Whole Foods project and outlet center at National Harbor on Prince George’s agenda
By Ovetta Wiggins,
One proposal would give Prince George’s County its first Whole Foods Market. The other would bring a collection of high-end outlet stores to National Harbor, the largest mixed-use development in the county.
Both are major development projects that would create jobs and provide the type of retail that residents say has been lacking in Prince George’s. Yet each has also been mired in controversy for months, with some residents questioning whether the locations are suitable.
On Thursday, the Prince George’s County Planning Board will tackle both projects: the Cafritz family’s plan to build a mixed-use development, including the Whole Foods, off Route 1 in Riverdale Park; and the proposed Tanger Factory Outlet Centers, where Peterson Cos. would locate about 80 stores just outside the Capital Beltway.
The developments are probably the most controversial considered by the board since its members were appointed by the new county executive, Rushern L. Baker III.
The appearance by Cafritz family representatives before the board follows numerous intense meetings with community leaders over several months. And it comes after competing efforts to sway public opinion: on one side, a major public relations blitz by the developer, including glossy brochures and telephone calls to residents; on the other, a grass-roots campaign in which residents have gone door-to-door to express their concerns about the proposal.
Some residents near the site have said the project — which includes a 120-room hotel, 168,200 square feet of retail, 22,000 square feet of office space and 995 residential units — is not smart growth or transit-friendly. The project, they said, is too far from the College Park Metro station and will exacerbate traffic on part of the Route 1 corridor that largely consists of single-family homes.
“Those who oppose this, we’re very much pro-development,” said Joseph Grikis, a former Riverdale Park resident who lives in College Park. “We’re not trying to be provincial about this. There are places that are as suitable or better than the Cafritz property that already have transit-oriented infrastructure.”
The developer was scheduled to ask the Planning Board to rezone the property from single-family to mixed-used development last month but requested a postponement after Riverdale Park officials demanded that the developer delay its plans or lose the town’s support.
Riverdale Park Mayor Vernon Archer said Friday that Cafritz representatives and officials from Riverdale Park, University Park and College Park planned to meet over the next several days in an attempt to reach a final agreement.
There have been disagreements between local officials and the developers over design, environmental standards and traffic mitigation. A major issue has been how to finance and ensure timely completion of a crossing, probably a bridge, over the CSX tracks east of the project to improve access to the development.
“I think we’ve made a lot of progress,” Archer said, including a tentative agreement on funding for the bridge.
He said that the developer might put up some of the money and that Riverdale Park and the county might provide the rest through a tax-increment fund that would tap revenue generated by the development.
The Tanger Outlets project, meanwhile, appears to have overcome a major obstacle. Historic preservationists had raised concerns about developing the site of Salubria, a historic Oxon Hill plantation where a 14-year-old slave allegedly poisoned her master’s three children.
But Peterson Cos. and preservationists agreed to find a way to address the site’s historical significance, and last week, the county’s Historic Preservation Commission agreed to remove the the site’s environmental and historic designations.
“This was not a question of sprawl versus a decent historic site, but an excellent historic site confronted by an excellent economic development,” said David Turner, chairman of the Historic Preservation Commission. The commission voted to allow grading of the property if Peterson conducts a second archaeological study and reaches an agreement with two preservation groups on acknowledging the site’s historic significance.
County economic development officials said last week that despite some community opposition, they are hopeful that the two projects will move forward.
“I’ve come to realize that while people want these types of services and changes, a lot of them don’t want it to impact the way [they] live at home,” said Aubrey D. Thagard, a county assistant deputy chief administrative officer for economic development.
“That’s the greatest challenge, to look beyond the borders of our neighborhoods and look at the impact it could be on a larger scale,” Thagard said. He said the projects “signal a new era in terms of retail development in Prince George’s County, bringing retail chains that previously were not existent.”
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