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In booming College Park, campus energy, affordability and a sense of community

Where We Live | College Park, Md.

From left, Ava Kamali, 17; Hadley Sava, 19; and her sister Anabel Sava, 17, eat on McKeldin Mall at the University of Maryland campus in College Park. Hadley Sava attends the university. (Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/for The Washington Post)

Her almost two-hour, one-way commute from Baltimore to her job in College Park was what prompted Christina Martin Kenny to consider moving closer to work.

Kenny had been thinking of returning even before she accepted a job at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy in February 2019, but she worried about the cost of real estate. Her friends living in College Park had nothing but good things to say about the community, its amenities and proximity to Washington, helping sell her on the city, Kenny said.

Kenny bought a four-bedroom split-level house with a backyard in the College Park Estates neighborhood with her husband, Ryan, cutting her commute to two miles. The day they moved in, their neighbors came out to meet the couple and their daughter, Aurora. Kenny said she felt a “tremendous sense of community” she had not experienced anywhere she lived.

“I’m really happy here. It’s been a really good move,” she said.

Four miles northeast of the District, College Park is home to the University of Maryland. With 17 neighborhoods, College Park offers the youthful energy of a college town, accessibility to the nation’s capital and a strong sense of community.

College Park originally developed around the university (then Maryland Agricultural College) in 1889, offering faculty, employees and other professionals an alternative to living in crowded Washington. The city has since expanded outward to encompass a variety of neighborhoods, restaurants and historic sites, including a National Archives facility and the College Park Airport, the oldest continuously operating airport in the world.

More recent developments include new restaurants, student apartment complexes, campus buildings, the Hotel at the University of Maryland and construction of the Purple Line light rail system.

“College Park is booming,” said Eric Olson, executive director of the College Park City-University Partnership, a development corporation working to revitalize the area and put the city among the top 20 college towns.

The partnership offers city and university employees an incentive to purchase a home in the community where they work: $15,000 in zero-interest, 10-year forgivable loans through their homeownership program.

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Kenny and her husband used the program to buy their home.

“With this incentive, why would we live anywhere else?” she said.

When Olson came to College Park in the 1990s to obtain his master’s degree in American studies, he was initially drawn to the city’s proximity to the District. He stayed on and served on the College Park City Council for nine years. Now, living in the Calvert Hills neighborhood with his wife and two daughters, Olson appreciates how active and creative the community is. In the fall, he can hear the university’s marching band practicing from his house — a perk of living in a college town.

Although freshmen and sophomores tend to live on campus, juniors and seniors often rent in apartment complexes and houses close to campus.

Steven Phillips, a recently graduated economics major, lived in two houses with his fraternity brothers in the Old Town neighborhood. Phillips liked Old Town’s proximity to campus and his favorite restaurants, including Marathon Deli, on Route 1.

“I was able to drive or commute to campus if I wanted to because the buses were around,” he said. “Old Town has a really solid bus network between the Orange Line, Green Line and the 104 [College Park Metro].”

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Phillips said navigating leases and dealing with landlords as a college student can be tricky, and some students may be pressured into signing unfavorable leases.

“People just have to be informed to know what they’re getting into and try to be mindful and not get pressured,” he said.

Kenny and Olson view living near campus and among students as a perk. Facebook groups have connected them with students looking for babysitting jobs, and the grassy McKeldin Mall on campus provides a place for children to run around safely. Not all residents enjoy living near college students; disruptive noise and unruly social gatherings have caused some strife between the city and student groups over the years.

College Park has many parks and playgrounds that connect to the city’s trail systems. A hidden gem is Lake Artemesia, a public park east of the Metro tracks.

Home sales have been “crazy,” according to John Young, a real estate agent with Re/Max who’s been selling homes in College Park for 10 years.

“Home prices have been moving in a positive direction ever since I started selling there,” he said. “They haven’t leveled off.”

Young said the rising cost of homes simply reflects a lack of inventory and a lot of buyers interested in College Park.

“It’s like the town that never ages,” he said. “People want to buy there because they know it’s a good investment, they know that whether it’s 2020, 2030 or 2040, there’s going to be college students that need housing.”

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Living there: College Park spans Route 1 and stretches from just north of the Capital Beltway to south of Campus Drive. Adelphi Road, Little Paint Branch and the University of Maryland are among its western borders, and Metro tracks and Edmonston Road form some of its eastern boundaries.

According to Young, 261 houses, condos and apartments have sold in College Park in the past year. Prices ranged from $180,000 for a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house to $624,900 for a five-bedroom, four-bathroom house. The average sales price in the city was $359,200.

There are 36 properties for sale in College Park, ranging from a three-bedroom, three-bathroom townhouse-style condo for $180,000 to a three-bedroom, three-bathroom home and storage building for $950,000.

Schools: Hollywood, Paint Branch, Berwyn Heights, University Park and Cherokee Lane elementary schools, Buck Lodge, Greenbelt and Hyattsville middle schools, and High Point, Parkdale and Northwestern high schools.

Transit: The College Park-University of Maryland and Greenbelt Metro stations provide service into Washington on the Yellow and Green lines. The College Park-University of Maryland station also is a transfer point for buses from Metro, Prince George’s County and the University of Maryland. The Greenbelt Metro station is also a stop for the MARC’s Camden Line. The Capital Beltway (Interstates 495 and 95) and U.S. Route 1 are the closest major highways. The Paint Branch and Trolley hiking and biking trails run through the city and connect to the District.