For Kathy Bryant, a lifelong College Park resident, protecting the downtown’s historical architecture may seem like an uphill battle, but it’s one she hasn’t given up on yet.
In the wake of the Prince George’s County Planning Board’s contentious decision Thursday to approve the construction of a high-rise apartment building on the Maryland Book Exchange property, Bryant can’t help but think back more than 120 years.
It was in 1888 when her grandfather, John Oliver Johnson — the man responsible for naming College Park’s streets after the nation’s top colleges — built the house in which she now resides. Four generations of her family have lived in the house, which sits comfortably on Columbia Avenue.
Bryant, who serves as the president of the Old Town College Park Civic Association, made a passionate plea before the planning board to stop the proposed development — a six-story building that would include an apartment complex and various retail outlets, which the College Park City Council voted against supporting because it doesn’t aesthetically comply with downtown development guidelines.
“It just doesn’t belong where they want to put it,” Bryant said. “It’s an ugly, cookie-cutter piece of architecture, which they’re just plopping down in the middle of four historic districts.”
Her words fell on deaf ears.
The board approved the plan 4 to 1, which makes way for the developer R & J Co. to build a complex that will feature 946 beds in 313 residential units, three courtyards, interior recreation facilities and multiple retail establishments.
Ilya Zusin, a local developer who attended this university, said although housing prices will not be set until 2014 or 2015, it will be more affordable than The Varsity, which charges nearly $960 a month for a four bedroom, four bathroom apartment.
R & J Co. changed its development plans after the city council voted against the complex for not complying with the Route 1 Sector Plan, a detailed guide created in June 2010 to outline the city’s future architectural vision. Because the six-story building would have faced a residential neighborhood on some parts of Yale Avenue and College Avenue, the design was altered so that side is only four stories tall.
Bryant said the design of the building is most upsetting and believes that its sheer size will dwarf local landmarks. In addition to aesthetic concerns, Bryant fears that the doubling the population of Old Town College Park will drastically increase both noise and traffic.
The controversial development project has made some students uncomfortable as well.
“I don’t really think that adding yet another high rise off campus best benefits the students,” freshman psychology major Steph Gross said. “If anything, it will give more of an excuse to the school to limit the number of years with guaranteed housing for its students, which is not beneficial.”
Senior finance and supply chain management major Ali von Paris said that while more retail options is appealing, there is no need to increase the number of housing options.
“I do like that they are considering bringing in more retail space, but I’m not for the apartment being built,” von Paris said. “Last I heard they were having trouble filling up The Varsity and The Enclave.”
District 2 Councilman Bob Catlin and District 3 Councilman Robert Day vehemently opposed the project Thursday when they spoke in front of the planning board.
However, some students said they feel this apartment complex will ultimately be safer to live in because it is closer to downtown bars and the campus.
For Bryant, no matter what is built in her neighborhood, her family’s history will keep her roots grounded in College Park. It’s a history she promises to make every attempt to preserve.
“This is about the historic nature of the area, and with this new building all of that could go downhill,” Bryant said. “Ultimately, there is no other place in the United States that I could consider home.”