College Park nixes City Hall water wall

College Park’s new City Hall will not have a water feature in its main plaza. College Park’s City Council voted four-to-three against a measure that would have directed designers to proceed with plans to incorporate either a water wall or a synchronized pump-jet fountain. The proposals for such a hydrolic feature were controversial in College Park for the additional cost, which would have ranged from between $400,000 for the less-complex water wall and $685,000 for a pump-jet fountain, though the cost would be split 50-50 with the University of Maryland, which is partnering with College Park to build the new City Hall, which will have offices for both the city and the college, in addition to ground-floor retail space. 

City Council’s vote came at its Nov. 19, 2019, meeting. Councilors Fazlul Kabir (District One), Dustyn Kujawa (District Four), and District Two Councilors P.J. Brennan and Monroe Dennis voted against a motion from District Three Councilor John Rigg, seconded by fellow District Three Councilor Robert Day, to include a water wall in the plaza designs. 

The vote followed a presentation from represenatives of Design Collective, a Baltimore-based architectural firm College Park has contracted with to design the new City Hall facility.

College Park Hollywood streets overhaul gets warm reception

Updated plans for a re-imagined streetscape for College Park’s Hollywood commercial district now omit a planned “fitness trail” once proposed for the project, but they retain significant enhancements to pedestrian and cyclist infrastructure in the heart of the city’s northern business hub. Chief among those design features are new bus shelters, the expansion of a concrete-curb-protected bike lanes on Rhode Island Avenue south of Edgewood Road, miniature parks with swingsets and stages in road blocks that were once dead-end service lanes. 

The meeting was attended by about two-dozen residents. During comments, most were broadly supportive of the plans, though there existed some quibbles about individual design elements. Mel Blain, owner of Posh Cycling and Fitness, said she is eagerly awaiting new city investment in the neighborhood. Her business fronts one of the planned mini-parks on the eastern edge of Rhode Island Avenue, which features a pavilion stage Blaine said her business could use to host yoga classes. 

“When I brought my business here I was told this streetscape was coming, and I really wanted to take advantage of it,” said Blaine after the meeting.

Tonight: Updated Hollywood streetscape plans unveiled

College Park residents will have a chance tonight to review and weigh in on updated plans for a complete re-imagining of the Hollywood neighborhood’s commercial streetscape. 

Tonight’s meeting will be an unveiling of the “60 percent” design plans, where more fleshed-out schemes will be discussed. The meeting will take place at 4912 Nantucket Road in College Park from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

The project dates to 2015, when College Park hired a consultant to examine opportunities to enhance the public right-of-way in the Northern College Park neighborhood’s commercial center near Rhode Island Avenue and Edgewood Road. This area is home to a number of businesses, such as Proteus Bicycles and MOM’s Organic Market, that inhabit a mix of mid-century and earlier strip malls fronted by parking lots and a haphazard mix of pedestrian and cyclist infrastructure. The entire project, from engineering design through construction, is estimated to cost a combined $1.8 million. A $275,000 engineering contract was awarded to firm Sabra Wang and Assoc.

Mount Rainier hires interim city manager

Mount Rainier has hired an interim city manager to head up the town’s administration as it looks for a full-timer to take on the role. The new city manager is Latasha Gatling, a former town councilor and, later, a town administrator for the city of Seat Pleasant and a former liason with the Prince George’s County Council. Gatling’s first day on the job is Nov. 19, 2019. 

The hire was announced by Mount Rainier Councilor Celina Benitez in a Facebook post Nov. 14, 2019.

College Park Council gives Metro Marriott thumbs up

College Park City Council unanimously lent its support to a preliminary plan to build a new, 165-room Marriott Hotel near the city’s Metro station. The preliminary plan now goes before the Prince George’s County Planning Board, which will consider the matter at its January 9, 2020, meeting. The project, spearheaded by Republic Properties Corp., calls for the construction of a 126,000 square-foot hotel, including 8,000 square feet of retail space, to be built on a triangular-shaped 2.1-acre parcel bound by Campus Drive, Corporal Frank Scott Drive and Lehigh Road practically across the street from the College Park-University of Maryland Metro Station. The project is sited within the College Park-Riverdale Park Transit District Development Overlay Zone, a zoning district similar to the Prince Georges Plaza Transit District Development Overlay Zone designed to encourage developers to create mixed-use, walkable, urban neighborhoods. 

College Park’s support of the development is contingent upon a number of conditions, to which the developers were agreeable. They include:

• Granting the city easements along Lehigh Road for a five-foot sidewalk

• Vacate existing unimproved Knox Road right-of-way

• Install or retail bus shelters at several sites bordering the project.

Update: Werrlein’s Magruder Pointe plans get court date

It will be at least until February before the future of the former WSSC headquarters in Hyattsville is known. Developer Werrlein Properties Inc., has plans to build a mix of townhomes and detached homes on the property. But the project, dubbed Magruder Pointe and which received county approval for its conceptual plans earlier this year, has been tied up in the courts as both the city of Hyattsville and a group of nearby residents have turned to the courts to overturn that approval. In a procedural step, Prince George’s County Circuit Court Judge John Davey combined the two cases into one in a ruling issued Nov. 4, 2019.

Prince George’s unemployment ticks down in September

By Amelia Jarecke

The Prince George’s County unemployment is down compared to last September, matching the lowest rate the county has seen in the past year, according to the Department of Labor statistics released at the end of last month. The 3.6 percent unemployment rate for this September compared to a rate of 3.8 percent in the same month a year earlier. The last time the county’s unemployment rate dropped to 3.6 percent was in April. This January, the county’s unemployment rate climbed to 4.7 percent. Since then it has fluctuated, but now is one-tenth of a percent below the unemployment rate of the entire state. 

Maryland’s unemployment rate of 3.7 percent matches the lowest level the state has experienced in the past decade, according to the Department of Labor.

Knox Road student housing project gets preliminary approval

A redevelopment proposal that would level a retail strip in downtown College Park to build hundreds of new student apartments has taken a key step forward. 

At its Nov. 7, 2019, meeting the Prince George’s County Planning Board unanimously approved a preliminary plan of subdivision for the Knox Road Development. The developers, Terrapin Development Co. – a for-profit real estate development firm created to sell university property – and Greystar Real Estate Partners., plan to build 340 new student-housing units and build 32,000 square feet of ground-floor retail into the project. The proposal would raze a small half-block retail strip just off Baltimore Avenue.

College Park Mayor Wojahn gets 2 more years; Incumbents sweep; 4-year terms fall short

Incumbents – with one exception – swept the day in College Park’s City Council races. Topping the ballot was Mayor Patrick Wojahn, who won a third two-year term at the center of the dais with 1,532 votes, or 78 percent of the 1,964 votes cast. His nearest rival, Nikesha S. Pancho took 13.7 percent of the ballot, or 268 votes, while Lazlarliani Maslawma earned only 164 votes, or 8.3 percent of the ballot. Maslawma stirred controversy on the campaign for homophobic remarks criticizing Wojahn and District Two Councilor P.J. Brennan, who are both gay. Wojahn, after the results were announced, thanked the voters of College Park for their support. 

“I am excited; I am humbled; I am pleased that the residents of College Park have given me another two years to be their mayor,” said Wojahn.

Sub-urban: Hyattsville grapples with gas station stone’s throw from Metro

Hyattsville City Council voted 10-to-one to recommend county officials impose a slew of conditions on a proposed demolition and redevelopment of the Sunoco gas station next to the Prince George’s Plaza Metro Station. The proposal is controversial from a policy perspective. The gas station is located in the heart of zoning area designed to encourage dense, walkable, mixed-use development to surround the Metro station. The entire area is marketed as Hyattsville’s second downtown, and according to city planners – as well as years of City Council policymaking – auto-oriented uses such as gas stations and drive-throughs are not permitted to be built or, for those that already exist, are not allowed to significantly expand. Hyattsville City Council’s vote came after the developer submitted a revised application that dramatically reduced the size of the planned retail and office building for the project.