City and Book Exchange Developer at Impasse

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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.