Update: This post initially mistated the amount of retail space at the proposed store. There would be 168,200 square feet of retail on the site.
Original Post: In a meeting expected to extend late into the evening, the Prince George’s District Council on Monday heard the first public testimony on a controversial proposal to build a mixed-used development that would include housing, a hotel and the county’s first Whole Foods Market.
Despite the length of the meeting, however, no decision was expected on the matter.
Members of the District Council – the name the County Council takes when it considers development-related matters – heard from dozens of residents who oppose the plan unveiled last year by the Cafritz family. Supporters of the proposal were also at the hearing but in smaller numbers than those who oppose the plan.
“I oppose the project because I believe it’s going to adversely affect this neighborhood,” said Karen Prestegaard, who has lived in University Park for 23 years.
But Michael Herman, the former mayor of Riverdale Park, the community where the development would be built, said the Cafritz project was an “incredible opportunity for the community” that would enliven the Route 1 corridor.
The proposal calls for the construction of a mixed-use development that would include 995 units of multifamily housing, a 120-room hotel, 22,000 square feet of office space and 168,200 square feet of retail on a 36-acre wooded parcel along Route 1 just north of East-West Highway. Boosters – including County Executive Rushern Baker (D) -- say the plan will bring much needed retail to a county that needs to expand its tax base beyond housing. Also, the hope is that a Whole Foods will send a signal to other prominent retailers that Prince George’s is a good place to do business.
Residents in the surrounding communities have taken a different view. While many say they like the idea of having a Whole Foods Market close by, they worry the development will swamp the already crowded Route 1 corridor with more traffic. They also fear the influx of new residents will overwhelm schools and tax police and fire services. Riverdale Park and University Park councils have voted to support the proposal while College Park officials have voted to oppose it.
Monday’s proceeding was an evidentiary hearing, which differs from a regular public hearing in that those who testify are sworn in and could be cross-examined by lawyers from opposing sides. Indeed, at times the council’s chambers felt like a courtroom with myriad lawyers objecting to some of the testimony. It was left to a hearing examiner to sustain or overrule the challenges.
The hearing began just after 10 a.m. Late in the afternoon, council members signaled they would be willing to meet until 10 p.m. in hopes of hearing the majority of the testimony, a spokesperson said.
The county planning board voted in February to approve the project with conditions. But it is the District Council that will have the final say. Monday was the third time the council met on the matter, but the first time it took testimony from members of the public.