City opposes using property for bank

Officials prefer multi-use development

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The College Park City Council voted unanimously last night to oppose the construction of a new downtown bank, citing the need for a mix-used building on the property.

The proposed Commerce Bank, which would replace the abandoned Showcase Furniture building on Route 1 between Calvert Road and Guilford Road, also met fierce community opposition, as more than 30 residents from the Calvert Hills neighborhood came to Tuesday’s council meeting.

College Park resident Leo Shapiro was one of many to speak out against the proposed bank.

‘‘This does nothing at all to move us toward our vision for College Park and it would be an enormous and shameful waste of an opportunity,” said Shapiro, adding that the single-story single-use structure would not be consistent with the Route 1 Sector Plan. ‘‘Here’s an opportunity not to waste this space on a bank.”

The sector plan, approved by city and University of Maryland College Park officials in 2002, lays out guidelines for multifunctional, community-based construction on the Route 1 corridor in College Park.

Even after Commerce Bank made design concessions in accordance with the council’s requests – making the structure taller and more aesthetically pleasing – council members said the Route1 location should be reserved for a mix-used property.

‘‘If you have a drive-through, you’re not a pedestrian-oriented site,” said Councilman Andrew Fellows (Dist. 3), echoing the sentiment of several council members.

The Prince George’s County Planning Board will consider the city’s opposition when the bank project comes before the board later this summer.

Some residents, like Eve Mueller, said Commerce Bank would draw more vehicles into the downtown College Park area, worsening the severe congestion during some parts of the day.

‘‘I think we can do better than a drive-through bank,” she said.

College Park resident Jane Miller, a proponent of the project from the surrounding community, said Commerce Bank would not add traffic to Route 1, adding that a new building would be an improvement over the abandoned structure that currently sits on the property.

‘‘It would be a business with longevity,” Miller said. ‘‘It would be a clean, attractive, quiet building.”

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