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Beyond Visions: Challenges and Opportunities in Route 1 Development

Vacant building across Route 1 in north College Park (courtesy: Laura Evans)

This past Saturday, I attended the “Route 1 Site Specific Visioning Session” at the City Council Chamber. My sincere thanks go to our City officials, Terry Schum, Chris Nagle and Michael Stiefvater in particular, for organizing this great event. During the 3 hour+ event , residents had a chance to take a look at the properties across Route 1 that are potential targets for redevelopment and reuse. Residents also had a chance to share their ideas on a list of potential businesses that can go in those sites.

Route 1 is City’s main street and thus visioning about this important gateway isn’t quite new. The City planner, Terry Schum talked about how the Park and Planning started the first Route 1 sector plan back in 2002, when it changed Route 1 corridor’s zoning category from C-S-C (Commercial Shopping Center) to M-U-I (Mixed Unit Infill). This gave a rise of hope in the development of wide range of properties, from traditional businesses to residential units.

In 2009, the Park and Planning went further with Route 1 visioning strategy by drawing boundaries of areas across Route 1 and taking residents’ feedback on what can be done in those properties. The 2009 sector plan went through another major revision  with a set of amendments not so long after the first draft version was approved by the county council.

Since then, Route 1 hasn’t seen huge development, especially in the northern part of the city. True, it saw some some activities in the south with a few high rise student housing developments. Also, thanks to some 8.5 million dollar funding from the States, it will go through a phase of design and planning of street development, all in the south of Greenbelt Road.

Any such development in the northern side is not going to happen soon. As far as redevelopment of Route 1 properties are concerned, a weakened economy has contributed to a even weaker interest from the developer community to improve these properties. For example, one developer (JPI) who went through months of painful planning stage to develop a few properties in north College Park went bankrupt, and thus scrapping their plans to develop those properties.

There are however opportunities that we ought to pursue in these challenging times. While we should persistently work with the State and County officials to find more opportunities in developments, we also need to aggressively pursue the business and developer communities to market these opportunities. City’s economic development team needs to be strengthened further with the necessary tools they need in that pursuit.

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