible. The effects of the lack of structured on and near campus student housing in College Park fall disproportionately on about 50 owner-occupied units in Old Town and another 100 or so in the southern part of College Park Woods.

Some would argue that state should take on the risk of building the 1000s of student beds required to house the increasing number of UMD undergrads seeking to live in College Park. That’s a non-starter given that the state is unwilling and unable to substantially expose itself to further risk. The strategy of imposing rent control, denying further private student housing or apartment buildings that developers still see profit potential in, and insisting that UMD provide all student housing on campus (to no avail) will not improve Old Town. That strategy is a recipe for the continued degradation of all the neighborhoods near UMD; especially Old Town. It’s an argument that ignores the fact that nearly all the economic development in CP over the last 10 years has been driven by student housing developers. Without these projects, there would be no mixed-use redevelopment of Route 1 and nearly all these students would be living in College Park’s neighborhoods and driving to campus…

UMD is currently building a $67 million dorm on north campus that will house 650 underclassmen. They’ve also built well over 2,000 beds in recent years with South Campus Commons and The Courtyards through public-private partnerships. The Lakeland and Berwyn communities of College Park have accepted over 3,000 beds of student housing right adjacent to their neighborhoods (some are still under construction). Why is it that the handful of long term residents still left in Old Town and city councilmembers across the city are fighting against the proposed Book Exchange Redevelopment – a project that is plainly in everyone’s interests?

There would be next to no opposition to this project if it was occurring over at Applebees or up at the Knox Boxes, yet the effect on the area would be the same if the proposal was in one of those places. Why can’t Old Town see that the completion of all these beds (some next fall) will drive down rental rates in these complexes and begin to empty out students from the neighborhood, reduce traffic, enliven and reinvigorate downton, expand the city’s tax base and increase walking and transit use?


CP_wide Rental Units 2006