UMD, PG County Prove Transit Doesn’t Automatically Translate to Smart Growth

Ballston Metro Station

Service began at the College Park metro station on December 11th, 1993. Since that time, only one Transit Oriented Development (the FDA building) has been built in the area. What’s the only other major construction project in the immediate area in the past ten years? A 1,345 space parking garage. Such is the plight of nearly every Metro station in PG County – heavy on parking, light on walkability. This of course is not the case in Montgomery County nor the Northern Virginia suburbs (Ballston Metro picture left), which have become national models for how to build on and around suburban transit stops. So why the discrepancy? The completely backwards state of PG County politics according to a Washington Post article earlier this month. The situation is probably compounded by notoriously poor leadership from WMATA.

According to a former metro board member:

“We really tried to develop those stations, but we just constantly ran into flak from the [Johnson] administration if it wasn’t what they wanted and it wasn’t the people they wanted,” said Smith, an architect. Metro would come up with a proposal to develop a site, have “its ducks in line, but if Johnson didn’t want it, they would tell us, ‘You can go ahead and approve it, but we won’t issue the building permits,’ ” Smith said. “It became ludicrous.”

So what do we have to look forward to at the CP Metro? That 1,345 space lot was built by WMATA in 2005 to facilitate a 500 unit condo building to be built by Manekin on the remaining surface lot (proposed building pictured in orange below). There has been no movement at all on that project that we have heard.

Of course we still have UMD’s gargantuan M-Square Research Park. One office building is nearly complete and the much lauded NOAA building is finally underway after more than a couple ceremonial groundbreakings. Unfortunately, M-Square is just about as far from transit-oriented as can possibly be imagined. M-Square Sprawling Research Park might be a more appropriate name. MTA planners will definitely have a hard time integrating the Purple Line into the area in a pedestrian-intuitive manner. We’re excited about Route 1, but there is a good reason why we rarely cover Metro development…
Detailed Phasing Plan for M-Square

Rising From the Mud

M-Square Building rising from the mud

We often use one word to describe the amount of development coming to College Park – “staggering“. Yet while driving down Route 1, not one crane can be seen nor construction project underway. Even on campus, the recent building frenzy seems to have trickled to a halt among higher bond prices and tightening state purse strings.

We were able to find one project physically underway at the university’s M-Square (our recently updated library page) Research park next to the CP Metro Station. The building is one of 3 planned and approved that will look similar to the rendering below. A fourth building, NOAA’s beautiful Center for Climate and Weather Prediction, is scheduled to open in February 2008, but has not begun construction despite several “ground breakings.”Rendering of M-Square office building

We also uncovered a aggressive proposed phasing plan for the university’s landholding around the Metro Station (below). Much of it is planned to be office space with a decidedly suburban office park character. This massive amount of office space is sure to sap up a lot of the market for office space in College Park (over the next 15 years?). At the same time, it’s important to remember that many of the tenants of these offices wouldn’t be here in the first place had it not been for the draw of the research park and the need for some firms to locate next to firms in the same (or closely related industries). Put more simply – the private market doesn’t build research parks by itself.

There is some housing proposed at the far southwest in addition to a major condo project planned for the WMATA parking lot (seen in yellow). We like the connection to the Anacostia Tributary Trail system, but eventually it will be necessary to have a meaningful pedestrian link under the Metro tracks towards campus.
Detailed Phasing Plan for M-Square

Project Ajacent M-Square Could Create Grad Housing

A 460-unit project (including 30 town homes) is currently proposed for Riverdale Park right adjacent to the City of College Park. The project would take the place of the former National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) building between Lafayette Avenue and Tuckerman Street known as the “Golub Property”. The Gazette reported on the project in November and few additional details have emerged since then. UMD originally sold the 13.5 acres to the developer – apparently with the stipulation that the university retain 50 of the units to recruit and house grad students.

Although roughly half a mile from the College Park Metro Station the project is tucked in a rather odd spot and as it’s currently being considered will contain 800 parking spaces. We urge local and county leaders to ease parking requirements for projects such as this in order to encourage residents to find alternatives to driving. Furthermore, we believe the project underscores the necessity of developing M-Square with a strong pedestrian character. As M-Square is currently planned we doubt many residents of the new project would enjoy walking along River Road to the Metro. Furthermore, it seems logical to connect the project to the nearby terminus of the College Park Trolley Trail at Albion Road so the residents can easily walk to campus and downtown College Park. This would probably entail an at-grade crossing of the MARC track.

>>Detailed “zoomable” map of the area.

Green NOAA Building Coming to M-Square


College Park isn’t just bursting with new residential development – M-Square (our explanation), the university’s office park, will welcome a 280,000 square foot building that will house the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) new Center for Climate and Weather Prediction. This 50 million dollar center by developer Opus East broke ground in more ways than one last May – it will be the first ‘green’ building in the M-Square development. The project includes a green roof that will help insulate the building and help reduce storm water runoff and an onsite waterfall supplied by collected rainwater. The green roof will also help protect the roof surface – reducing maintenance costs in the future. Over 600 people will work at the center when it is completed.

Besides the visible sustainable aspects, the building will have enough “invisible” sustainable aspects to attain a LEED silver rating. This rating is determined by the U.S. Green Building Council, a leader in sustainable building practices. The new NOAA building will use less water, less energy, and be more comfortable for its employees than most modern buildings. As Senator Barbara Mikulski put it, this is a “world class work environment.”

The Diamondback recently did an excellent piece on the M-Square office park, outlining concerns that the city had about how car oriented the development was shaping to be. “If most people coming to the office arrive by cars, it defeats the purpose of the transit system,” said Councilman Andy Fellows. The new NOAA building is not exempt from this criticism, as it incorporates a large onsite garage. Hopefully future development in M-Square take better advantage of the proximity to public transportation.

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.