To long-term College Park residents, it would seem the city had transformed almost overnight.
Seven years ago, the city had a different character, lacking any of the large-scale, high-rise apartment complexes that have since instilled an urban feel in College Park.
But since 2006, a wave of developments has brought five upscale apartment complexes to the city, most recently the luxury complex Domain on Campus Drive. And the city’s housing market saw the sudden influx of thousands of new beds, most designated specifically for students.
Despite the rapid growth in the off-campus housing market, occupancy rates at newer complexes increased this year to almost 100 percent, College Park Economic Development Coordinator Michael Stiefvater wrote in an email. The Enclave, Mazza Grandmarc, the View and The Varsity had a combined 97.4 percent occupancy, and 88 beds out of 3,458 were empty. That’s a 3.4 percent increase from last year, when Stiefvater wrote the average occupancy rates were 94 percent at those same complexes.
Even some of the older properties saw more students move in. University Club is 100 percent occupied, said manager Rhoda Mancuso — a jump from early last semester, when rates had fallen to the upper 80s. Parkside is 99 percent full this year, compared to about 80 percent last year, said management assistant Lavania Brown.
Efforts to expand the area’s housing options aren’t anywhere near complete. The development pipeline has at least five new large-scale projects in the works that could bring about 2,300 residential units: the Maryland Book Exchange; Knox Village; the Metropolitan and Monument Village (both of which are planned for north of Route 193); and the Cafritz project in Riverdale.
The thriving housing market and continued expansion reflect the growth of the broader Washington area in the past few years, Stiefvater wrote. College Park’s population in 2012 was 31,208, according to the Census Bureau — about a 27 percent increase from 2000.
“With our proximity to DC and access to Baltimore, improving schools, and efforts to improve the Route 1 Corridor, the area should attract interest to these developments,” Stiefvater wrote.
First to come will be the redevelopment of the Maryland Book Exchange across from the university’s Regents Drive entrance. The complex is breaking ground this semester and will offer 287 units in fall 2015.
The Cafritz development, which will bring 855 housing units, 190 townhomes and the county’s first Whole Foods Market to Riverdale Park, may begin construction this fall. Two projects, Monument Village and the Metropolitan, could also break ground this winter or spring, bringing 459 apartments, 55 townhomes and retail about a mile north of the campus on Route 1. And Knox Village, which aims to replace most of the Knox Box apartments, will begin construction this summer.
IMPACT ON STUDENTS
Increased occupancies and the prospect of more housing could help alleviate traditionally overflowing housing on the campus and bring more students closer to the university, said Carlo Colella, administration and finance vice president.
“All of our on-campus housing beds have been occupied, if not 100 percent, then nearly 100 percent. We’ve had waiting lists for housing for the past several years,” he said. “More student apartments will meet more needs … if there are students living a mile-and-a-half away because the apartments right on the edge of campus are full.”
The university’s on-campus housing options accommodate about 12,000 students — about 44 percent of the university’s undergraduate enrollment. In fall 2011, Oakland Hall’s opening contributed to the greatest number of students in university housing to that point in the school’s history: 11,849 students. This occurred “even in light of continuing expansion in off-campus housing,” according to a student housing market analysis published in 2011 by university consulting firm Anderson Strickler, LLC.
This year, the university is housing about the same number — 11,857 students — and plans to continue expanding on-campus housing options with the opening of Prince Frederick Hall in fall 2014.
Fostering the expansion of new off-campus options is part of the university’s plan, Colella said. Even though they own private properties, owners of The Varsity, the View, the Metropolitan and Monument Village came to the university to discuss the complexes’ architecture, proposed amenities and more before construction.
IMPACT ON FACULTY AND STAFF
The university is also pushing for most faculty and staff to live nearby. About 4 percent of faculty and staff live in College Park, according to a 2012 report by Anderson Strickler.
“There’s a lot of wonderful things about the university on evenings and weekends,” Colella said. “Those families of faculty and staff members who live a distance from the campus, they don’t take advantage of all the benefits that are here.”
Domain — the first nonstudent apartment complex built in College Park since Camden College Park opened in 2007 near Ikea — opened in late June and is now 56 percent full, said Domain community director Tommy Skordas.
Domain sells its units for a significantly steeper price than nearby complexes. But it’s targeting a different, more “professional” market, Skordas said. Half of its residents are university faculty; 15 percent are graduate students, and 25 percent are professionals. About 10 percent of the complex’s occupancy is made up of undergraduate students.
With more apartment housing, officials aim to reduce the number of students saturating city neighborhoods and make room for faculty members Colella said.
“For people who live nearby, it’s easier for them to get to work. They can walk; they can bike; they can take a short bike ride; they can participate more with university activities,” Colella said. “That has an effect on the campus directly.”