Planned Terrapin House to displace three local restaurants
By Stephanie E. Stullich
Three popular restaurants in downtown College Park are slated to be closed as part of a redevelopment of the property between Baltimore Avenue, Hartwick Road and Yale Avenue.
The 0.89-acre site is currently occupied by a single-story retail strip fronting Baltimore Avenue that includes Pho Tom, Northwest Chinese and Ritchie’s Colombian Restaurant, as well as a 1915 bungalow at the corner of Hartwick Road and Yale Avenue and a three-story apartment building (Yale House).
The proposed redevelopment would raze the existing buildings and replace them with Terrapin House, a six-story, mixed-use building with five floors of apartments and 4,800 square feet of commercial space facing Baltimore Avenue, and three floors of apartments facing Yale Avenue. The developer plans to market the apartments as student housing, with 93 units, including 298 bedrooms.
The project meets most applicable standards of the county’s Route 1 sector plan, which defines the area as a walkable node and calls for new construction to be higher-density, mixed-use buildings of two to six stories in height, with ground-floor retail and buildings set close to the property frontage lines.
The Terrapin House proposal has been the subject of multiple public meetings, including a community forum hosted by the city’s Advisory Planning Commission in December 2020, three meetings of the Old Town Historic District Local Advisory Committee during 2022 and 2023, and several city council meetings over a similar period. In these meetings, residents and local officials expressed concerns about the impact of the development on existing restaurants and retail, the historic character of the Old Town neighborhood, stormwater management and parking.
At the December 2020 community forum, Old Town resident Jason Azevedo raised concerns about the development’s potential impact on flooding in the neighborhood during severe storms. Matt Tedesco, an attorney representing the developer, Greenhill Capital Corporation, said that the project will actually facilitate better stormwater management and reduce flooding, because it will comply with current requirements to handle all stormwater on site.
The impact on the three restaurants on the site comes at a difficult time for College Park residents, who recently lost other well-loved restaurants, including Hanami and Habañero, due to redevelopment of the Campus Village Shoppes in the city’s Lakeland neighborhood.
Adele Ellis, a patron of Pho Tom, doesn’t want the restaurant to disappear. “We’re losing too many local restaurants,” she said. “The developer should get the existing restaurants to come back to the new building, and make the rent affordable so they can do it.”
Richard Biffl, chair of the historic district local advisory committee, noted that the committee recommended approval of the project after the developer revised proposed architectural plans in response to the committee’s concerns. The revisions include stepping the building down to three stories on the side facing the Old Town neighborhood and revising the building’s footprint to preserve a mature willow oak tree on the corner of Hartwick Road and Yale Avenue.
An internal garage will provide 90 parking spaces, including 12 for retail customers and the rest for building residents. Biffl expressed concern that the number of spaces will accommodate only a fraction of the nearly 300 residents that the building could have.
Councilmember Stuart Adams (District 3) noted that the developer has not asked for a waiver of the required number of parking spaces, and that the retail establishments currently on the site do not have off-street parking.
At the Oct. 10 city council meeting, councilmembers discussed a covenant agreement with the developer to put in place measures addressing community concerns, in exchange for the city’s support. The covenants include informing potential residents that they will not be eligible for neighborhood parking permits, designing the retail space to accommodate a commercial restaurant venting system, providing 90-days written notice for current retail tenants to vacate, and allowing those tenants the first opportunity to lease retail space in the new building.
Incoming city councilmember Jacob Hernandez (District 1) said residents were discontented that yet another development project will be devoted to student housing. Tedesco said that that determination won’t be finalized until 2025, but so far the only market interest is for student housing.
Adams commented, “This has been a three-year process with the developer coming to the community and looking to address community concerns.” He said the developer has made “a strong commitment to help the small businesses that we cherish to either relocate or return” to the new development once it is finished. However, he also noted that the new building will have less commercial space than now exists, so not every business will be able to return.
The Prince George’s County Planning Board approved the detailed site plan for the project (DSP-22035) on Oct. 19. Construction is expected to begin in 2025, with completion targeted for 2027.
Stephanie Stullich, the contributor who wrote this piece, serves as chair of the city Advisory Planning Commission (APC) that hosted the December 2020 community forum; the APC did not have any decision-making role or provide any recommendations on the Terrapin House development. Stullich also serves as president of Streetcar Suburbs Publishing. All are volunteer positions.