Zusin Files Plans for Book Exchange Redevelopment with County

Book Exhange elevation from College Ave
On July 14th, R & J Company, LLC filed a detailed site plan to build a 6-story apartment building on the site of the Maryland Book Exchange at the corner of College Ave. and Route 1 in Downtown College Park (SEE RENDERINGS). From what we can tell, the details of the proposal are basically the same as they were last fall:

  • 341 units
  • 14,366 SF of ground floor retail (with a little less than 10,000 leased by the Maryland Book Exchange in a new space)
  • 321 parking spaces underground (the City Council nixed a request by the developer to pay for fee in lieu parking in the city’s empty public garage two to the south of the site)
  • LEED Silver at a minimum

Although proposed to be constructed as one building, developer Ilya Zusin envisions a structure that would from an architectural standpoint “read” as two buildings from College Avenue. The two sections would not be connected internally and have separate entrances. About 2/3 of the units would be contained in the section on the Route 1 side of the parcel and contain approximately 830 dedicated student beds. The remaining 1/3, with about 170 bedrooms, would be marketed to professors, graduate student, and young professionals.

Unlike recently approved and constructed, dense student housing projects on Route 1 to the north, this proposal is immediately adjacent to a residential neighborhood – Old Town College Park. Although the vast majority of Old Town is rental housing, there is still a contingent of about two dozen residents vehemently opposed to siting any student housing on the east side of Route 1 downtown. Even without the student housing component, a 6-story building would be far taller than anything in the immediate vicinity (with the exception of the city’s parking garage which is slightly shorter).

A letter dated October 1, 2010 from Old Town Civic Association (READ HERE) to the City effectively sums up the basis for the adjacent neighborhood’s opposition:

“We shall be completely marginalized and without hope should this project go forward.”

Later: “OTCA believes the influx of up to 1,000 more undergraduates would symbolize ‘kiss of death,’ for College Park’s downtown, as the likelihood of more upscale, adult-oriented eateries and shops would forever be lost to sandwich shops and fast food venues, the market of choice targeted to undergraduates. If downtown is completely dominated by undergraduate residents, it will not attract more diverse retail. If this project goes forward, the opportunity to change the nature of downtown will forever be lost.”

The letter concludes with: “We cannot support the proposed development at the Maryland Book Exchange, as it is likely to have grave and irreversible impacts on our community.”

The project will no doubt be one of the most controversial development proposals in recent memory for the city. Despite the opposition and the public perception that the development approval is up for popular vote, Zusin’s project appears to be perfectly within the bounds of the zoning for the property. That is the basic reality of the situation and the Route 1 Sector Plan, but that doesn’t mean the project can’t be obfuscated by politics and end up in a drawn out court battle. The project will go before the Prince George’s County Planning Board on October 20th.

9 thoughts on “Zusin Files Plans for Book Exchange Redevelopment with County”

  1. While any development in College Park should be viewed as a good thing, the placement of a six-story apartment building on the site of the Book Exchange does not seem appropriate. Among the many things that downtown College Park needs is an upscale grocer (e.g., Trader Joe’s) so residents and students don’t have to travel up to the CP Marketplace for groceries. The revitalization of downtown begins with retail, not more student housing.

  2. “the likelihood of more upscale, adult-oriented eateries and shops would forever be lost to sandwich shops and fast food venues, the market of choice targeted to undergraduates”

    Really? The only reason the main strip of Rt.1 has any business at all is because of the students, not the locals. Do we students want more? Yes. We want better restaurants (cheap though), a movie theater, a grocery store, more and much better quality bars, etc. etc. The only reason these types of businesses would come in is because of us, not the miniscule number of actual long-term families that live off College Ave. More students closer to Rt.1 = more customers for downtown businesses, it’s pretty simple.

    For those saying that this development clashes too much with the existing buildings, Good. Hopefully it’ll provide an incentive for the owners of those buildings to actually put some money into fixing up their properties. The building that Caltor is in looks like a dump, it’s embarrassing.

    And for any locals claiming it’ll mean more kids partying in their neighborhood, no it won’t. Whether you live in the View or Parkside or Towers or the dorms, you already party in that neighborhood, it does not matter where you live. Moving students to this new development would not change the number of students going to party on weekends.

    This developer is even throwing in a bone for the naysayers by including separate housing for grad students. I would take it if I were you. It would make downtown a much nicer place than it is now.

  3. I have to agree with Terp completely. The main attraction for businesses in the area is the student population. The city needs to stop crying about developments tailored toward students. Without the students no one in their right mind would come to this city. Sorry, but this city needs some work.

  4. @ David. I totally agree that the mixed-used nature of the building would not preclude a grocer, but with nearly two-thirds of the proposed retail space devoted to new book store, there would only be about 4,000 SF remaining for all other retail business. I’m not sure that a grocer would find that space sufficient (assuming they get that entire block of space), but I could be wrong.

  5. Jason, true, so be against them keeping the Book Exchange, not the whole development. The city (or public) can’t pick and choose the retail tenants. I’ve suggested to the developer that they contact the MD Food Cooperative currently in the student union to take the other retail space to expand their operations. Market research has consistently shown that a trader joes or other specialty grocer couldn’t survive in downtown CP.

  6. What is left unsaid is the existing and increasing glut of housing that has been created. A review of craigslist and the off campus housing website reveals that there are still hundreds, if not thousands of vacant rooms in College Park even though the school year starts in a few weeks. By adding another 830 beds here and the graduate housing that will be built as a part of East Campus, it’s not clear who is going to fill all of these empty rooms and at what price.

  7. I’ll trust the developer’s market research over a craigslist anecdotal. More housing means lower rents and more students living in and around the university.

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