November 2012 Development Update


The City of College Park has released its bi-monthly newsletter covering local development news.  Highlights from the latest edition include:

Domain at College Park

Mowatt Lane & Campus Drive

Status: Under Construction

Mixed-use residential development will have 256 multi-family units and 9,061 square feet of retail space. The first units are expected to be ready for move-in by summer 2013 with all units completed by summer 2014.  Four tenants are close to signing leases to occupy 5,181 SF of the ground floor retail space: Subway, Tutti Frutti Frozen Yogurt, Gateway Newstands, and Casey’s Coffee.

More details about the proposed retail businesses at the Domain can be found in this document.

Best Western

8419 Baltimore Avenue

Status: Under Construction

The Best Western project consists of a 50-room hotel with extended-stay suite facilities on the former site of the College Park Motel. Construction began late in 2011 and the estimated completion date is early 2013.

The Best Western hotel project was covered in this recent Diamondback article.

Maryland Book Exchange

7501 Baltimore Avenue

Status: Approved Detailed Site Plan

The property is 2.71 acres and is currently home to the Maryland Book Exchange. A new student housing development will add 287 units, with a maximum of 855 beds (originally proposed as 341 units and 1,010 beds). The ground floor will have 14,300 square feet of retail, including the relocated Maryland Book Exchange as the anchor.

The redevelopment of the Maryland Book Exchange received final approval from the Prince George’s County District Council earlier this month. The approval is a result of recent compromises with the City of College Park to reduce the height along Yale Avenue, among other items. The project now consists of a six-story building on Route 1 that steps down along College Avenue.

The next step will be the submission of construction drawings to obtain a building permit. Construction could begin in the first half of 2013.

This development will join The Enclave, Mazza Grandmarc, and The Varsity as the fourth privately built student housing project to open since 2010. Along with the University View I & II buildings, those three completed projects have brought 3,458 beds to the Route 1 Corridor since 2005. As of September 2012, the occupancy rate for these units was reported at 94% by the management teams.

Details about the final approval of the Maryland Book Exchange project can be found in this Gazette article from earlier this month.

Cafritz Property at Riverdale Park

Along the East Side of US Route 1 at College Park’s southern boundary

Status : Preliminary Subdivision Review

Envisioned as a multi-phase project on 37.55 acres of land in Riverdale Park, the development team requested rezoning the property from R-55 to Mixed-Use Town Center in 2011. A vote on the rezoning request was not taken until February 2012, where the County Planning Board approved by a 5-0 vote. After numerous public hearings in April and May, the County District Council voted 7-2 in favor of the rezoning application on July 9, 2012.

The developer’s next move was to submit a Preliminary Plan of Subdivision on July 27, which is scheduled to be heard by the County Planning Board on January 10, 2013.

The first phase proposes a Whole Foods Grocery store, over 100,000 square feet of retail and restaurants, and 22,000 square feet of office space. The second phase proposes 995 residential units and a 120-room hotel.

A recap of the District Council’s approval of the Cafritz Project back in July can be found in this Gazette article.

University of Maryland – East Campus

SE Corner of Baltimore Avenue and Paint Branch Parkway

Status : Planned Project

The University of Maryland plans to redevelop 38 acres of land at the intersection of Baltimore Avenue and Paint Branch Parkway. Phase 1 of the project will occupy approximately 8 acres and is slated to include a 266-key conference hotel with 18,000 square feet of retail and a 700-space garage, two graduate student housing towers, and an additional 70,000 square feet of retail. There are also plans for a light rail station as part of the proposed Purple Line development. The University of Maryland is looking to begin construction in 2013.

This recent Diamondback article has the latest update about East Campus.

Book Exchange Compromise In The Works

Book Exchange Compromise

A compromise regarding the design of the proposed 431 unit Maryland Book Exchange project may be in the works. There will be a public presentation by the R&J Company at next Tuesdays City Council meeting to present a possible alternative for the structure.  As outlined in this previous post one of the main issues has to do with the step-back requirements  towards the residential zones surrounding the property. This very preliminary rendering of the possible redesign shows a step down from 6 levels near Route 1 down to 4 levels closer to Yale Avenue. This is certainly more in line with the Route 1 sector plan.

The Prince George’s County Planning board has already given the go ahead for the project despite the strong objections of the City Council. Therefore the developer could forge ahead with the existing plan however the City had planned an appeal which could drag on the process.

More details to come in the upcoming Council Session on October 9th.




It’s Time to Rethink the Book Exchange Proposal

When I became aware of new development coming to the Maryland Book Exchange site I thought, “Great! We are finally getting some student housing downtown.” So many of the previous development had been farther north that this project looked to be right in the sweet spot giving real incentive for tenants (most of which will be students) to abandon their cars and help revitalize downtown.
Then I heard about grumblings from the City Council and other residents of Old Town on the project: — “Its too large.” — “There will be a thousand students roaming the streets of Old Town looking for parties.” — “It doesn’t fit in with the residential neighborhood.”

My initial reaction? Give me a break.

Continue reading It’s Time to Rethink the Book Exchange Proposal

College Park Development Update – January

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 Maryland Book Exchange redevelopment, Domain at College Park, Cafritz Property, and The Varsity. If you have any questions or would like to subscribe, please feel free to contact Michael Stiefvater at (240) 487-3543 or

City Council Rejects Book Exchange, Opposes Cafritz

During a four hour meeting Tuesday night, the College Park City Council rejected the Maryland Book Exchange site plan and voted to oppose the Cafritz Property rezoning.

The Council voted unanimously to reject the revised detailed site plan for the Maryland Book Exchange. The detailed site plan describes the specifics of a development project, including height, footprint, materials to be used, and architectural design. Councilmembers took offense to the plan as “hardly modified” from a previously rejected site plan. While the revised site plan reduced building height along Yale Avenue from six stories to four, councilmembers argued it still went above the two to three stories permitted by the Route 1 Sector Plan.

In a six to two roll call vote, the Council voted to send a letter to the Planning Board opposing the rezoning of the Cafritz Property from R-55 (residential, single family homes) to M-U-TC (mixed use town center). The motion made by Councilmember Stullich received the support of Councilmembers Dennis, Mitchell, Stullich, Wojahn, Day, and Afzali, and was opposed by Councilmembers Kabir and Catlin. At time of posting the text of the motion is not available electronically.

The Council heard from and questioned the developers, as well as Mayor John Tabori of University Park and Mayor Vernon Archer of Riverdale Park. University Park voted Monday evening to support the Cafritz Rezoning 4/3, while Riverdale Park voted Tuesday to support the rezoning unanimously. Both towns made their support contingent on a set of consensus conditions. The conditions were negotiated during twelve meetings held over the holiday among representatives from all three municipalities and the Cafritz developers. Councilmember Stullich served as College Park’s lead representative in the discussions.

Mayor Tabori emphasized that he had begun as a skeptic of the project, particularly of the traffic studies and the site’s transit orientation. He argued that the major weaknesses in the proposal had been addressed and noted that this was the first time a developer in Prince George’s County actively supported creating a Transportation Demand Management District. Developer opposition had stalled efforts to get a TDMD covering PG Plaza. Mayor Archer echoed Mayor Tabori’s support, observing that through the consensus conditions, the muicipalities had exchanged their power to stop the project entirely for significant influence over how it evolved.

Thirteen members of the public spoke for opposing the rezoning, including one visitor from University Park. Opponents of the rezoning emphasized concerns over traffic, unreasonably high density on the site, and questioned the desirability of any type of mixed-use development on the site, expressing a preference for single family homes. Several speakers also indicated distrust of the developer in general, specific anger over past behavior and a belief that the consensus conditions had been negotiated behind closed doors without public input.

Four members of the audience spoke against the letter of opposition, including your author and one visitor from Riverdale Park. Supporters of the rezoning pointed out that many concerns could be addressed during later stages of the process, that the consensus conditions adequately addressed community concerns, and that opposition now would limit the City’s ability to influence future proposals on the site. One speaker emphasized that change in the community was inevitable and better treated as an opportunity to adapt.

In discussion among the Council, Councilmember Catlin critiqued Councilmember Stullich’s stated objections to the rezoning, deeming them either irrelevant or already handled by the consensus conditions. Councilmember Kabir said he has struggled to support the project because of concerns over traffic and the mechanism for College Park to be involved in the M-U-TC process. In his view, the city got exactly what it asked for and his concerns were addressed. Councilmembers Wojahn and Afzali expressed conflicted feeling over the motion, indicating that while the Cafritz plans had come a long way, too many issues remained outstanding for them to feel comfortable with it. A similar sentiment came from Coucnilmembers Mitchell and Day, who both specifically cited concerns over density on and traffic generated by the site.

The Cafritz rezoning proposal will be heard by the Planning Board this coming Thursday, at 12:30pm at their office in Upper Marlboro. Public comments are welcome and the agenda can be found here.

Update: The post originally described the College Park Council vote as six to four. The vote was actually six to two, and the post has been corrected.

November College Park Development Update

The College Park 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. Please feel free to distribute this information as you see fit. Questions or comments can be directed to Economic Development Coordinator Michael Stiefvater at (240)487-3543 or

City and Book Exchange Developer at Impasse

Get Microsoft Silverlight

At the October 4th City Council worksession (video above), councilmembers, city planning staff, and R & J Company, LLC were at loggerheads over the developer’s proposed 6-story building on the site of the Maryland Book Exchange downtown. Lying just below the surface are community concerns over the fact that the mid-rise building would contain 830 undergraduate beds and approximately 170 beds marketed to graduate students and young professionals across the 341 units. The City’s agenda tonight incudes a motion recommending that the County Planning Board reject the detailed site plan for the project.
Book Exhange elevation from College Ave
Keep in mind that the city (both council and staff) fill an advisory role. The County Planning Board and Council have the final say. Eric Olson on the County Council could definitely delay the project, but ultimately this does not come down to a popular vote no matter how much elected officials at both the city and county level would like it to. The developer is mostly within the intent and bounds of the zoning for the property and could seek relief in the court system. Their hard line approach seems to indicate and intent to do just that. As usual, the press coverage and political pronouncements overlook the legal and regulatory framework underlying the development review process.

The Prince George’s County Planning Board will  hear the case on Thursday, November 3rd in Upper Marlboro. It will be very interesting to watch how the Book Exchange project progresses through the process seeing as this is the first project to be proposed since the adoption of the updated Route 1 Sector Plan in summer 2010. Some of the disagreement stems out of the lack of precedent for these new regulations.

There is definitely a gap between what the Sector Plan says and what the City’s staff wants it to say. Most (but not all) of the items listed in the city’s staff report are of questionable relevance. The developer’s argument that the building doesn’t need to be “stepped-back” from the Old Town neighborhood is pretty specious.


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).

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.

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

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

From North College Park Comes Support for Book Exchange Development

Unlike their neighbors to the south, most of whom oppose the undergraduate housing component of the Book Exchange redevelopment proposal, most North College Park residents gave their blessings to the project.

With a few exceptions, that was the general tone of the North College Park Citizens Association’s (NCPCA) monthly meeting last Thursday at Davis Hall. The project’s developer, Mr. Ilya Zusin, made a presentation about the plan and took questions from NCPCA members. Some 35 residents attended the meeting.

Earlier, the residents in Old Town College Park rejected the proposal due to concerns of excessive noise that undergraduate residents of the building might bring to the surrounding neighborhood.

Though the noise concern worked against the proposal in the south, it seemed to work in favor in the north—but for a different reason.

“You want these students to be present near the campus, and be watched by their managers, you want them to be out of the neighborhood and you don’t want them to drive (in the neighborhood), right?” asked Mark Shroder, supporting the plan. Mr. Shroder is the North College Park Citizen’s Association President and has previously served on the City Council.

Though in minority, not everyone agreed with Mr. Shroder. “I’ve been there with our code enforcement officers in the Friday nights, and I haven’t seen so horrible things in my entire life: Waves of students going down the streets, singing, partying, and making noises,” said Mary Cook, former District 4 councilwoman, as she voiced her concerns with the Old Town residents. “I don’t want to be living next to that place [proposed housing]. I’ll have to move out from that place,” added Ms. Cook.

Marcus Afzali, Ms. Cook’s successor in District 4 and UMD graduate student, is also skeptical about the plan. “Something better can be built in this place” commented Afzali.

Afzali’s comment provoked sharp question from Mr. Zusin: “What better option do we have?” Mr. Zusin asked.

“There are a whole lot of them. How about a hotel?”Afzali answered back.

“Having a hotel is not a viable option. We’ve also approached several grocery stores, none has expressed interest yet. Trader Joe’s said they are not interested but that doesn’t mean that another operator won’t be,” Mr. Zusin responded, refering to his attempts to draw a grocery store for the ground floor retail component of his project.

During his presentation, Mr. Zusin was asked to explain the reasons for oppositions against his proposed development. “They [the Old Town residents] do not want to put more students in their area; they don’t want this [development] in their backyard”.

“But we don’t want it in our backyard, either,” commented North College Park resident Marcia Booth, drawing a laughter from the audience.

“The plan does not affect us. I think he [Mr. Zusin] has a damn good plan. I’m all for it,” commented Bill Robertson, another long time North College Park resident. Mr. Robertson’s comment was greeted with applause and later echoed by a few other neighbors in attendance.

Some residents supported the proposal citing the economic aspect of the development. “I fear if someone else, such as UMD, can get the property, the city will lose important tax revenues [from the development],” commented Sarah Jasz, another North College Park resident.

At least one North College Park resident wanted the students moved deep into the campus. “Why has somebody not brought the idea of building more student housing inside the campus?” asked Hollywood resident Peter Lakeland.

Some also spoke about the proposal’s compliance with the Route 1 sector plan. “I believe in a land owner’s rights and as long as the project is within the constraints of the sector plan and the zoning then they [the developers] should be allowed to move forward,” said James Woodhouse.

Responding to Mr. Zusin’s proposal, District 1 councilmember Patrick Wojahn said, “What we’re hearing is only one side of the story. I propose that NCPCA invites someone from the Old Town neighborhood to speak to this audience in next month’s [NCPCA] meeting.” Mr. Wojahn strongly opposes the proposed development.

Council members Chris Nagle and Bob Catlin were also in attendance, but refrained from speaking.

Unlike the Old Town Civic Association, The NCPCA did not make an official resolution on the proposed development.