Whole Foods project in Pr. George’s takes another step toward reality after appeals vote

October 1, 2013

Prince George’s County is a step closer to getting its first Whole Foods Market.

On Monday, a county panel voted to support the development in an appeal case that has delayed the project for months.

The County Council, convening as the District Council to deal with land-use matters, voted 8 to 0 to allow the developer of the proposed $250 million project to move forward from what has been a lengthy and contentious approval process.

Washington-based Calvin Cafritz Enterprises can now start seeking permits for plots and grading for the 37-acre site in Riverdale Park. Groundbreaking could take place as early as this fall, with the opening planned for early 2015.

“It is not just an idea anymore — it is actually going to happen,” said council member William A. Campos (D-Hyattsville), a strong supporter of the project who represents an area adjacent to the site. “The hardest part is done.”

The Whole Foods is one piece of the project to be built on a parcel of now-wooded land on Route 1 north of East-West Highway. It will also include 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.

The project has been one of the most debated development proposals in the county in recent years. It drew public outcry in Riverdale Park and in the adjacent communities of College Park and University Park. And it led to legal battles, lengthy hearings and several appeals.

County officials say they don’t expect further obstacles or legal battles.

“This should be the last major hurdle toward actually starting development in that property,” said Aubrey Thagard, a top economic-development official in Prince George’s. “This is a great opportunity to continue to show the economic resurgence of the county and also to demonstrate to other retailers that coming to Prince George’s is a wise investment.”

Monday’s decision was an important win for County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D). His administration has backed the arrival of Whole Foods to Prince George’s, saying it will attract upscale development and help strengthen the county’s commercial tax base.

The county has been trying to lure other high-end retailers also in an effort to address residents’ complaints about limited shopping options. County officials say Whole Foods will follow other recent successes, including the construction of Tanger Outlets at National Harbor, expected to open next month.

Opponents of the Whole Foods project say they are not against the grocery store but that the overall project will expand the density of an area now surrounded by single-family homes. They also worry about more traffic in the congested Route 1 corridor.

Monday’s vote ended an effort by opponents who challenged a vote that the Prince George’s Planning Board took last spring supporting the developer’s application.

“With these approvals, we are hopeful to begin construction later this fall,” developer Jane Cafritz said in a statement. “We are excited about bringing the first Whole Foods Market store to Prince George’s County.”

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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