Pr. George’s decision expected onproposed Whole Foods project


Opponents to the Whole Foods proposal say the plan will bring too much density to an area surrounded by single-family homes. (REBECCA COOK/REUTERS)
July 8, 2012

The fate of a proposed development that could give Prince George’s County its first Whole Foods Market might be decided Monday.

Prince George’s County officials are expected to vote on a request to rezone wooded property off Route 1 in Riverdale Park where the Cafritz family wants to build a mixed-use development that would include an outpost of the high-end grocery chain.

The project has been stalled for months in a complex process during which the District Council — the name the County Council takes when it hears zoning cases — held seven days of hearings.

County officials say the project would create jobs and provide the type of retail that residents feel has been lacking in Prince George’s. But some people who live near the site say the development would exacerbate traffic on Route 1 and overwhelm schools and other services.

The council is expected to act on the case Monday to meet an approaching application deadline.

“At this point, I just want to see a vote. I just want to see the council do their job and take action,” said Vernon Archer, Riverdale Park’s mayor. He supports the project and says it would complement recent retail and residential development along the Route 1 corridor.

“It’s been very frustrating, these months [of] waiting,” Archer said.

The plan calls for the construction of 995 units of multifamily housing, a 120-room hotel, 22,000 square feet of office space, and about 168,000 square feet of retail on a 36-acre site on Route 1 north of East-West Highway.

The site is zoned for residential use. To build the mixed-use development, the Cafritz family needs the property to be rezoned.

Chip Reed, an attorney for the family, said further delay in getting the zoning designation would put the Whole Foods deal at risk. He said it will take a year to prepare the site and another year to build the structure. The store would open in January 2015.

“The county and the residents have been calling for upscale retail opportunities, and certainly Whole Foods is in that specialty category and tends to attract other tenants like that,” Reed said.

David S. Iannucci, assistant deputy chief administrative officer for economic development in Prince George’s, said the project is important to demonstrate the county’s appeal to high-quality retailers.

“We believe that we have a strong market because of high income and high education levels in the county relative to the United States and that Prince George’s can be a very attractive location for companies like Whole Foods,” he said.

The project is backed by County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) and the governing bodies of Hyattsville, University Park and Riverdale Park.

A recent retail market study of the Route 1 communities supports the perception that the area near the proposed Whole Foods site has demand for more grocery space. The study, prepared for the Hyattsville Community Development Corp., suggests there is a deficit in the areas of grocery and food and beverage. “There is room for modest amounts of additional retail space targeting these categories,” it says.

Developer Jane Cafritz said she hopes the council will approve the rezoning so the process for construction of the multiphase project can move forward. If the change is approved, the first phase, which includes the Whole Foods and 120 townhouses, can start next year, Cafritz said.

The development, she said, could create 463 full-time jobs at stores and restaurants and bolster the the county’s efforts to provide more amenities and services.

“When Prince George’s citizens want to go to the Whole Foods, instead of going to other jurisdictions they will come to this location, which is a way of keeping tax dollars and income right here in Prince George’s County,” Cafritz said.

Opponents say the plan will bring too much density to an area surrounded by single-family homes.

“We are still suburbs out here,” said Susan Dorn, a University Park resident who is against the project. “There is not going to be a single soccer field, there’s not going to be a baseball field, there is not going to be a church. . . . But the only kind of social benefit they are offering is outdoor concrete, in the form of a concrete plaza.

“It doesn’t mirror the character of the surrounding community,” Dorn said.

Luz Lazo writes about transportation and development. She has recently written about the challenges of bus commuting, Metro’s dark stations, and the impact of sequestration on air travel.
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