Varsity Grill Closes while Varsity Development Breaks Ground (UPDATED)

The Varsity Grill is closing its doors after just under two years. The owners blamed its demise on both the local economy and its inability to attract a loyal following among students. The past two years has been a abysmal time to get a business off the ground and we are sad to see the Varsity Grill go. It would seem that with all of the construction nearby that the Grill would soon have a large base of patrons.

UPDATE: According to the Diamondback the real reason for the sudden closure of the popular restaurant is because the landlord is selling to property to a high-rise developer.

Continue reading Varsity Grill Closes while Varsity Development Breaks Ground (UPDATED)

Updates from Councilman Catlin

A June 4th comment:

“The City’s parking garage will have its groundbreaking on June 19th. The Mosaic at Turtle Creek condos should be filing its detailed site plan this summer. The Garden Suites Hotel has filed for its building permits. JPI East apartments, townhouses and retail, has applied for its building permits, Mazza GrandMarc Graduate Apartments hopes to begin construction late this year, Northgate condos (owned by Monument Realty) has had some success in appealing an FAA decision that limited its height from the approved 18 stories to only 12 stories. The FAA now says that 15 stories can be built at the site. It may become student housing. Starview student housing is proceeding with a LEED Silver student housing project. Mark Vogel has been able to put Merchant’s Tire under contract to go with other adjoining properties he purchased earlier, to build student housing. Finally, East Campus is working hard to file its preliminary detailed site plan in early July with Park and Planning. Work is proceeding with the County/City on a $180 million bond issue to be financed with a TIF. Other projects are in the early discussion stage, too.”

–> Check the city’s ever-more organized, extensive and detailed Economic Development Update (May) for more.

Vogel Proposes New Student Housing Project

8240 Balt. Ave

The Hilton Hotel is out and a mixed use 700 bed (250 parking space) student housing project is in. Mark Vogel’s architect easily lived up to their last work (pictured just below) for the site when the developer proposed this project to the city council earlier this month. According to a Diamondback article, Vogel plans to have a solid sit down restaurant on the ground floor. The city was receptive to the designs although they voiced a strong desire for LEED certification for the project. The parking ratio seems very appropriate for such a close location to campus and the type of tenant…

The Hilton project failed after county support for Tax Increment Financing (TIF) evaporated. Presumably this was because the county is expecting to use multipe TIFs for East Campus – a project which is widely expected to have it’s own hotel within a stone’s throw of Vogel’s project site.

Hilton Hotel at UMD North Gate

Jerry's Sub

Airport Regulations Stall Northgate Project

College Park Aviation Policy Area

Northgate CondominiumsThe Northgate Condominum project, a proposed 17-story condo building to be located just north of the University View on Route One, has been stalled thanks to restrictions relating to one of College Park’s proudest attractions – the oldest operating airport in the world.

The city’s April Economic Development Update reported that “Certification of the Detailed Site Plan has been stalled by a finding of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) of a presumed hazard to air navigation based on the height of the building” and that “The Mark Vogel Companies, the project applicant, recently sold the property to ‘Mr. Northgate I LLC’ for $4.2 million in December 2006.” We got some additional information directly from the Federal Aviation Administration’s Obstruction Evaluation/Airport Airspace Analysis division. They told us that Monument Reality, the owner of the project, requested termination of the study, and that they expected the application may be resubmitted.

The FAA officials were adamant to assure us their determination alone couldn’t stop a project from being built. However, a quick review of county law indicates it may complicate the project considerably. After conducting a detailed study, in 2002 the county adopted specific regulations around general aviation airports in the county. The law created a host of regulations for property contained within zones around each airports known as “Aviation Policy Areas.” As can be seen in the illustration above, the entire northgate area is contained within an APA-4 or APA-6. The law specifies specific height restrictions for these zones:

Sec. 27-548.42. Height requirements.
(a) Except as necessary and incidental to airport operations, no building, structure, or natural feature shall be constructed, altered, maintained, or allowed to grow so as to project or otherwise penetrate the airspace surfaces defined by Federal Aviation Regulations Part 77 or the Code of Maryland, COMAR 11.03.05, Obstructions to Air Navigation.
(b) In APA-4 and APA-6, no building permit may be approved for a structure higher than 50 feet unless the applicant demonstrates compliance with FAR Part 77.

Airplane Flying Over UMD campusThe Northgate building as proposed would be roughly 180 feet tall. What is “FAR Part 77,” you ask? Well, it is nothing more than the FAA’s airspace obstruction analysis process, which determined the building to be a hazard to begin with. As the law is written,the developer may be able to keep the existing proposed height of the building and enact mitigation measures (like the flashing red lights on University View) even if the FAA determines the project is a hazard. In correspondence between RTCP and Monument Realty, they indicated they were “confident the project would go forward” by the end of May.

On a side note, as we perused the FAA website we came across another application for Mark Vogel’s Hilton Hotel proposal, which has been put out for public comment (“circularized,” in FAA lingo) with an attached memo reporting it has been decided it was a “presumed hazard.” If you know more, post a comment, but we’ll make some inquiries and report back what we find.

> For more details, see: Prince George’s County Planning Board Airport Legislation and Regulations

Hilton Hotel, 12-Story Condo Project Presented to the City Council


Tonight the City Council heard from two of College Park’s biggest development players – Mark Vogel and Otis Warren. Vogel presented his preliminary plans for a $60 million, 10-story, 300 room Hilton Hotel between the University’s North Gate and University View. The Hotel would include at least one restaurant looking out on Paint Branch Creek with possibly a second in front of a proposed 500-600 space garage. 30,000 square feet of meeting space would be equaly split among the first two floors, followed by 6 floors of rooms, and two floors for special undecided uses. Vogel said he has spent over 4 years working on the property, including 2-3 years to buy leases from Alario’s Pizza and Jerry’s Sub. He expects to close a deal with Merchant’s Tire soon for their lease.

Citing the tremendous cost he’s incurred so far ($3 million for the ground and $5 million for leases) Vogel insisted that Tax Increment Financing (TIF) was essential to the economic feasibility of the project. The hotel would require a 3-way land swap which would take about 1.5 acres from the adjacent and soon to be constructed North Gate Park. He also stated that UMD has signed an agreement whereby if the hotel was built, the University would not construct a competing facility on East Campus or M-Square. Vogel felt he could break ground in 6 months if he got the go ahead and also that the project is a personal “leap of faith”.

Otis Warren presented a Detailed Site Plan fro 8400 Baltimore Ave – just North of University View. The building would be a 12-story (4 parking, 8 residential) condominium tower with 301 units and 14,000 square feet of retail. The Mayor expressed concerns that the project could become rentable apartment units. He noted that the City was hoping the City Hall Condo project would be 100% owner occupied and at Jefferson Square, another major project nearby, the City is hoping to get at least 80% of the units owner occupied.

We should have pictures up of the Condo project shortly.