Prince George’s County officials on Monday will again review the proposal that would give the county its first Whole Foods Market. And supporters of the plan say they are confident that this time the controversial project will move forward and the store will open in early 2015.
The County Council, which convenes as the District Council to deal with land-use matters, will hear from opponents of the project who are challenging a vote that the Planning Board made last spring allowing the developer to move forward. That appeal, the latest in a series of hurdles in a long and contentious approval process, derailed plans to start construction this summer.
Whole Foods is part of a $250 million project planned for wooded property on the northwestern boundary of Riverdale Park. The development would include almost 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.
The project is backed by County Executive Rushern L. Baker III and his administration, who say it will generate jobs and economic growth along the Route 1 corridor, and that the Whole Foods symbolizes the county’s ability to attract upscale retailers.
In May, the Planning Board approved key elements of the project after reviewing conditions proposed by officials from Riverdale Park, University Park and College Park. The conditions concerned landscaping, bike lanes and the location of a bridge entrance to the development. The five-member panel also heard from residents who questioned the density of the project and the impact of construction on traffic and public services.
After that vote, the developer’s next step was to move forward with permitting and development of the 37-acre site, but University Park, College Park and some area residents appealed. They are expected to make their case Monday. Some say the approval process has been flawed and point to last-minute changes that the developer and planning staff agreed on without giving residents a chance to review them.
“There are a lot of people who are extremely concerned,” said Arlene Christiansen, a member of the University Park Council. They worry about the effectnew residents could have on recreational facilities in the nearby towns, she said.
The developer, Washington-based Calvin Cafritz Enterprises, is confident the District Council will vote to move the project forward and is “hopeful to break ground this fall if all goes well,” said company spokesman Bruce McLeod.
Local officials say the project could bring in the type of density that would boost local businesses. They say Whole Foods could accelerate change and lure in new restaurants, art studios and shops, having a similar revitalizing energy the chain market had in the District’s 14th Street corridor in the past decade.
“It is frustrating that we are having to spend so much time and effort basically rehashing the concerns of the opposition, which have been adequately addressed,” Riverdale Park Mayor Vernon Archer said.
“I don’t think there is any real basis to the appeal,” he added. “At this point the opposition’s strategy is pretty clearly to drag it out long enough in the hopes that either the developer or Whole Foods will just give up out of frustration.”
In June, Whole Foods expressed excitement about the project.
“We look forward to opening our first Prince George’s County location,” Scott Allshouse, Whole Foods Mid Atlantic regional president said in a statement. “This location has not only been requested by our customers, but many of our team members that live in the county. We are building a beautiful store in Riverdale Park which will be a reflection of the community.”