North College Park developments spark mixed reactions
by Jon Meltzer
Residents of College Park’s northern neighborhoods will see several new large-scale building projects in the coming years.
While family-owned real estate development firm RST Development, LLC, which is headquartered in Rockville, plans a new apartment complex on Route 1, the Prince George’s County Department of Parks and Recreation is simultaneously in the planning stages of a new community center.
Possible New College Park Community Center
Claire Worshtil, lead strategic park planner with the county’s parks department, said that the community center is still in the feasibility study phase, which is expected to conclude at the end of 2022; she expects that the project will be approved and then move into the design phase by June 2023. Worshtil noted, however, that it is “possible, but not likely” that the project will not move forward.
Possible uses for the College Park development
Members of the North College Park Community Association (NCPCA) met on June 9, and in addition to electing new leadership, they discussed the center, citing a number of amenities they would like to see in the new space once it is completed. Mary Cook, former NCPCA president and a former College Park city councilmember, explained that “some people said, ‘oh, let’s have a gym,’ others said we need a multipurpose room, a computer room … there are many different ways we can look at it.”
Worshtil and her team at the parks department are taking community feedback seriously: They have presented their plans during community association meetings in the past, and will do so again at the end of the summer, according to Cook. With only 12,000 square feet of space currently planned for the center, Worshtil has creative solutions for making the most of it. “We can create flexible spaces,” she said. “Seniors could use a room in the mornings, and teens could use the same room … in the afternoons.”
Although the final cost of the project is still in flux, Cook said that State Delegate Ben Barnes (District 3) has secured $1 million in support of the community center from the Maryland state budget. Worshtil mentioned that the City of College Park has also pledged financial support, although the exact amount will depend on the cost estimate determined by the feasibility study.
A College Park development to support community
Incoming NCPCA President Alaina Pitt, whose one-year term began on June 10, said that this community center will help make her vision of a more diverse and inclusive North College Park a reality. After successfully campaigning on a platform based heavily on inclusion, she said, “I think the community center can serve as a catalyst for bringing the community together and for more interaction between neighbors.”
While there are still nine possible sites for the center under consideration, NCPCA members have expressed a desire to see it built in the Hollywood area— and more specifically, at the intersection of Rhode Island Avenue and Edgewood Road, an area commonly known as Four Corners.
Further College Park Development
This comes on the heels of the $2.8 million city-funded Hollywood Streetscape project. According to Councilmember Fazlul Kabir (District 1), the project will add “parklets, safe bike lanes” and other pedestrian-friendly features along Rhode Island Avenue from the Capital Beltway down to Muskogee Road, a stretch that includes the Four Corners area.
Affordable housing development
North College Park needs more than recreation space, though. Affordable housing is in high demand here, as it is in many small cities and towns across the country. This is where Scott Copeland, principal at RST Development (which he co-owns with his father and brother), hopes to be of service.
Copeland, a University of Maryland graduate, is spearheading development of a new 331-unit apartment complex with ground-level retail space in the 9100 block of Baltimore Avenue, between Cherokee and Delaware streets. What’s more, RST is applying to the federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program, which could provide cost breaks for the company and lead to cheaper rents for residents.
“One hundred percent of the units will be reserved to serve households earning less than 60% of the area median income,” Copeland noted. The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development pegs the current median family income in the DMV at $142,300.
“There’s a great deal of need for affordable housing here,” said Pitt. Citing RST’s planned development, she noted, “… this building meets a lot of the goals of what the county and the city are setting out to do.” Pitt also expressed gratitude for Copeland’s planned green innovations for the building, which he said include bike paths integrated along the sidewalk, a partial green roof and a landscaped buffer on the western side of the building.
“We’re [also] eliminating three eyesores that are … not a big contributor to the community,” Copeland said, referring to the three motels currently occupying the space. Indeed, attendees at the most recent NCPCA meeting joked that there should be a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the demolition of these motels, rather than one marking completion of the apartments.
Some residents oppose the College Park development
Still, not everyone in North College Park welcomes new private developments. While Cook is very excited about the new community center, she is decidedly less enthusiastic about RST’s proposed apartments.
“If I had my magic wand, I would not see any more development in College Park,” she said, “at least not on the north side.” Cook cited traffic and population density as concerns, adding that developers don’t “put money into the education system, or our public facilities like sewage or electricity.”
And residents like Cook, who has lived here for 20 years, are sad to see their old College Park fade away.
“There is a plan, a project coming forward for town homes on … North Autoville Road … That road is like what College Park used to be. … it’s kind of old country road,” Cook said. “It is the most contiguous … green space we have in College Park … my understanding is 10 to 30 town homes [will be] built there.”