Correction to This Article
The Where We Live feature, about Old Town College Park, was accompanied by home sales information from a different location in Prince George's County. Old Town is in the 20740 Zip code and not, as the feature indicated, 20782. According to the Web site 8Trulia, the median sale price in 20740 was $222,750 during the first three months of this year, which was down 10.4 percent from the same period last year.
Where We Live

Old Town College Park: Fueled by U-Md. students, 'a vibrant type of experience'

By Jim Brocker
Special to the Washington Post
Saturday, April 10, 2010

The lively atmosphere surrounding the restaurants and bars on Route 1 in Old Town College Park extends throughout the adjacent residential neighborhood, home to fraternities, sororities and University of Maryland students sharing space in single-family houses.

Vehicles with out-of-state license plates pack the driveways, and city officials estimate that more than three-fourths of the housing units are rented. The student presence keeps Old Town in motion day and night.

"It's a vibrant type of experience," said Chris Aubry, 52, who works at the university and has lived in the neighborhood for 16 years. Joggers, in-line skaters, skateboarders and cyclists own the streets, and on warm evenings and weekends, the barbecue scene is in full force.

"It's fun to live in town," said Noelle Ribsam, 22, a senior kinesiology and dance major from New Jersey, who shares a house with five roommates. "I like the fact that I can cook, have house privileges. No [dormitory] rules here. You feel like you're an adult. . . . It's a little community."

"There's always people outside. During the day, you can just come and hang out," said Jesse Warren, 20, a member of Sigma Chi fraternity. He and a fraternity brother, James Haviland, 21, were relaxing and people-watching on a recent warm afternoon on the Knox Road frat house's front porch. Warren and Haviland each pay $625 a month for their rooms. Students say renting a room in Old Town's single-family homes can run from $650 to $750 a month, less expensive than some apartments near campus.

And in Old Town, students can be close to the Route 1 social scene while taking advantage of the proximity to the university and the College Park Metro station. "It's 15 minutes to class, five minutes to the Metro, five minutes to everything else," Haviland said.

Those amenities also appeal to the neighborhood's permanent residents. Stephanie Stullich, 48, who represents the area on the College Park City Council, walks two blocks from her home to the Metro to travel to her full-time job in downtown Washington. Aubry often bicycles to work and uses nearby cycling trails, including one that once served as a trolley line to the District.

Old Town's varied collection of housing units includes older homes -- American foursquares and bungalows, Colonials and Tudors -- on large lots with mature trees. "A lot of greenery, I love that," Aubry said. The neighborhood also features modern ramblers and split-levels as well as a few apartment buildings. And some of the fraternities and sororities boast formal white columns, adding a quirky formality to the scene.

With so many young people living in group settings, Old Town College Park is not a quiet place, although residents say that the city's noise law, with $500 fines for a single offense, has helped. Many of the fraternities and sororities are close to Route 1. Farther from downtown, the atmosphere is more sedate.

"Students overall are okay to deal with, except on Thursday, Friday, Saturday night," said Rick Koller, 58, whose home is just a few blocks from Route 1. "The vast majority are fine -- a few drunks," he said. Vandals, however, have damaged his vehicles and property.

Sean O'Donnell, 36, and his wife, Cynthia Finley, 36, who live in the adjacent Calvert Hills neighborhood, once found a student in their basement who had taken a wrong turn after a night of partying. O'Donnell said such incidents are "a reality we should all understand" when living near a college campus.

"It's certainly a bit challenging at times," Stullich said. "There's some youthful energy to the neighborhood -- sometimes a little too energetic."

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