East Campus Update

Proposed East Campus Office adjacent to Ritchie ColiseumThe East Campus Community Review Steering Committee has been meeting since August to hear from the developers and their consultants about a wide variety of issues surrounding the project. We have encouraged our readers to attend these meetings (and many have) and I am an official committee member of this committee. The meetings are preceded by a “student focus group” between graduate and undergraduate students and university officials.

While we have published several items related to the project, I thought it was time for a summary of some of the news that has been discussed at these meetings. Most of the supporting documents have been posted to the East Campus website, and offer a variety of additional information.

Two issues were discussed at the previous (October 8th) meeting about transportation. First, several members of the committee strongly opposed vehicular connections between Old Town and the East Campus project. As I described in a previous post, I believe these streets should be open and strategies used elsewhere to control traffic would alleviate resident’s fears. Second, Foulger-Pratt announced they wanted to design the project choosing the Paint Branch Alignment for the Purple Line. The Maryland Transit Administration’s preferred light rail route is straight through the project, the location that makes the most sense from a planning point of view. The route through the project has been assumed in all the discussions previous to this month. We strongly feel the reasons cited by Foulger-Pratt are not satisfactory and will present a full description of why after Monday’s meeting.

East Campus Routes

Here’s a summary of some of the most germane issues discussed. All of this is subject to change.

City Demands
The “city” (it is unknown who precisely this means) has submitted a letter with requirements for the project to the University and the developer. This document has not been made public, making it difficult for us to evaluate the nature of the requests. It seems clear the project will need some type of public financing (such as a TIF) and will need city approval and support.

The parking garages will be embedded within blocks where possible. While they had released graphics showing precise numbers of spaces, they declined to discuss them at last week’s meeting saying they wanted to wait until the traffic study had been completed. The developers are negotiating with county officials about the scope of the traffic study they will complete.

Specifically for graduate students, the project will include 75 units of 2 bedroom graduate housing priced at $900 per person, and 75 units containing five bedrooms that will rent at $650 per person. This is similar to was it required by the RFP. In total, the project will contain roughly 2,000 units of housing, all rental, although not designed specifically for undergraduates. This housing will be priced at “market rate.”

Retail Mix
The “anchor tenants” at the project include roughly 175,000 square feet of retail. They are a movie theater (now perhaps replaced by the Birchmere Theater), a gym, book store, and grocery store. The preferred grocer mentioned is Whole Foods. There will also be a childcare center for children under 3 years old. Other tenants will include a variety of restaurants, neighborhood retail, and destination retail. There will be no bars in the project.

Other Considerations
The project will be under the jurisdiction of the UMD police. The developer has committed to a LEED Silver standard, although hedged about whether they would commit to applying to the USGBC for the official certification.

8 thoughts on “East Campus Update”

  1. Why in the world are they not going to use the purple line alignment that makes the most sense? What are their arguments for having the purple line run along a parkway rather than creating a transit center in the middle of the project?

  2. In this post, as in the articles in the Diamondback and the Gazette last week, there is the reference to the city council considering the closing of streets to the East Campus development. Many of us who live in Old Town and Calvert Hills in College Park are disappointed to read these references to our politician’s lack of leadership.

    It is a head-in-the-sand strategy to suggest closing streets linking our neighborhoods to the new amenities planned for East Campus. For many years we have worked for a convenient, high quality grocery and for fine restaurants. Now that those are coming to East Campus, our city leaders seem willing to prevent our access to them, a lack of access that would fall hardest on the elderly and the handicapped that can’t carry their groceries on the handlebars of their bicycles (as some would suggest we all should do).

    I believe the politicians are taking this threat of street closure as an easy route out in responding to the legitimate concerns about traffic. The issue of commuters driving through city streets was a serious concern before Calvert Road was closed with the construction of Metro. Some city residents are asking for the extreme measure of street closure because they have seen a lack of action and leadership from the city counsel. The lack of effective action is seen with the system of one-way streets in Old Town and Calvert Hills that the city councelhasn’t changed in years even though the cut-through traffic they were designed to control from Calvert Road is now only a distant memory.

    With an effective study the council could adjust the system of one-way streets that controlled cut-through traffic before. Rather than cut off access to amenities we would like to see our city leaders providing leadership for effective solutions that would allow the residents to drive to pick up groceries and would prevent drive-through commuter traffic.

  3. i agree, Im disappointed on two points:

    1. street closures. really bad and I hope someone shows folks the light so to speak. if they are closed off, folks will regret the decision for generations.

    speaking of…

    2. pushing the purple line out to the fringe / along paint branch parkway. huge disappointment.

    cant wait for jane doe to weigh in. jane are you out there? we miss you

  4. A purple line crossing Rt 1 will either need to be grade separated or it will be dysfunctional – too many complex turning movements. Additional, if a stop is located further east on Pain Branch Parkway, ridership will be reduced. Ridership drops for every 5 minute walk added to people trying to reach a major destination. The proposed location is more than 5 minutes from Rt. 1 and from the office component of the project.

  5. The inefficient use of space currently in the East Campus region of College Park wastes a great location. An area in walking distance for on campus students, off camp students, and College Park residents should be the center stone of the town, yet it has been reduced to a bus lot, warehouse and abandoned greenhouse. So why has nothing be done? The plans have been drawn, the meetings have taken place, why has the East Campus development not been implemented yet? Understandably there are issues of traffic, funding, and politics; but all these blockades seem manageable. Ideas have been formulated to relieve traffic and parking when East Campus becomes fully developed. The flow from old town College Park to the new East Campus can be controlled with additional turn lanes, convenient parking garages, and safer walk paths. With the addition of the purple line issues of traffic could be easily avoided moving traffic congestion away from route 1. Although purple line is ideally a great solution, overall I am opposed to the purple line because of the amount of time, construction, and money that will be placed into a project that does not need to replace a system that is already working efficiently. Funding for the East Campus development is probably the most difficult issue currently debated. Although it seems with the number of residents and students in the area that would be utilizing the new retail area every day any investment debt from the city, corporations, university, or state would be repaid in few years. The most debated issues seem to have the best solutions; yet East Campus is still not in construction so there must be other reasons why residents, students, and state/city officials oppose the East Campus development.
    Are they afraid of gentrification? The idea that with the new development the old hometown feeling of downtown College Park will be eliminated and forced out because of the huge corporations that will be moving in down the street. Also what will happen with the homes and historic university buildings that will need to be demolished in order to build that new grocery store or movie theater? Where will those people go and are we willing for force them out for our own convenience?
    Another issue they may be subconsciously feeling is cultural appropriation. Once these large businesses such as Chipotle, Burger King, Radio Shack, AMC Theaters, and Dick’s Sporting Goods move in across from campus will we lose our identity as a college town? The integration of large corporations will brand the town of College Park and possibly lose the identity of a small friendly college town that will never be able the be retrieved. Once the town takes the image of a commercial mini mall how will mom and pop stores that have been around for decades which we all love survive? The large corporations will take the image downtown College Park has created and make an advertising ploy out of it. Downtown College Park has absorbed student culture and has created a very homely feel for students. The image of College Park as a college town needs to be preserved, when these businesses move in across the street it needs to be clear they are not affiliated with our University to avoid the corporate labeling and cultural appropriation.
    Clearly by the way I have delivered this message I am strongly in favor of East Campus Development, but I also believe issues beyond the logistics of building the area need to be taken into account. Remember, the identity of College Park and its’ University need to be protected from corporate marketing schemes and cultural appropriation. Also the residents and historical buildings must also be taken care of before demolition because once it is gone it will never come back. Hopefully East Campus Development will being soon, and when it does it will not be soon enough.

  6. The debate concerning the East Campus Development has recently heated up, with developers handing estimates and proposals to both city and university officials for initial planning. This comes at an interesting time for the city and the University, as the “housing crisis” has begun to affect more and more students. After reading over several of the proposals, a lot of interesting questions have come to the forefront. First, the developers have projected that the total number of units will be somewhere around 2,000. Although that seems like a large number, take into account the rising numbers of students desperately searching for housing in College Park. Also, nearly 150 units in the plan are for graduate students. Mixing undergraduate with graduate students seems like a bad idea. Furthermore, they have projected the price of these units to be somewhere between $650 and $900 dollars. Although the prices in College Park have been steadily rising, perhaps now is the time to create student housing with a “rent control” twist? Projects like the University View and Park side Apartments have given students a first hand experience on how expensive College Park can be. If this development plan stays true to the claim that it will list the units at “market price”, who’s to say that the rent there won’t quickly reach $1,000?

    Another question I have concerning the amount of units the developers have projected is why they don’t cut some of the excess (i.e. movie theaters and such) and add more units. Although it would be nice for east campus to have a more student friendly feel, the first priority of this project should be to develop as much as housing as possible. Other retail considerations, such as a Whole Foods store is a great idea, because there is such a lack of accessibility to grocery stores in the immediate area. Adding more restaurants will only add a few more choices to the nearly endless list we already choose from. As a student of legal drinking age, adding restaurants instead of bars seems like it will only add to the monotony of the already redundant College Park nightlife.

    Lastly, the fact that developers are trying to incorporate all these different green standards is an interesting twist. I like the idea of promoting green building and design downtown, I don’t agree with it at the cost of more expensive housing. LEED standards, especially the silver rating, are extremely impressive, and extremely expensive to implement. For anyone that has lived in a college sponsored apartment or dorm, investing money in a building that will undoubtedly be run down and in need of repair seems like a waste of money.

    All in all, the east campus development project is an interesting and intriguing possibility. I would love to see more housing, and more “retail” experiences downtown, but not at the expense of more costly living. The housing crisis should be our number one concern. The University of Maryland has a strong and undeniable link to the City of College Park. Running students out of the area because of lack of living space is not only unfair, but bad business for the university.

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