NIMBYs Loathe College Perk Grad Housing Plan

Apparently city/county politicians and even some students are losing their resolve to build more student housing in College Park. That is according to conversations we’ve had with local stakeholders, a Diamondback article and a staff editorial all which point to seemingly overwhelming opposition (or lackluster support) to the Daria Land Group’s plan to build 120-150 beds of graduate student housing on the site of the former College Perk Coffeehouse. It’s part of a larger trend of vehement opposition to development on the part of a small group of vocal residents in Northern College Park…. and their standard-bearer: County Councilman Tom Dernoga.

The proposed 5-story, 80-unit building (as envisioned in this very preliminary stage) would abut the small, established neighborhood of single-family homes called Autoville and increase traffic in front of just under 10 homes. That’s because access would be from the rear on Autoville Drive since the current entrance on Route 1 is too close to the off ramp for MD-193. This fact raises the ire of residents who would have already been concerned with proposed building’s density and student residents. From the Diamondback article:

“Overall, I’d say the reaction was strongly negative,” District 4 Councilman Marcus Afzali said. “I think there’s a serious concern with ‘Does this fit in terms of the whole feel of that neighborhood and that area of the city?’ It just doesn’t fit in with the overall characteristic of the neighborhood.”

The presentation drew harsh criticism from residents. Among those in attendance were Afzali and fellow District 4 Councilwoman Denise Mitchell, the city’s Director of Planning Terry Schum, District 3 Prince George’s County Councilman Eric Olson (D) and more than a dozen concerned citizens.

It appears that some compromise will be eked out amongst the stakeholders as the developer seems to have the proper zoning to go forward with this project. They even have by-right eligibility to waive more than $600,000 in “school impact fees” that would apply to non-student housing (thanks to the work of RTCP and student leaders in 2007). Councilman Afzali goes on in the article to say: “I think people there are really willing to compromise”. That’s an excellent, positive response to an apparently overheated and irrational public meeting.

We have little sympathy for the ‘oppose anything’ crowd who move in to a house steps away from Route 1, adjacent to properties zoned mixed-use for the better part of 10 years and then expect their inside-the-beltway street to remain unchanged forever.  We’re not saying there aren’t compromises to be worked out with these folks, but we are saying that you can’t let a handful of people stand in the way of smart growth. The 1997 Maryland legislation was called the “Smart Growth & Neighborhood Conservation Initiative”, but we have to recognize gray area, know when to compromise, and know when to ignore unreasonable people.This project can meet the goals and vision of the Route 1 Sector Plan, while still respecting established neighborhoods. Developers can meet the community half way, but the community can’t expect developers to build something that won’t provide a healthy profit margin.

Finally, as the preeminent advocates in College Park for student housing, RTCP would be remiss if we didn’t comment on the Diamondback Staff Editorial titled “Perking Up Development” as it may be the most naive and ill-informed 550 words they’ve ever published:

“To continue to tirelessly build housing and ignore what would really benefit the city — more and better commercial outlets — is counterproductive. The fact is no one, let alone a college student, wants to live in an area where there are few quality places to shop, eat and drink.”

The Diamondback implies that somehow student housing takes away from other development and that there is ‘too much student housing’ being built… something that’s a physical impossibility in a market economy. These projects add tremendously to the amount of retail space in the city and put feet on the street that will bring even more business. Furthermore, there won’t be any un-occupied student units…. because property managers will lower rents and draw more students out of single-family neighborhoods before leaving these new units empty. More housing is the only path to student housing affordability. It’s not some static thing where you build enough and then everyone is housed and happy. It’s a seesaw balanced on a fulcrum (rent)… it’s amazing how quickly we forget that even with the construction of 660 beds of grad student housing at the Mazza GrandMarc near Kitt’s Music, UMD will still be woefully behind it’s peer institutions in the provision of designated grad student housing.

14 thoughts on “NIMBYs Loathe College Perk Grad Housing Plan”

  1. Not to mention, of course, that many of the new student housing buildings going up along Route 1 have first-floor retail. It’s not either-or: you can have more student housing AND places for students to eat, drink and hang out – and within easy walking distance to boot.

    I do sympathize, however, with anyone nostalgic for the old days of College Perk. I still get sad whenever I drive by that house – and in an ideal world, I’d like to see any redevelopment of that property involve keeping the Perk while building around it. I’m not sure if that’s physically possible, though.

  2. I still don’t quite understand why the University is not building it’s own housing for it’s students. It has money to build office buildings on 47.5 acres of it’s property and to purchase the Washington Post Plant for over $12.5 million. Some of the funds to run the University come out of my pocket since I am a Maryland taxpayer.

    Why is it felt that the surrounding community has to bear that burden for graduate or undergraduate housing? When I went to school, a college or university provided all undergraduate housing and some other housing as well. That was the way it was done.

    Perhaps it is stuck in some outdated notion that the University is an agricultural school and needs open land. In case you hadn’t noticed you are in an urban environment now, not a farming area.

    Also, where will the full time residents of College Park be able to park and use these ground floor retail facilities of the properties on Route 1 ? I am afraid they will only be businesses catering to the students and not even easily available to residents because of parking issues. Will they shut down once the students leave, will they wind up going out of business like others have done?

    If you had standard apartments or condos in their place, not ones just for students, you would have tax paying year round residents, and probably be able to park and use retail on the first floor that would not only be focused on a student population. The students could still live 2 – 4 to a unit like they do and it is proposed they do now.

    Just because you can build “student housing” and there is a “market” for it does not mean you should.

    Try and build student housing in a 3 story, 6 story or 18 story building just inside the main gate at the University of Maryland or on those open fields inside the gates next to Route 1 or where the “hallowed M” stands and see who becomes a NIMBY.

    It does get a bit annoying when the University and the University community think that the local city and residents should bear the burden of solving the student housing problem and then be ignored and disrespected when it comes to the University’s 20 year development plan. I don’t see a place in it any where where it mentions any type of partnership or even a relationship with the City of College Park.

    It’s seeming unwillingness to be a good citizen and pay it’s fair share for city services in the form of fees from sporting events and reluctantly negotiating to make payments in lieu of taxes for the Washingtion Post property. PLUS just letting a joint committee that had once been formed to be a focus for cooperation just wither and die from lack of participation… at the least disconcerting.

    All of this is history, some folks attribute most of this to the exiting President and his attitudes. I don’t know…
    I’ve only lived here for a little over 5 years..

    I hope that is the case, because we need to reboot, to start this whole relationship over to start anew. With genuine respect for the other on both sides, or at least an honest attempt at dialogue and a committment to a process that could make College Park a wonderful place to live and work, but we have a long way to go…

    Just my 4 cents, your thoughts….

  3. “It’s part of a larger trend of vehement opposition to development on the part of a small group of vocal residents in Northern College Park”

    How do you know that they only represent a small group of residents? Did you poll all of the residents of College Park? I’m all for more housing, I’m just saying we can’t assume that we know what College Park residents want.

    I am really hoping that more housing will make rental prices go down, but that doesn’t seem to be the case yet. Mazza’s prices are by far the highest rent I’ve found in the area. I could live in a larger apartment in downtown Silver Spring for less.

  4. Bob, glad you commented. Believe we’ve gone through a lot of the issues you’ve addressed here and some of them may have been with you directly, but I’m happy to run through this again. I don’t know of any University in the country that houses 35,000 students. If you can find one, I’d find it fascinating. UMD’s department of resident life is self financing… construction bonds are paid down by proceeds from a public-private partnership or directly from room & board fees in the case of regular dorms. It’s unrealistic to think UMD can a)build the quantity of housing you are talking about b) force all students to live there and c) possibly do it in a non-soviet style way that didn’t ultimately fall on tax payers.

    It would also be illegal for the city and county to prevent the construction of private student housing in College Park… maybe they could go back to regular rental units which I would be fine with…. just that it would get filled with students anyway.

    I don’t see how student housing puts a “burden” on residents. Perhaps a noise burden, but building these apartments moves students out of single-family neighborhoods on the whole. This housing definitely doesn’t place a burden on the city financially even despite the fact that most of these residents will not file their income taxes in College Park. I’ve done no study, but many of the students moving into these buildings would have rented single family homes. Instead those single family homes will begin to be rented by folks filing taxes in the county or maybe even ultimately sold to people who will owner-occupy them if the rental market dries up.

    Let’s take the buildings that are being constructed south of 193 and west of Route 1. Once complete, these 4-5 buildings will add well over a million dollars annually in property taxes to the city’s coffers and nowhere near that much in services. There will also be little to no increase in rush hour traffic (most of these students are already driving and a good chunk will now walk/take the provided bus), no substantial effect on public school enrollment, and it’s not precluding other development since there is no apparently interest from anyone else in developing these lots for anything but student housing.

    Were that same development to take place on UMD land…. let’s say just across the Paint Branch, the city would get no money but still have to provide some services to these buildings. There’s nothing hallowed to me about the suburban blight that exists on Route 1. Student housing is the only way we can begin down the road of the community’s vision for a compact, densely developed Route 1 of 4-5 story buildings on top of retail. I don’t care who lives there, I just care that it gets built.

    You make an interesting point on retail shutting down when students leave, but I’d encourage you to stand outside University View this summer and watch how many people utilize their full 12-month lease. If it wasn’t for that building and the 7 commons buildings near downtown CP, city residents would have even fewer amenities than they do presently. There are much fewer vacancies in downtown now than there were in the last major recession.

    To A Student, I would point out that the Sector plan passed in 2002 and now being updated is the most comprehensive possible representation of the community’s vision for the corridor. It’s the product of dozens of community visioning meetings, negotiations, presentations, etc. So these sweeping/grand plans pass, people stop paying attention, and then parochial neighborhood interests come out to fight anything that comes through the pipeline…. often in direct contradiction to the larger community’s vision for Route 1. It’s control freak behavior and a primary goal of this website is to expose it for what it is.

  5. Why don’t the zoners and whoever owns a share of the property just re-open the perk? If they improved the parking there they could get more cars in(which was the problem when it was open…) which would allow to have more people there who drove with friends instead of having to walk across route 1 or neighborhoods to get there and home again.

  6. I’m sure it wouldn’t make nearly as much as student housing + shops. But could they at least turn their initial expense around and possibly profit a small amount by simply selling the property with the intention of someone re-opening it? : )

  7. I think we are forgetting what the “Approved College Park US 1 Corridor Sector Plan and Sectional Map Amendment,” actually says. Lets refresh:

    “In general, the plan changed the zoning laws to encourage dense, mixed-use development along Route 1 in College Park. The plan created a “Development District Overlay Zone” that includes both legal requirements for developers and also establishes an overall vision for the corridor. The plan describes four goals of the Development District Standards:

    First, to create an attractive and vibrant gateway corridor leading to The University of Maryland and the City of College Park. (I don’t see anything attractive or vibrant about anything along route 1)

    Second, to promote quality development by transforming US 1 into a gateway boulevard, main street, and town center in a pedestrian-and bicycle-friendly environment. (do I even need to comment on this one?)

    Third, to provide a diverse mix of land uses in compact and vertical mixed-use development forms in appropriate locations along the corridor. (by “appropriate”
    are they talking about “an area where residents strongly oppose growth?” If so than they are right on track)

    Fourth, to encourage multifamily development to reduce the use of the automobile and
    also expand the opportunity for living, working and studying within the corridor.(that says multifamily not student right?)

    The plan advises property owners and citizens to consult the sector plan, county zoning ordinance, and landscape manual “to have a full understanding of the regulations for property within the district.”

    -I’m just trying to learn more about this route 1 sector plan. It seems to me like the university is taking advantage of something that was meant for residents. If I have left something out or I’m misreading something please correct me I’m new to all of this.

    1. What is the University taking advantage of? They have no real role in Route 1 redevelopment other than moving the East Campus Development forward (on their property)… the tax revenues of which will go to the city and county.

  8. Just frustrating. I don’t sympathize at all with anyone who lives in COLLEGE PARK and complains about new student housing. The University has been there for longer than anyone alive today. The University is the reason why COLLEGE PARK is a nice economically sustained town and didn’t decline as dramatically as the neighboring Langley Park or Hyattsville did during the second half of the 20th century.

    Without the University, these residents wouldn’t have a nice place for Prince George’s County housing prices.

    When I went to UMD as an undergrad, there was a profound housing shortage for both undergrads and grad students. This nonsense is part of the reason for it. It has gotten much better since I graduated in 2003 but it’s still crunched.

    I grew up in rural Cecil County, MD. There were hog farms in the area. Many of them had been hog farms since the 19th century. I remember that people would build McMansions downwind of a hog farm and then complain about the smell. This is a situation that is equally ridiculous. If you don’t want to live near students, then don’t move to COLLEGE PARK. I wrote the town’s name in all caps to drive home the obvious.

  9. One major issue that seems to be overlooked is taxes. Those who own property in College Park pay property taxes. Not many students are aware of those taxes. The City likes to get revenue from taxes. Residents who pay the taxes feel that the University dominates the community and does not pay its fair share of the expenses involved to maintain City services. Students do contribute to paying those taxes either through rent or other costs.

    Development can be beneficial or detrimental to a community. Few are able to recognize what the effects of certain developments will be until after they are built. By then, it is too late if the balance tends toward the detrimental.

    Traffic on Route 1 is one way to gauge the effects of new development. Those who think all the new buildings will contribute to peace and harmony in College Park are probably not stuck in traffic on a daily basis. Those who hope to add more high density housing should not be surprised that some would question whether the balance really will be beneficial.

  10. I am both a CP resident of over 20 years, and a UM employee.

    To Bob: I somewhat agree with you. You bring up a good point about the parking situation. However, if you look at other similar city redevelopment efforts (I think of downtown Silver Spring), the parking consists of garages, many of which are free on the weekends. I think that typically is the case for most cities. Also, as a CP resident, you can freely hop on the shuttle and head downtown.

    I would like to see some other types of housing being developed. Maybe geared towards new families, not just students. And for those waiting dearly for new student housing…yes, I agree there is a shortage. BUT…in addition to the 4-5 slated buildings, AND the new dorm being built on campus, AND the proposed re-do of the Knox area, could that perhaps meet a good chunk of the need?

    To other CP residents who strongly oppose this redevelopment effort. Wait until we have this proposed redeveloped CP city (both downtown and rt 1), and then look at the value of your single-family home. Hopefully, by that time, our property values will increase (because really, there will be so few single-family homes, that WE will be the minority). We have to admit, our little city needs help, especially the delapitated Lasicks, Hillcreast Hotel, etc. Yuck! I know it’s hard right now, as our taxes seem to increase yearly, but I do have hope that it will be worth it in the next 5+ years.

    To David: You stated, “since there is no apparently interest from anyone else in developing these lots for anything but student housing.” Question for you… Is that really the appropriate stance we want to take here? The city does have a real estate office that could help generate other businesses’ interest in developing here. Do you know if the city has taken that initiative? Or are they just letting anyone who wants it take a shot at submitting an application? I have written and phoned specific businesses I’d like to see come here, and I encourage both student and CP residents to do the same.

  11. Erin, my point is that at the moment student housing is the only thing that can get financing in College Park. Fortunately all the student housing provides lots of opportunities for new retail stores in the ground floor of each building.

    Hopefully the picture will change when we come out of the recession and other types of housing will be built.

  12. I understand that they are having a hard time finding students to fill what’s being built. The Mazza Grand Marc is having a hard time leasing their space. We are going to end up with low income house all along route 1.

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