The following are comments I am submitting to Chad Williams and the MNCPPC planning team in regard to the upcoming charrettes on the Route One sector plan:
Dear Mr. Williams:
Thank you for providing the charrette process this next week as an opportunity to provide public comment and discussion regarding the Route One sector plan. Please accept these comments that I submit in advance of the charrette. I submit these all on my own behalf, as the College Park City Council has not taken any positions as to date as to what should be included in the sector plan, other than to state its position on the boundaries of the sector plan. I also submit these comments with the hope that they will contribute to the dialogue this weekend. Unfortunately, I will be unable to attend the charrette sessions on Friday evening and Saturday morning, but I will be able to attend Saturday afternoon and next week in order to follow up on the progress of the sector plan.
First, I want to state a couple of general principles that I suggest the planning team should keep in mind when developing the sector plan. These are:
- Low density. Our area cannot sustain much more density than it already has, at least until the State and County accomplish significant improvements in our transportation infrastructure. There are constant problems with traffic backing up on both Rhode Island Avenue and, especially, Route One. Although there are plans in the works to improve both of these roads and to add additional public transportation, any significant new development that adds additional density to the area should be delayed until those improvements are complete. Otherwise, the current problems on these two roads will become even worse. Even once Route One and Rhode Island Ave. are rebuilt, our infrastructure still will limit the amount of density that the area can handle.
- Smart growth. In considering the what new development is to go into the area, this principle is paramount. The sector plan must look to accomplish development in such a way as to minimize the need for travel between work, home, and recreation or shopping. Given the limited capacity our area currently has for additional density, the sector plan should look to replace existing density with other uses of similar density that better accomplish smart growth principles. For example, the numerous residents in our area have a number of needs – shopping, recreation, work – that are, for the most part, not currently available within northern College Park. As a result, area residents typically have to get in their cars and often have to go a long distance for restaurant and retail opportunities, as well as jobs. On the other hand, our area is full of businesses, such as auto dealerships, which people drive long distances from around the area to come to. As a result, residents drive out of the area to get what they need, and people from around the area drive to College Park for discrete retail needs. Smart growth principles suggest that developers should pursue retail options that better satisfy the needs of the residents – things such as sit-down restaurants, coffee shops, small daily needs-type boutique stores – and try to replace some of the businesses in the area that only cater in limited ways to area residents. The sector plan could also pursue limited office space along the Route One Corridor that might offer area residents more opportunities to work close to where they live. As there are already numerous residents in the area with insufficient resources to fulfill daily needs within the area, the sector plan should limit residential development.
- Walkability and better public transportation. These are important to allow people to utilize the resources that do exist in our area without getting in their cars or traveling long distances. Neither the street patterns, nor the current layout of the buildings in much of the area, encourage walkability. Instead of large buildings with large parking lots between the street and the building, the sector plan should pursue more of a “main street” approach, with buildings closer to the roads and only a sidewalk and possibly a biking/jogging path separating the businesses from the roads. The sector plan should encourage use of wayfinding signs and safe places for pedestrians to cross the street. On Route One, for example, there are currently areas where pedestrians have to walk a whole mile just to find a crosswalk and get across the street – as a result, many pedestrians jaywalk and cause a huge safety risk. The sector plan should continue to allow parking lots near businesses to discourage nonresident parking in neighborhood streets, but should require that parking lots be placed behind the stores in order to increase walkability and discourage use of cars. The sector plan should also build on ongoing efforts to increase accessibility to public transportation on both Route One and Rhode Island Ave.
Regarding public transportation, the sector plan should encourage: 1) superstops, with greater public amenities and better route maps, including real-time displays of when busses are coming; 2) coordination between the various bus and metro systems in the area, to minimize headtimes and increase reliability; 3) developers to devote necessary resources to public transportation, such as a future shuttlebus system among the major developments along the Route One corridor; and 4) development of a trolley system or loop bus system (similar to the Circulator in downtown DC) along the Route One corridor and Rhode Island Ave. Such a bus could be coordinated with the express busses to allow for greater access in and around northern College Park.
Finally, the sector plan should encourage safe development of bike lanes in appropriate places – not just along recreational paths or rivers, but along major thoroughfares, in order to provide avenues for people to get from the places where they live to the places where they work, shop, and eat. Bike racks should be placed in all major commercial and residential areas.
- Locally-owned business. The sector plan should encourage locally-owned businesses that have a greater stake in the development of their surrounding community and can better cater to the needs of local residents. The sector plan should tie into College Park’s own buy local campaign and programs such as the Shop College Park website.
In regards to specific locations within the sector plan, I want to address them in three groups:
- Along Route One itself in northern College Park. Given the current level of congestion along Route One, it is especially important to limit density along the Route One corridor, at least until Route One is rebuilt and public transportation along the corridor is improved significantly. There are also a number of blighted areas, though, where the sector plan should encourage redevelopment with low-density projects that cater to the needs of local residents. The entire corridor is currently unsafe for pedestrians and as a result is not welcoming to residents or to businesses. To the extent possible, new developments should include road and sidewalk improvements that enhance pedestrian accessibility along the corridor until Route One is rebuilt.
- The “Four Corners” intersection of Rhode Island and Edgewood, and the surrounding commercial district. In this area in particular, the sector plan should encourage increased walkability and greater consideration of the needs of local residents. The sector plan should ensure that any new development fits in with the residential character of the surrounding neighborhoods by providing for strict noise and height restrictions, and ensuring that all businesses close at night. The sector plan should encourage development that creates a “main street” feel in this area, with businesses close to the streets as discussed above. New retail should tie into the existing stores, such as MOM’s and REI, to attract an eco-friendly, nature-oriented customer base – and should be built in a way that gives focus to green principles.
- The residential areas located between Route One and the Four Corners. These areas should be kept residential, and zoned residential, with no exceptions, to ensure that they are kept residential for the foreseeable future.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment and to participate in the sector plan development process. I look forward to continuing this dialogue with you and with area residents. Please feel free to contact me at 240-988-7763 if you have any questions or would like to discuss these ideas further.
Councilmember, District 1
College Park City Council