College Park residents railed against revised plans for a 304-unit apartment and retail complex in downtown College Park.
Over the course of a four-hour hearing Thursday in Upper Marlboro, city officials, residents and members of the Prince George’s County Historic Preservation Commission called the new designs for a proposed student housing development at the corner of U.S. Route 1 and College Avenue “hard to look at,” “monolithic” and “atrocious.”
New York-based developer R&J Co. LLC was forced to change its development plan after the Prince George’s County Council, which sits as the District Council on zoning issues, voted in July to send the proposal back to the Prince George’s County Planning Board for further review, saying the plan did not adequately conform with a planning document governing the Route 1 corridor.
At the time of the council’s vote, County Councilwoman Mary Lehman (D-Dist. 1) of Laurel said “pivotal [zoning] issues were either ignored or cleverly gotten around” in the plans for the site, which currently hosts the Maryland Book Exchange.
The original proposal was for the development for it to be six stories on the portion facing Route 1, and four stories facing a residential neighborhood. It was most recently revised to make the residential side three stories.
But city officials argued the development did not meet the County Council’s approval requirements, saying the residential side was only three stories for a length of 25 feet instead of the 50 feet required by the council.
The Historic Preservation Commission weighed in on the case because the development abuts the Old Town College Park Historic District.
Michele La Rocca, an attorney representing the developer, said the new plans are intended to reflect the historic structures in Old Town College Park and argued that while the adjacent area is zoned for residential use, much of it should be considered “institutional” rather than residential.
“Across the street, if you look at [St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church], it has a steeper roof than we have here,” La Rocca told the commission. “And to the west, looking at the ‘horse shoe’ of Fraternity Row, those are institutional buildings.”
City Councilwoman Stephanie Stullich (Dist. 3), whose area includes the proposal site, said residents are almost unanimously opposed to the project.
“In my view, they’ve made pretty minimal changes,” Stullich said. “The monolithic roof I really think is atrocious, with two stories of asphalt from curb to curb. I just beg you, do not let them do that.”
James McFadden, a member of the Old Town College Park Historic District Local Advisory Committee, said the plan was “poorly designed.”
“This is still ugly. It’s still an abomination. It’s still hideous,” McFadden said. “It would be a blight on the neighborhood.”
HPC Commissioner Mike Callahan said the current proposal for the side of the building facing the residential neighborhood was particularly egregious.
“It’s really hard to look at that,” Callahan said. “It looks like a long fire department. There’s just not enough [architectural] articulation.”
The HPC recommended that the developer could meet the requirements by splitting the development into two separate buildings — one six-story building facing Route 1, and another three-story structure facing the neighborhood.
La Rocca said she was still hopeful the plan would be approved by the planning board relatively unscathed, in spite of the strong requirements set forth by the County Council.
District Council spokeswoman Karen Campbell said she could not comment on La Rocca’s statements since the plan will likely return to the council in the coming months.
The proposal is slated for a hearing before the planning board Thursday.