Olson, Stullich, NIMBYs Oppose Book Exchange Housing Plan


“My initial reaction is that they’re not going to be able to build student housing at this site,” he said. “I think that the space could be better used.” ~ Eric Olson, Dist. 3 County Councilman

Back in July, the Diamondback had an article talking about development plans to turn the Book Exchange lot into student housing.  After reading the College Park Patch and speaking with County Councilman Eric Olson and the developer Ilya Zusin, we got a better image of what is being proposed – a 6-story, 334-unit primarily student apartment building with 14,400 square feet of retail space on the ground floor. We also got a sense of the politics that are beginning to erupt around this high profile downtown CP project that’s proposed just across the street from the front entrance to UMD. These politics could very well thwart the project all-together.

The proposal comprises 109 units geared towards visiting professors, young professionals, and graduate students (mainly singles with some doubles) and 225 marketed to undergraduates (mainly quads). While proposed as one building, the development would read like two with different facades and lobbies if constructed. There would be about 830 dedicated student beds all housed within the part of the site closest to Route 1. The 109 unit building (roughly 170 beds) would have a different entrance and be located at the rear of the site backing up to Yale Avenue. 10,000 square feet of the retail space would be taken up by the Book Exchange itself with frontage on Route 1. Another store would locate on the College Avenue side.

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According to the Patch and other sources, a small group of vocal residents are concerned about the addition of hundreds of new students in Old Town. They fear increased noise and traffic. District 3 County Councilman and College Park smart growth champion Eric Olson, who ultimately determines what takes place on the site, seems to be leaning towards the view of long term residents who oppose student housing at the site. That’s a surprising position for Olson given the pro-student and smart growth platform that swept him into office. Some of Olson’s non-student constituents turned out for a meeting August 25th in Old Town College Park and stated their preference to see a “Trader Joe’s, a boutique hotel, or even apartments aimed at area professionals” on the site rather than student housing.

While we agree that it’s less than ideal that every residential product being built in College Park these days is student housing, it’s difficult to deny the smart growth implications of such an infill project. The site is literally across the street from the main entrance to UMD at the corner of Route 1 and College Ave. It’s also difficult to ignore the precedent being set here. While projects like this can always be killed one way or another politically, there is really no legal ground to oppose it under the current zoning regime. This project conforms completely with the spirit and language of the Route 1 Sector Plan that was just updated by the County Council this summer. Politicians don’t need to get into the business of deciding who can live where; especially given the character of established zoning and housing incentives in College Park. I believe it sets a bad precedent if Olson ultimately quashes the first development proposed under the updated Route 1 Sector Plan. We can’t let latent and unfounded anti-student housing hysteria stand in the way of smart growth in College Park.

UMD has the wherewithall and momentum to build the non-student housing on East Campus that Olson and others desire for the community. One private developer with a 2.6-acre site does not. Indeed, UMD is refusing to build any undergraduate beds in its East Campus Redevelopment Initiative and will be bulldozing 650-beds of affordable undergraduate student housing over the next 5 years to make way for that project. UMD intends to infuse a critical mass of retail and high end residential that can draw in young professionals with the East campus Redevelopment Initiative that Olson and others desire. As more student high rises come online, the Old Town neighborhood will begin get drained of its student residents and houses will likely turn over to non-student young professional hoping to locate near the College Park metro station.
Artists' Renderings for East Campus Most recent renderings of the East Campus Redevelopment Initiative.

The location of the Book Exchange site between Fraternity Row, a group of sorority houses and the entirety of the UMD nightlife scene makes it nearly impossible to finance a true residential product for young professionals at this point. Anything that departs substantially from what the developer has proposed here simply will not be built. There is no market for it. The 109-unit non-student section was already a pretty big concession for the developer to make considering the economy.

Furthermore, to blunt criticism the developer has offered to help the city annually to expand noise and code enforcement. They’ve also agreed to get the project certified LEED Silver or Gold and build an associated 150 bike space (covered). Because of traffic concerns, they will reserve spaces for car sharing (Zip Car) and provide free bikes for students that have none. Zusin would build between 141 and 315 spaces under the project depending on if the city lets him pay fee in lieu for space in their newly constructed garage just down the road. The project will likely reduce traffic during rush hour given that almost all its residents will walk to campus or utilize Metro day-to-day. They’d be using the provided parking for car storage. To top it all off, the city currently receives $18,000 per year in property tax from the Book Exchange. They’ll receive around $250,000 annually if the project goes forward.

What exactly are we fighting against here? Tell us what you think.

Sources indicate that UMD is also opposed to this project. While we’re looking for more information, their position likely stems from fear of unfilled student beds on campus due to private competition off campus. Unfortunately for students, that translates to higher rents.

22 thoughts on “Olson, Stullich, NIMBYs Oppose Book Exchange Housing Plan”

  1. Good article. I think the long term NIMBY residents have had a negative impact on College Park recently, especially by getting that disastrous “rent control” law passed aka the “make single family rental homes worthless forcing their owners to forgo thousands in rent or sell the homes for a loss and not rent them to students” law.

    If they don’t want to live near students, they should move out of COLLEGE Park.

  2. David, you make an excellent argument.
    Two thoughts:
    I think there will always be some demand from undergrads to live in Old Town as long as fraternities have “satellite houses” here. These houses become the center for partying b/c of the stringent rules against partying in the fraternity houses. An apartment building will unfortunately not fill this demand.

    I was at the meeting with Old Town residents and the developer, and one of the residents’ main arguments was that undergraduate housing in this location will increase the number of undergrads flooding into the streets of Old Town at night. I disagree. No matter where undergrads live, whether it be at the site of the Book Exchange or elsewhere, they will flock to Old Town so long as it is a party location.

    I agree with David that this project should move forward because it conforms to the Route 1 sector plan and will not increase the number of undergrads coming into Old Town (the main argument of Old Town residents). Finally, as a grad student living in Calvert Hills without a car, I want to see a grocery and more upscale retail/restaurants/hotel in this area just as much as anyone, but it is my opinion that the ideal location for a grocery store like Trader Joe’s or a boutique hotel will be closer to the intersection of the Green and (hopefully) Purple lines where transit options are immediately accessible.

  3. If you look at this site and how it “interacts” with its neighbors, it does not seem to have a lot of contact or touch points with non U of Md related residents – from what I can see at least 1-2 blocks surrounding this site to the east and south (north and west are clearly not residential areas) that do not contain residents.

    i can not understand how a Trader Joe’s or ANOTHER “boutique hotel” (did I miss something – did the boutique hotel get dropped from the East Campus plan?) will not have the same (if not greater) impact on traffic conditions (think about the cars coming in and out to grocery shop – its hard to do full grocery shopping on foot because of carrying the bags)

    this is a shame. this is such a great site. maybe the delay can allow President Loh to settle in and then we can see what he is all about when it comes to interacting with the community on a site and proposed project that is so important to all key stake holders.

  4. The days of College Park being a sleepy college town are over. When will people realize this? The momentum for growth is already here and once East Campus and M-Square reach critical mass, I’m not so sure NIMBYs can stop it.

  5. Depressing and foolish. Again. I’ve got mine so screw everyone else.

    I went to UMD from 1999-2003. I remember the housing crunch for undergrads and grads alike at that time. It’s gotten better but there are still more students who want to live in walking distance of everything than housing units.

    We get that the residents could care less. It’s almost their job to despise college kids, even though they once were students themselves. The councilmember is usually more enlightened than the naysayers. I hope he gets that the usual vociferous minority is just that- a loud minority.

    It’s also sad that the anti-neighbors don’t get that they’re more likely to get a Trader Joe’s or any other amenity if there is a larger customer base in walking distance. I can’t think of a more captive audience or a cohort that would more enthusiastically shop at a Trader Joe’s than the middle/upper-middle/affluent background undergrads who make up the majority of the student body at UMD.

  6. The developer’s proposal is perfect for the site. Student housing does not generate more college students – they are already there. This just gives them another housing option in a perfect location and will keep the downtown businesses thriving after the development of East Campus.

    Eric Olson is again more concerned about the next election than the logical merits of the proposal. And the neighbors will react negatively to any change – that is just the way of the world.

    Good article.

  7. Although I support development…especially infill development in downtown College Park, I can see where the residents are coming from. The university has showed over the years it’s not a good neighbor. If I lived close to the University I would not be thrilled about more student housing when it seems almost every year there’s a riot in downtown College Park after a big sporting event.

    It’s easy to say this is NIMBYism, but the concerns are valid. The university can barely police the students as it is. Everyone has to be good neighbors including students. The student population is largely transient…neighbors have to live with anything that happens in their neighborhood.

    With that being said, I hope College Park gets built to its full potential.

  8. Donald, your flaw in logic (and the neighborhood groups) is that student housing doesn’t create more students. UMD’s undergraduate population is stable and is actually lower now than it used to be. There are and have been multiple private student housing projects built in College Park. Once complete, they will effectively drain many of the student renters from single family home neighborhoods. Yes, there will still be some left, but there will be a dramatic locational shift. A lot of the activity will move from the neighborhoods to a slim section of the city along Route 1.

    Also, many of these folks are concerned about this project intensifying the party scene downtown. That scene won’t appreciably change with this project. Students will seek out these bars if they live in the city. Distance is only a minor deterrent.

  9. Great Article David!

    Is there a reason why Eric Olson isnt defending himself on this? Could it be there are no logical arguments against this? Is he afraid that this project falls in line with his campaign platform of smart growth and is afraid of alienating old town nimbys? He seems to replay to all other comments on this site rather timely.

    As a city of college park tax payer I want to understand why Eric feels its appropriate for himself to stand in the way of a redevelopment that conforms to a sector plan which city residents participated in producing and which he voted to approve. The plan is only several months old and the first developer to conform is being politicked. What kind of precedent are we setting here? Why would any developer want to come redevelop here if the first one to conform is being put through the ringer?

    This is not Cuba or Venezuela! We have zoning laws and a sector plan and property rights. One politician can’ be allowed to dictate and create his own sector plan and zoning law as and when he pleases. I find this very disturbing.

  10. WOW, what a perfect development. This will be a big boost to downtown businesses. This is especially needed with East Campus and the new student housing developments pulling people away from downtown. But wait, Eric Olson says “I think this space could be better used”. This is no surprise, College Park residents, students and business owners have heard this before. The former Lasick property, the former Mandalay property, the former Showcase Furniture property, the former College Perk property, the Cafritz property and many other sites that Eric Olson or Tom Dernoga thought could be better used. I assume better used means empty run down properties are preferred to making a decison to oppose a small, vocal and unreasonable constituancy.

  11. Once again politics is getting in the way of a good development for College Park. We continue to let our politicians determine development in the City and they continue to let us down. Until “smart growth” champions like Eric Olson actually allow smart growth to take place the downtown businesses will continue to struggle and College Park will continue to be left behind the curve on good retail (ie. Trader Joe’s or another good grocery store). This project fits in exactly with what the new sector plan calls for. Furthermore it will help pull students out of the single family homes and into nice new developments with amenities for them thus creating more available housing for families that want to be in College Park. I hope this project goes through and doesn’t stall like the others planned for Route 1. We have enough vacant parcels in College Park, we certainly don’t need another.

  12. ” The university has showed over the years it’s not a good neighbor” (Donald’s post above)

    We have to get past this mind set and it means both the University has to improve how it works with its neighbors AND the residents need to be more open/positive about changing the way we move forward. This has been the mind set since my days as a student in the late 80’s/early 90’s. And it is unfortunately one of the biggest forces in preventing CP from becoming a great VIBRANT college town.

    This is a great opportunity for President Loh. I hope the residents see what a great opportunity it is to start fresh with new leadership.

  13. This is the time when Maryland state has no money. The project which will generate income for state through Tax revenue and jobs for americans should go forward.

    Furthermore, university campus and student housing have a culture of their own. Crowding enhances interaction, learning and creativity. Look at Harvard, MIT and other great campuses which have libraries and dormitories open 24 hours and 365 days so that student could study safely uninterrupted. The Trader Joe or similar store is also a greatr idea. Student housing on Campus has tremendous rewards besides safety and well being of our young generation, the future of America. I humbly request the city council to approve the project and provide all incentives to the developer who will bring TAX money and jobs and assure student well being to Marland. By stopping this project, the city council is harming the community that elected them. Unfortunately, politicians once elected become monsters, their heads become too big for their bodies to carry and they do not serve the electorate but feed their egos. GOD HELP US DURING THESE TIMES OF HOPELESSNESS.

  14. One would think that students, who are primarily among those commenting here, would insist their university take more responsibility for their housing. Rather than building retail, restaurants and a hotel on its 30+ acres of property, plans should be underway to house UMD students. The City of College Park is not responsible for creating beds for thousands of students. I must agree with Mr. Olson and the residents of Old Town, that the bookstore property could have a much better purpose, and it is the City’s responsibility to woo some such potential businesses and see to to that. Let me point out that the majority of CP residents have no desire to see more high rises in their hometown. Enough is enough! UMD step up to the plate. You wanted these young’uns; now, take care of them!

  15. Dismayed,

    1)The City of College Park doesnt own this land. I dont understand your comment regarding their responsibility or lack there of. Last time i checked we live in a county with property rights and zoning laws. Therefore if the developer follows those laws then the city does have the responsibility to honor those laws.

    2)The proposal calls for a 6 story building. This is a MID RISE, NOT a high rise. I know many resident who disagree with you so please KEEP YOUR COMMENTS TO YOUR OWN OPINION INSTEAD OF SAYING IT IS THE OPINION OF ALL!

    3) I find your comment about the university wanting “these youn’uns” very bigoted on so many levels. Students are not second rate people who should be housed seperate from the rest of society. These are the future leaders of our country and should be treated with respect and dignity just like every other human being.

  16. Does anyone know who organized the August meeting of the NIMBYs from Old Town and Calvert Hills? As a resident of Calvert Hills who supports this project, I would also like the opportunity to make my opinion known to the politicians that control the fate of the project. I would have liked to attend this meeting, but did not know about it until reading this article.

    It is ridiculous that one politician on the PG County Council could thwart a private business enterprise on private property that conforms to all zoning regulations.

  17. Calvert Hills,

    There will be a meeting on Monday September 27th (this upcoming monday) at 7:30pm at City Hall. Please come and let your opinion be know. This is very important for our taxes and property values.

    Nice Downtown + additional property tax revenue from the project + more jobs = higher property values = lover property taxes = better amenities for residents.

    This will also provide students with another option to live downtown other then the single family houses.

  18. This project seems a no brainer on many fronts. It’s to bad the OLD TOWN NIMBY’S are whining about a new development that will bring in thousands of dollars to Downtown College Park. Accept the fact that College Park is a college town. If you don’t like it, move the heck out!. This University has been here for a very LONG TIME, get over it. It’s a shame kids can’t have people over at their house without someone calling to whine and complain on them.

    If this project does not go forward, I will have lost all confidence in the politicians elected to represent our community. It’s a shame that a few of the NIMBY’s are calling foul on this project. BUILD THIS PROJECT!!!!! It’s 2010 not 1910 NIMBY’s. I hope everyone will come out to the council meeting and voice support for this project.

  19. The logic that 225 tiny quad apartments (that will hold 900 undergrads in what are basically private dorms) won’t increase the number of students in the OT neighborhood is completely inane. It will more than double the number of students living in Old Town. What do most undergrads contribute to OT? Litter, noise, vandalism, messy yards, cars parked on front lawns, obnoxious behavior, drunk driving, loud noise, etc. etc. Undergrads (many not all) make terrible neighbors. Gee, I wonder why long term residents are unanimously opposed to this development? The City and County should encourage the university to build dorms on campus (where they belong) by not allowing private dorms to be constructed in residential neighborhoods.

  20. The logic that the state should take on the risk of building the 1000s of student beds required to house the increasing number of UMD undergrads seeking to live in College Park is inane. Also inane is the argument that if we impose rent control, don’t let any private student housing or apartment buildings get constructed, and keep insisting that UMD provide all student housing on campus (to no avail), that Old Town will somehow improve. That argument has long since lost the debate. It’s a recipe for the continued degradation of all the neighborhoods near the university; especially Old Town. It’s also an argument that ignores the fact that nearly all the economic development in CP over the last 10 years has been driven by student housing developers. Without these projects, there would be no mixed-use redevelopment of Route 1 and nearly all these students would be living in neighborhoods..

    UMD is currently building a $67 million dorm on north campus that will house 650 underclassmen. They’ve also built well over 2000 beds in recent years with south campus commons and the courtyards through public-private partnerships. The Lakeland and Berwyn communities of college park have accepted over 3000 beds of student housing right adjacent to their neighborhoods (some are still under construction). Why is it that the the handful of long term residents still left in Old Town next to downtown CP think they can stand in the way of a project that is completely within the zoning code just passed this summer by the county council after a lengthy public process? This project is actually incentivized under laws currently on the books. Why are we surprised it is being proposed and opposing it with no legal basis?

    There would be next to no opposition to this project if it was occurring over at applebees or up at the knox boxes, yet the effect on the area would be the same if the proposal was in one of those places. Can’t you see that the completion of all these beds (some next fall) will drive down rental rates in these complexes and empty out students from many of the neighborhoods in the city, reduce traffic, reinvigorate businesses and increase transit use?

  21. College Park Voter,

    The Maryland Book Exchange site is not in the middle of the residential neighborhood. Instead, it is along a retail cooridor, which has been zoned (as David mentioned, through a public process) for mixed-use development. Surely you will not deny that the face of Route 1 needs to be changed through redevelopment. This is a perfect opportunity to offer a mix of retail and residential in an ideal location.

  22. I love all this talk about “Let’s build more high rises because that’s what the students need!”

    Can one of you geniuses please explain how the ridiculously high rents of these high rises are somehow helpful to students who are increasingly finding less employment while in school? The rents are $800-1550 PER ROOM!! That’s right, some of these high rise quads are charging almost $4000 a month!! Stop ignoring the facts! The College Park city council sold out the financial safety of UMD students!

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