City council approves purchase of Old Town property
By A.R. Cabral
At their Feb. 22 meeting, the College Park City Council approved a contract of sale to purchase a property in the Old Town neighborhood for $1.7 million. The council’s approval is particularly significant, as there are few properties available for purchase in this part of the city.
The property, 4704 Calvert Road, is a parcel of 13,000 square feet subdivided into 5 lots. It is currently owned by Calvert Road, LLC.
The council also passed an emergency ordinance which allows the city to start the purchase process immediately instead of waiting the customary 20 days, as with a normal ordinance.
If the city doesn’t complete the purchase before March 17, the price of the parcel will increase to $1.75 million, according to City Manager Kenneth Young.
The Feb. 22 council meeting included a lively discussion between residents and elected officials about the purchase.
“The potential purchase of 4704 Calvert Road makes sense,” said Councilmember Stuart Adams (District 3).
“It aligns with our strategic goals. It’s an incredible opportunity that is being brought to us by owners who live in, and love, College Park. We are getting our first opportunity to purchase it. This could help stabilize the affordable rental that is currently there. It can help us look into a community focused development,” Adams added.
Councilmember Fazlul Kabir (District 1) noted that Tuesday night’s meeting was the first public forum at which the project was discussed. “I will be supporting this, but I am very uncomfortable with how fast this is moving,” Kabir said, referring to the lack of previous public input in the process.
“Sometimes opportunities present themselves, and we have to jump on them,” said Mayor Patrick Wojahn, in response to public criticism of the speed of the process.
Councilmember Kate Kennedy (District 1) indicated that she values the control the city has over this purchase, saying if commercial developers were steering the project, the outcome might be more contentious.
Councilmember Susan Whitney (District 2) supported the purchase, citing the lack of control the city more normally experiences with real estate transactions.
“How many times will the city have an opportunity such as this?” asked Councilmember Llatetra Brown Esters (District 2).
D.W. Rowlands, a tenant at 4704 Calvert Rd., voiced concerns during the meeting.
“While I often hear anti-renter and anti-rental-property rhetoric from residents and elected officials in the city, I hope that the mayor and council will keep in mind that renters are an important part of the community, that we are not all inherently transients with no stake in College Park, nor are we all the causes of noise complaints,” Rowlands said.
Rowlands, a historian, noted that the house, which was built in 1898, is mentioned as a contributing property, a property of significance, in an application for inclusion in the Old Town College Park historic district. As stated in the application, the house “illustrates the transition of the Queen Anne style to the Colonial Revival style.”
“The reality is that, with the cost of housing in this area, many of us simply cannot afford to purchase property in the community that we call home,” Rowlands added.
Rowlands never saw a rent hike in the seven years she has been a tenant; she believes that the landlord keeps the rent low so that renters will stay longer.
During the city council meeting, Councilmember Denise Mitchell (District 4) underscored the need to act as elected representatives and uphold the transparency they swore to.
“If the City acquires the property, additional community engagement will occur to discuss usage of the property,” Adams wrote, in response to a listserv post by resident Bob Baer.
“Call me crazy,” Baer replied, “but when a municipality proposes to spend roughly $2 [million] with no real plan or defined framework articulated, it beckons the questions of fiscal responsibility.” Baer also thanked Adams for acknowledging and replying to his listserv post.
The city held a public hearing to discuss this issue on March 8, after press time.