College Park City Councilwoman Stephanie Stullich said the concerns she and her neighbors have are coming to life as a controversial student housing proposal that would dominate the historic College Park landscape makes its way through the Prince George’s County planning process.
“People were concerned for what redevelopment would mean for these existing neighborhoods,” Stullich (Dist.3) said of the historic College Park neighborhood she represents, which borders the U.S. Route 1 corridor that is the subject of redevelopment, including the proposal on the Maryland Book Exchange property. “It’s really frustrating because we were assured there were provisions in place to protect those neighborhoods [from overdevelopment].”
The Prince George’s County Council will have to vote by Oct. 9 on the Maryland Book Exchange proposal, which would bring 313 residential units and about 14,500 square feet of retail space to the 2.7-acre property, now largely covered by a parking lot and the book store. While the store itself is not considered historic, the surrounding area is part of College Park’s historic district.
At a Monday hearing before the County Council, which sits as District Council on zoning issues, five representatives of the developer, New York-based R&J Company, LLC, and five opponents of the development testified.
Councilman Eric Olson (Dist. 3) of College Park requested to take the case under advisement, meaning the board will come back to it later in the year for a decision.
College Park officials contend that the design of the building does not conform to the county’s U.S. Route 1 sector plan — a document published in 2009 to guide development along the Route 1 corridor — and the City Council voted in January to oppose the development, which borders the city’s historic downtown district.
“The development is required to be respectful of the surrounding residential area,” said Suellen Ferguson, an attorney for College Park, who called the development “a massive filing cabinet.”
The Prince George’s planning board approved the site plan Jan. 19 — a decision that was appealed by opponents, including the city of College Park. The appeals led to Monday’s hearing.
“We spent a lot of time and a lot of hours with the community on the sector plan,” Olson said. “And this doesn’t look anything like what we discussed in the sector plan.”
A major source of conflict for the city is the building’s height — six stories on one end and four stories on the eastern end, which abuts a residential area. The sector plan calls for a three-story maximum for developments adjacent to neighborhoods. The current Maryland Book Exchange building is two stories.
The developers contend that, while zoned residential, the surrounding neighborhood is not used as a residential neighborhood, said Michele La Rocca, an attorney for the developer. The property is bordered by University of Maryland buildings, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church and sorority houses, which the developer contends are compatible with the development.
“Irrespective of the long path, we’re excited about this development,” said Josef Mittleman, managing member of R&J Company, LLC.
Carlo Colella, director of facilities management for the University of Maryland, College Park, called the development “imposing and monolithic in mass,” and said it would adversely affect the look of the area around the university’s campus.