In University Park, a suburb sheltered under a cathedral-like canopy of old-growth trees, homeowners are working to preserve their oasis with a host of environmental initiatives.
Town residents serve on committees to protect the streams and care for the foliage. Food scraps stay out of the garbage thanks to a door-to-door composting program, and about one-third of the town’s 900-plus households have joined an initiative to make their homes more energy-efficient. Commuters keep their cars off the road by riding a town-sponsored bus to a Metro station.
“University Park has maintained its character as an island of urban forestry and a community of neighborhood friendliness,” said John Tabori, 70, who has lived in the Prince George’s County municipality since 1981 and has served as mayor since 2006. “Most of my neighbors I’ve known for decades.”
Keeping it green: Many families signed up for an energy-efficiency evaluation from the Small Town Energy Program, funded by a federal grant. Residents can then opt to implement the recommendations, from insulating attics to replacing old appliances. Rebates from utility companies and others reduce the cost for homeowners.
Chuck Wilson, who works for an energy nonprofit, helped bring the program to the town. He said that University Park’s monthly newsletter and e-mail list helped get the word out, but residents made the biggest impact.
“Neighbor to neighbor totally drove the program,” said Wilson, 44, who lives in University Park with his wife and two children. “Neighbors know each other, and neighbors talk to each other.”
In University Park’s curbside composting program, more than 150 homes collect household food waste in sealed containers. Town workers take the material to the National Agricultural Research Center in Beltsville. Wilson and Tabori estimate that the reduced waste from trash pickup offsets the cost of the program. University Park’s residents “understand the merits of keeping material out of landfills,” Wilson said. In the town’s latest “green” project, solar panels are being installed on the roof of University Park Elementary School, the final part of the $1.4 million three-year grant.
Close to the action: Chris Moss, 39, enjoys being able to hop on her bicycle and head to the grocery store, taking advantage of nearby trails for cyclists. “If I don’t have to get in the car, I don’t sit in traffic,” she said. Moss said that she also patronizes farmers markets in neighboring communities, “all very bikeable,” she added.
Bustling highways surround the town, which is also adjacent to a regional shopping mall and the University of Maryland. University Park has always attracted professors and workers from the college, but many residents have noticed an influx of families with children.
Kermit’s birthplace? Muppets creator Jim Henson, a University of Maryland graduate, grew up in University Park, and a small park is dedicated to him. A wooden sculpture of one of Henson’s creations, Kermit the Frog, can be seen along one of the town’s walking trails.
The town is bordered by the College Heights Estates neighborhood and College Park to the north, Route 1 to the east, East-West Highway to the south and Adelphi Road to the west.
The town grew up as one of the area’s first commuter communities along the Route 1 corridor. Some of the homes were built in the 1920s and 1930s, said Dixie Meadows of Re/Max Professionals. “They are perceived as being very well built. They have charm and personality,” said Meadows, a 41-year resident.
“Each house has its own story,” Tabori said. His home was originally built by the subdivision’s developer for the developer’s niece and husband. The house features different kinds of brick and is held together by steel beams. “It would be almost impossible to knock this house down,” Tabori said.
Other homes in University Park include Colonials and bungalows, and many houses feature plenty of brick and extensive landscaping.
Prices range from the low $400,000s to the mid- to upper $500,000s, Meadows said. There are six homes for sale now, at prices ranging from $424,000 to $489,000. Twelve homes sold in the past year, at prices ranging from $350,000 to $555,000. Those figures do not include houses along the main roads of the town’s perimeter, which homes usually sell for less, Meadows said.
Development on the doorstep: Residents have been monitoring a proposed development on the Cafritz tract, across Route 1 in Riverdale Park. The Prince George’s County Council recently approved a rezoning for the property, which will eventually include a Whole Foods market, a hotel, residences and other high-density development on about 37 acres. Residents are divided on the issue — some would welcome the amenities but fear the impact of the increased traffic on already congested Route 1. Tabori said the key negotiating issues for the town included buffers along Route 1, traffic management including a light that would not allow an east-west crossing into the town, and a bridge that would provide access from the eastern side, away from Route 1.
Things to do: The town’s civic association sponsors events such as a July 4 parade and picnic, a Halloween party and holiday tree-lighting ceremony. And when residents want to venture out, “we’re close to the Metro, close to the university, with easy access to D.C.,” Moss said.
Public schools: University Park Elementary, Hyattsville Middle and Northwestern High. Some students attend Eleanor Roosevelt High, a magnet school.
Two of Moss’s three children attend University Park Elementary. The school’s reputation and test scores helped her and her husband, Bob, decide to move to the community, a short drive from Bob’s job at NASA in Greenbelt. The community and school feature a mix of people from different backgrounds, Moss said. “It’s such a good experience for my kids to have friends from all over,” she said.
Jim Brocker is a freelance writer.