Whole Foods project a step closer in Prince George’s

February 3, 2012

Prince George’s has moved a step closer to getting a Whole Foods Market — a project that has been controversial among residents but that officials hope will send a message to developers that the county is a place where high-end retail can thrive.

The county Planning Board on Thursday approved plans by the Cafritz family to build a mixed-use development that would include the store, known for its locally sourced organic products; a 120-room hotel; 168,200 square feet of retail space; and 22,000 square feet of office space. In addition, the project, to be built on 36 acres of wooded property on Route 1 near East-West Highway, would include 995 residential units, a mix of townhouses, multi-family units and graduate housing for the nearby University of Maryland.

County officials say the development would create jobs and bring much-needed services closer to where people live.

“The county has long wanted, has long looked for companies like Whole Foods to invest in [Prince George’s],” said Scott L. Peterson, spokesman for County Executive Rushern L. Baker III.

Chip Reed, an attorney for the Cafritz family, has said the development could bring in $11 million in new tax dollars and create 435 full-time jobs at stores and restaurants.

Residents in Riverdale Park and surrounding areas said although they welcome a new Whole Foods, they worry that the project could overwhelm streets and schools and strain emergency services.

Some residents have formed a group, Stop Cafritz, to campaign against the project. Planning Board members voted unanimously to approve the project, but only after listening to 15 hours of public testimony.

“It’s just too much residential density over such a small area,” said Ellen Thorp, who has lived in Riverdale Park for more than a decade. “As much as we would love to see a Whole Foods . . . you can’t plunk one down in the middle of a neighborhood.”

The Cafritz family has tried to address some of the residents concerns by agreeing to some conditions, such as providing a shuttle from the development to the nearby College Park Metro station.

Thorp said she and others also have issues with the approval process, alleging that documents were not always available in a timely manner and that speaking rules were not always followed at public hearings. Thorp said residents who oppose the project will continue their fight.

The Cafritz project is now expected to go before the District Council, the name the full County Council uses when it hears zoning cases, in the next few months.

Lori Aratani writes about how people live, work and play in the D.C. region for The Post’s Transportation and Development team.
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