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.