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Book Exchange Development Inches Forward for City Approval

Book Exchange - Old and revised plans

In last Tuesday’s worksesssion, the Council discussed the latest revised plan of the Book Exchange Development plan. The latest plan addressed some of the concerns the Council expressed in its earlier meeting. They include some changes in the north side of the building adjacent to Route 1 and the some detailing on the 6th floor wall in the middle of the building.

Earlier, the developer presented a plan where it took out the hip roof at the back of the building to make the step down complaint with Route 1 sector plan.

In last week’s meeting, Council member Stephanie Stullich (Dist 3) decided to take the motion approving the plan. The development is located in Ms. Stullich’s district. The Old town Civic Association, however, passed a motion on last Monday disapproving the plan.

The Council will vote on the motion in next Tuesday’s Council meeting.

Revised Design Plans of Book Exchange Development

Architects from the Book Exchange development came to our last Tuesday’s Council meeting and presented the revised designs and presented the revised designs, please see them below. Figure 1 and 3 show both old and new designs, with the old one at the top left corner and the new one at bottom right.

The developer is offering to reduce the height to 3 stories on the Yale Avenue side and across from the sorority building, for the full 50 foot depth that the City had argued was minimally acceptable. This plan also includes a flat roof and eliminates the 2-story hip roof. Council asked for the revised floor plans at the meeting, The developer has also agreed to add more brick layers, especially at the lower part of the building to make it more compatible with the surrounding residential neighborhood.

During the meeting, I asked for the revised floor plans at the meeting, unfortunately, the City has been informed that the plans are not available contrary to what the architect said in the meeting. The Council will discuss the design further and decide its position about this plan.

Book Exchange Developer to Present Revised Plan

Revised Book Exchange plan- from Yale and College Avenue

Revised Book Exchange plan - From Yale avenue

In tomorrow’s Council meeting, the Book Exchange developer will come  and present their new revised plan on the Book Exchange Development. The Council will hear a new revised plan. The City will then seek public input to decide whether to maintain its opposition to the project.

Last week, the developer came to the City with a revised proposal that steps the building down to three stories near the residential development for part of the building about 1/3 of the way through in line with the City’s requested step-down.  For the North part of the building, though, the amended proposal maintains the 6-story height on one side until about 50 feet from the rear property line.  The developer also made some other changes to the architecture of the building to address the City’s concerns.

In case you’re new to this project, the Maryland Book Exchange development is a mixed-use retail and student housing development proposed for the current site of the Maryland Book Exchange, just north of City Hall.

The Council has consistently opposed the various proposals for the design of this project on the basis that its design and density is incompatible with the surrounding neighborhood and that it does not meet the step-down requirements for a Route 1 development that backs into a residential neighborhood set forth in the Route 1 Sector Plan.

After the District Council decided to remand the project to the County Planning Board for further consideration on the basis that it did not meet the requirements of the Sector Plan, the developer decided to revise the project slightly, but still did not meet most of the concerns that the Council had.  Recently, Council voted unanimously to continue its opposition to the project and set forth a number of conditions that would have to be met before the Council would provide its support.

I will let you know once I get more information about the revised plan.

Council Asks Changes to Revised Book Exchange Plan

Proposed Book Exchange Plan - Route 1 side

In last Tuesday’s Council meeting, the Council voted against the latest revised Book Exchange Plan. It also asked for the following conditions that would enable the City Council to support the revised Detailed Site Plan:

  1. Revise the architecture to provide a stepback transition that begins approximately 150 feet west of the Yale Avenue right-of-way (the R-18 zoning line). This shall be accomplished by separating the structure into two buildings divided by a 30-foot alley for access and loading. The building west of the alley would be 6 stories in height and the building east of the alley would be 3 stories in height with the third floor constructed as a 1-story gable roof with habitable dormers. Alternatively, the stepback transition could be accomplished by eliminating the following floors from the structure: The 6th floor facing west on the center courtyard, facing east and south on the east courtyard and the 2 units on the 6th floor facing the University of Maryland on the eastern end of the north elevation; the 4th and 5th floors facing north, south and west on the east courtyard and 1 unit on the 4th and 5th floors facing the University of Maryland on the eastern end of the north elevation. In this alternative, all roofs shall be flat.
  2. Revise the building at the corner of Route 1 and College Avenue to meet the street in a more traditional way, to remove the sidewalk encroachment by the column and stairs, and provide more sidewalk width. Route 1 storefront access should be at grade facing Route 1.
  3. Reduce the use of Hardipanel for cornice treatments and bay projections and improve the vertical articulation of all facades by providing local symmetry.
  4. Revise the composition of the front façade to minimize the impact of the metal towers and be more harmonious with surrounding buildings.
  5. Revise floor plans, where necessary, to eliminate deficiencies such as entrance doors opening to bedrooms (efficiency units), windows facing walls (corner units) and to improve access to bathrooms from bedrooms (4 bedroom, 4 bath units).
  6. Resolve the storm drain issue with the University of Maryland prior to building permit.

Council to Discuss Book Exchange Plan Revision

Maryland Book Exchange

In tonight’s work session, the Council discuss the latest revisions of Book Exchange development plan. The Planning Board will be holding a hearing on September 13, so this is the Council’s opportunity to comment on these revisions.

The Council first considered this detailed site plan back in Fall 2011, when it recommended disapproval of the proposed plan. This is a plan for a student housing development at for the current Maryland Book Exchange site, with 313 student housing units (about 1,000 beds) and over 14,000 feet of retail on the first floor. The Council’s concerns about the initial plan involved the massing and architecture of the development, a six-story building that covered almost the entire lot, leaving very little open space in a residential area surrounded by lower-density commercial development and residential buildings. The Council decided that the proposed development does not comply with the requirements of the Route One Sector Plan, which state that developments in this area that back into residential areas must have a step-down in height as the development approaches the residential area, and must also have an interesting and heterogenous architecture that is in proportion with the surrounding properties, which this development does not.

After the Planning Board recommended disapproval of the project, the developer came back in January of this year with slight revisions to the plan, replacing the top two floors toward the back of the development with a steep roof that was just as tall. The City again voted to recommend disapproval of the project, and although the Planning Board recommended approval of the project in February, the City appealed this decision to the District Council. Members of the Council expressed concern about the possibility of setting a precedent that the standards set forth in the Route One sector plan, which were developed over many meetings and discussions with City residents, wouldn’t be taken seriously.

On July 24, 2012, the District Council remanded the Detailed Site Plan to the Planning Commission and ordered the developer to address the “lack of appropriate consideration of a number of aspects of the 2010 Approved Central US 1 Corridor Sector Plan and Sectional Map Amendment, and required the developer to ensure an adequate transition by stepping down to three stories for a minimum depth of 50 feet approaching Yale Ave. The District Council also ordered that the developer make some changes regarding the architecture and massing of the project, including courtyards that allow light infiltration to all units.

The developer responded by making some changes to the building and submitting revised plans, perspective drawings, elevations, and sections. The revised plans do indicate a stepdown to three stories in the back, but there is a separate building behind the Yale Ave. elevation that does not carry the step-down to the 50 feet required by the District Council, and the three stories have a 58-foot tall sloping roof on top that continues to make the building greatly out of proportion with the surrounding neighborhood. The Old Town Historic Planning Commission still voted unanimously to recommend disapproval of the project based on continued concerns about the architecture of the building and compatibility with the surrounding neighborhood.

The Planning Commission staff now still recommends approval of the project, conditional on a more gradual stepdown on the North side of the project, incorporation of more traditional architectural elements, and clarification of some issues regarding plantings and lighting. City staff has provided comments that the developer has not adequately addressed the concerns of the District Council, in that the building continues to be one large, “architecturally incoherent,” mass that fills the entire site, the stepdown is not consistent, the layout of the interior units is “awkward,” and there is no true transition in density or intensity toward the residential neighborhood.

Staff also found that there are still a number of modern architectural elements – including large metal towers on the corners of the building – that are out of character with the neighborhood. Staff does not believe that the conditions suggested by the Planning Commission staff would address the fundamental problems with the development, and instead recommends dividing the development into two buildings, one which would face Route 1 and be six stories, and one which would be more oriented to Yale Ave. and be three and a half stories tall, with a 30-foot alleyway between the buildings.

Please let me know if you have any questions about this development or staff’s recommendation.

Planning Board Approves Book Exchange Design, Will it Pass District Council?

College Avenue and Yale Avenue - Closeup

Yesterday, Prince George’s Planning Board approved the Book Exchange student housing complex near University of Maryland.

Earlier, College Park City Council unanimously voted against the design, citing developer’s failure to comply with the Route 1 sector plan.

The plan will most likely go to the County’s District Council, who will make the ultimate decision.

Read more on today’s Washington Post here.

College Park Patch did a nice live blogging on the hearing yesterday. You can read that here.

My Votes Last Night: Book Exchange 0, Cafritz 1

Last night the Council voted on 2 important development issues – Book Exchange development in College Park and Cafritz development in Riverdale Park. Council rejected both issues with 8-0 and 6-2 votes. I voted against Book Exchange development, however supported Cafritz one; I was one of two councilmembers who cast their dissenting votes; Bob Catlin (District 2) being the other one. I explained my reasons why voted this way in my comments last night, however in case you missed, here goes my explanation.

My main reason to vote against the Book Exchange development was compliance with Route 1 Sector Plan, which states that any structure facing a residential neighborhood (or an area zoned with R55 zoning) must be 2 to 3 stories high. The developer, in this case, made the design facing Yale Avenue 6 stories high. However after the Planning board rejected the plan, they scaled back to 4 stories. Unfortunately, even though it’s an improvement, the council was looking more for a compliance. I understand residents in north College Park was in favor of the concept of the development, however I also felt the need to make sure that the sector plan requirements are complied accurately.

On Cafritz, I struggled to cast my NO vote opposing the rezoning application. For all along, I was very concerned about the traffic that this development would generate and its impact to College Park residents. This development is not in College Park and thus from the beginning of the project, the extra traffic on Route1 was the single most important issue for College Park residents. The developers offered to build a bridge on the CSX track on the east side of the development to ease the traffic impact on Route1. Unfortunately, in the beginning they wanted to build the bridge in the second phase of the development, however the Council wanted them to build it in the first phase.

A long phase of negotiation went after that, which involved a continuance approval from the Planning Board. Very recently, the developer agreed to build the bridge in the first phase of development. An agreement (covenant) was made with the Town of University Park that details the funding and timeline in this project. I guess this agreement was the main reason why I changed my mind to vote against the disapproval of rezoning application.

I also had some concerns about the MUTC zoning that the applicant was applying for this development. MUTC is a modern zoning tool, that College Park never used before, so I was not sure if the scope of residents’ participation in this process. But I checked with our planning staff to find that MUTC does have a provision where residents can be part of it.

I am extremely happy to see so many residents showing interest in the development . I also thank Council member Stullich for the countless number of hours she has spent in this process. Even though I did not support her proposal, I hope she and the residents will stay engaged regardless of the outcome of this zoning process.

Please read more about last night’s meeting here on the Patch and here on the RethinkCollegePark.

Book Exchange Development – What Do You Think?

Proposed student housing at Book Exchange - From Route 1

In last week’s work session, the developer of the Maryland Book Exchange development briefly presented a new drawing of a proposed development with a 4 stories step-down in the back of the building (facing Yale avenue).

The planning staff is however saying that the step back changes are not sufficient, since the Route 1 sector plan asks for a 2-3 stories step back facing residential neighborhood.

In the meting, the Council also had a number of questions about the architecture proposals. For example, my colleague Mr. Afzali and Mr. Wojahn asked why the roof above the four floors had to be designed to make a sharp incline from the rear property line. This makes the building just as tall in that area as it is otherwise.

The developer offered to bring the architect of the project this week to answer these questions. We will discuss this in worksession, and then, in special session, will likely consider our position on this matter.

We understand many in north College Park, in particular in District 1 have mixed feelings about the entire development. The developer came to the North College Park Civic Association meeting about a year ago to present his plan, and many residents present at that meeting actually supported the idea of having a student housing at the site. A student housing close to campus can reduce traffic on Route 1 thus this development may potentially provide some benefits.

That being said, it is also important to make sure that the developer meets the setback requirements of Route 1 sector plan, something the residents present at the NCPCA meeting did not discuss. Many members in the council also think that it’s important to consider the concerns of Old Town College Park residents, such as the impact of student density there. The council also had concerns about some architecture related issues, when it rejected the application in Fall last year.

If you feel either way about the development, please let me know or stop by at tonight’s council session. The council session will start at 7 pm.

Revised Book Exchange Housing Designs

The Book Exchange property developer Ilya Zusin and attorney Michele LaRoca came to last week’s work session to present their revised design. An architect will also be present in the next Tuesday’s Council meeting to answer questions. The Council will most likely vote on the development on that night.

Book Exchange Development Scales Back – But Is This Enough?

New Design: Yale Avenue East Elevation

The developer who recently purchased the Maryland Book Exchange property in downtown College Park came to the Council last fall requesting our approval of a proposed mixed-use development, with five stories of residential properties on top of one story of retail and parking. 

The Council recommended disapproval of the project (by a vote of 6-1-1) because the project was inconsistent with the requirements of the Route 1 sector plan and incompatible with the surrounding residential area. Based primarily on the fact that the developer had not allowed for a stepback into the residential area behind the property (reducing the height of the building to 2-3 stories), the County Planning Board postponed making a decision on the development until January 19 and recommended that the developer amend the plans to address the stepback requirement. 

In December, the developer met with City staff and presented a revised proposal, which the developer said was meant to address this requirement. The new proposal is a four-story gray building (see above), even though the step-down requirements provide for a 2-3 story building when it backs into a residential area. 

Moreover, since this meeting, the University of Maryland has sent a letter to the developer disapproving of the developer’s proposal to tie into the University’s stormwater management system – this will require further revisions by the developer. 

The Council will discuss the new design at tonioght’s worksession. City staff is recommending that there are not sufficient changes to the project to justify changing the Council’s position. What do you think? Please drop a comment below or email me to

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