Construction set to begin next week on Prince George’s County’s first Whole Foods Market

January 23

Construction of Prince George’s County’s first Whole Foods Market is set to begin next week and the store will open in late 2015, the project’s developer said Thursday.

The Whole Foods store, planned for a wooded property on the northwestern boundary of Riverdale Park, was stalled for nearly two years. During the lengthy approval process, residents and some elected officials from nearby towns argued that the new grocery would worsen traffic in the already congested Route 1 corridor.

Washington-based Calvin Cafritz Enterprises is building the store as the anchor of a $250 million development that includes nearly 1,000 units of multifamily housing, a 120-room hotel, 22,000 square feet of office space and about 168,000 square feet of retail space.

General contractor L.F. Jennings estimated that site work for the development will take 10 months and run concurrently with construction of the first phase of the project, including Whole Foods. The store is slated to open late next year, a year after the original proposed opening date.

“Of course, we always hoped it would happen sooner, but we anticipated that it would take a while,” developer Jane Cafritz said. The Cafritz family has owned the 37-acre site, on Route 1 north of East-West Highway, for about 50 years and has been in talks about the project since 2006.

Construction of the grocery store, known for its natural and organic products, is a major milestone for Prince George’s, where residents have complained for decades that their communities are underserved and shunned by high-end retailers. County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) has said Whole Foods will be an economic boost to the county. Riverdale Park Mayor Vernon Archer, a longtime supporter of the Cafritz project, said the town’s largest new development could be a revitalizing force in the community, attracting other new businesses.

“I am very excited and happy that we are finally getting there,” Archer said, noting the months of delays and the many lengthy public hearings about the development. “The Cafritz project is going to start moving something other than mountains of paper and start the actual process of building.”

But the developer still faces a few hurdles, including pending legal action.

The town of University Park, which borders the development, withdrew one suit last month but has another pending against the project.

University Park Mayor John Tabori said the town’s fight is over specifications for a bridge to be built over the CSX railroad tracks east of the property. The bridge will provide a second entrance to the development, and University Park officials say they want to ensure that certain conditions are met. The Cafritzes, Prince George’s County, Riverdale Park and the University of Maryland have been in negotiations for the past year over property acquisition, design and financing for the bridge.

“We are protecting ourselves and making sure that we see that bridge built,” Tabori said. “The town is very concerned that this project be successful. We do not want a project that is unsuccessful on our doorstep. We do not feel that the project can be successful without that bridge.”

The developer, Riverdale Park and county officials say that the bridge details are being worked out and that the conditions set by the towns will be met. The conditions include design of the bridge, the funding for it, and who will own and maintain it. Riverdale Park would provide about $4 million of the estimated $12 million to $15 million cost of the bridge, and the developer would provide up to $5 million. It was unclear where the rest of the money would come from.

Tabori said the bridge will be a critical piece of infrastructure to address traffic concerns that have been raised since the project was introduced.

“We are very sensitive to traffic increases, and we feel that the bridge will relieve that to a degree,” he 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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