UPPER MARLBORO – New apartments in the University Town Center (UTC) are one step closer to fruition after the Prince George’s County Planning Board approved the detailed site plan.
East West, the name for the planned apartment complex renovation for the Metro II building in the UTC, will be the first adaptive reuse of an office building in the county and was officially approved at the planning board’s July 27 meeting after heavy discussion about the project. The detailed site plan, filed as an expedited project, was approved with several conditions as the unique circumstances of the redevelopment leave the project in a gray area between county planning rules.
“This site is basically exempt from (transit district overlay zone) standards,” said Henry Zhang, the county planning staff member who presented staff findings on the site plan. “There is nothing changed in terms of the appearance, mainly they are converting the interior space into multifamily.”
It is also exempt from landscape, tree canopy and conservation plans.
However, despite the building not having to go through the newer review processes that include storm water management plans and designations of roadways and sidewalks, the board spent a significant amount of time going over requests from jurisdictions neighboring the building that asked for those very things.
The original building was constructed in 1968 as office space, but after July the Metro II will be completed vacated. Instead of demolishing the building or attempting to encourage additional companies to lease offices, the owners of the building chose to renovate the structure into apartment housing. Nearly all the work on the building will be indoors, as offices are converted into 311 apartments, several gyms, a laundry room, community spaces and new office spaces for future residents.
Matthew Tedesco, the attorney representing the building owners, said there was zero value in the building as it currently stands, but renovating it will not only add value to the property but also to the UTC and the areas surrounding it.
“The office markets in the Washington, D.C area, not just Prince George’s County alone, as well as other regions, we are seeing the office component market really becoming anemic,” he said. “So we’re here to be the first, hopefully successful, attempt to actually keep the existing building, retrofit it, adaptively reuse what’s there to bring it back to life.”
Still, the Town of University Park sent in nearly two pages of concerns it has with the redevelopment and the fact that it is exempt from the most recent iterations of county planning standards. The town also specifically spoke to the burden the redevelopment will create on the surrounding areas, including increased traffic, a larger population of school-age children, a larger need for police and fire services and the increased used of nearby parks.
“Further, and of great concern to the town, no additional storm water management measures are proposed,” the planning board staff report reads.
The town specifically asked for the building to reach LEED Silver certification, have a “green roof,” have the address changed to America Boulevard instead of East-West Highway, that the owners contribute to a regional stormwater management solution, add a lease for 200 parking spots in the nearby parking garage, create better pedestrian access along Democracy Way, provide space for Zip Cars, add more bike racks and consider paying for “exterior recreational amenities.”
In response, Tedesco said the building’s roof will not be able to support a green roof, and noted several times that the project is exempt from many of the county standards inducted after the building was built.
“I’m not subject to and I’m not in a position to subject myself to, conditions that aren’t applicable,” he said in response to specific design standards.
In addition, county planning staff noted there is a separate process for address changes, that the project is exempt from stormwater management requirements, parking is being addressed, no additional parkland is required, Zip Car spaces are not required for approval, and that planning staff had already requested additional bike spaces both within and outside the building.
“Transportation planning staff has recommended the addition of 10 exterior bicycle spaces, on top of the approximately 125 bicycle-paring spaces provided within the parking garage,” the staff report reads.
At the same time, Commissioner William Doerner said he would like to see the building owners invest in the area around them, if not for the benefit of the city than for the potential new residents of the building. Doerner, himself, wanted to see the developers work on sidewalks near Liberty Lane adjacent to the nearby parking lot. He also wanted to see a walkway built between the building and Adelphi Road.
“That dirt is not conducive if you have a wheel chair or if you have a stroller or any other sort of wheeled device, you just can’t get across, you have to go into the street,” he said. “It’s a safety hazard for people walking and biking there.”
Tedesco said he is happy to look into it, but would not accept it as a condition since it would involve getting a State Highway Administration access permit and could be part of a future state project.
The city of Hyattsville also made four requested conditions for the renovation project. The city asked that the building be named something without East-West Highway in the name to avoid confusion about the location, that the building have additional lighting and signage for the primary entrance, the developers create “additional way-finding parking signage” and all at-grade or surface parking should be metered and administered by the city.
The applicants agreed to incorporate additional lighting, signage and way-finding parking signage. Planning staff noted that the developers will consider a name change, but said parking was something the city and the applicants would have to work out.
“The existing at-grade paring spaces on this property are all marked as handicapped and are not currently metered,” the report reads. “The city of Hyattsville can work separately with the applicant to resolve this issue, as there is no requirement for metering these spaces with the parking analysis at this time.”