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.