College Park’s age demographics trend toward age 20, affecting life for all

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By Annika McGinnis, The Diamondback (May 10, 2013)

For Jissella Urquilla, Berwyn Road’s tree-lined row of brick houses and hole-in-the-wall shops is home.

She’s grown up surrounded by college students for 16 years, accustomed to ever-changing fast-food restaurants on Route 1, loud parties and not knowing many of her neighbors.

“It used to be more families, but now almost every house around is college students,” Urquilla said. “Nobody’s really outside anymore.”

Between 2000 and 2010, the proportion of College Park residents aged 15 to 25 increased from 53 percent to 62 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. City officials and long-term residents attributed the increase to housing developments, expensive rental houses and the university’s rising prestige, which draws in non-local students. With more students coming from farther away, said District 3 councilwoman Stephanie Stullich, more seek housing near the campus.

Kiersten Johnson, a Cherokee Street resident, said when she attended the university as a graduate student in the early 2000s, she couldn’t find anywhere to live in the ZIP code because of a lack of student housing.

In the past five years, the city “finally” built large-scale student housing developments, Johnson said, including the University View and Domain at College Park. That gradual urbanization has helped revitalize the business scene, Stullich said.

Catering to a younger population, the city  opened its first vegetarian/vegan restaurant this semester, as well as a Mediterranean  eatery and a barbecue smokehouse.

“We have more than just pizza and beer,” Stullich said.

Still, Stullich said she  leaves the ZIP code for most nights out.

“People look at something like Busboys and Poets in Hyattsville and say, ‘Why can’t we have that in College Park?’” she said. “We’re moving in a good direction, but we need to continue that trend.”

Although some city officials described relative harmony between students and long-term residents, several older residents said problems have recently become insufferable.

Since she moved here 18 years ago, Stullich said noise complaints, crime and loud parties have significantly increased, leading the city council to create a Neighborhood Stabilization and Quality of Life Workgroup this year to explore the extent of the issues and propose ideas to address them.

“It’s a problem when parties disrupt your day or night, if you have trouble sleeping because of the loudness or if it’s a nice Saturday afternoon and you can’t enjoy being in your yard because the yelling or music is so loud,” she said.

Problems also include vandalism and public urination, said Bob Ryan, the city’s public services director.

Some houses lock their bathrooms to prevent partygoers from dirtying them, and “after a couple of drinks, they end up peeing on yards,” he said.

Relations between students and residents are not always fraught with tension, however.

On a late-April Sunday afternoon, city resident Bill Coleman stood in the parking lot across from City Hall, joking with a group of students and older residents. During the second week of the College Park Farmers Market, Coleman cooked barbecue, as he does every weekend at the market.

“Having a barbecue business, I get to know most of the kids overall,” he said. “I tell them, ‘You treat me good, I’ll treat you good.’”

When Coleman and his wife first moved to their house on Dickinson Avenue 15 years ago, almost every house was owner-occupied.  Now, all but two houses are rentals, he said. The former Marine is raising his two granddaughters, and Coleman said it’s not always easy for them to live alongside so many students.

“You all write in the [Diamondback], ‘How come the residents hate us?’” he said. “You want to know why? Come on Friday and Saturday mornings; let me walk you through my neighborhood. Do you think we’re the ones with the bottles on the sidewalk? Do you think the pee stains on the walls are what we’re doing on the sides of our house?”

He’s seen it all: Years ago, a student was stabbed at a party and died on Coleman’s front lawn.

“He was in my driveway, stumbled, and that was it,” Coleman said. “Those things should not happen. The parties, everything else, the people who just don’t think about what they’re doing, especially if they have drinks.”

On Berwyn Road,  flowerpots and wind chimes add to a small-town feeling. In restaurant Fishnet, Johnson and her 6-year-old daughter sat near a table of college students.

“You get off of Route 1, and you have a nice little feel in the neighborhoods,” Coleman said. “The farmers market helps … There was a good mix of students and residents.”

In North College Park, Johnson said, relations with students have improved. She sees dog walkers, stroller pushers and bike riders.

“I don’t see the same kinds of problem people. Maybe they’re more responsible,” she said. “I’m home at nights, and things used to wake me up at night. That doesn’t happen anymore … In general, it’s nice to see students around.”

University President Wallace Loh “reinvigorated” the city-university partnership, Stullich said. One example is the College Park Academy Charter School, set to open in the fall, she said, and  the university is looking into expanding University Police jurisdiction and creating programs to encourage more faculty to live in the city. The off-campus Code of Student Conduct expansion is also a “giant step” forward, Ryan said.

“The message that sends to students is that you represent the university wherever you are,” he said.

As students pack the city, Stullich said she’s concerned about the spike in problems. But she’s also hopeful Loh will help build positive university-city relations. As the city offers new retail and housing options, Stullich said she hopes mutual respect will also grow between the college-age renters and the families and older residents living next door.

“It’s important that College Park can be a place for people of all ages to feel comfortable,” she said. original story 


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