Prince George’s County officials voted Monday afternoon in favor of a controversial rezoning request that lays the groundwork for what would be the county’s first Whole Foods Market.
The District Council — the county council’s designation when it considers land-use matters — voted 7-2 to rezone a 36-acre parcel that sits off Route 1 in Riverdale Park and is currently zoned for residential use.
With the new mixed-use zoning designation, the Cafritz family can move forward with plans to develop the wooded site just north of East-West Highway, where it plans to build a Whole Foods.
The plan includes the construction of 995 units of apartments and townhouses, a 120-room hotel, 22,000 square feet of office space, and about 168,000 square feet of retail. It is supported by County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) but opposed by some residents, who say the development would be a burden on their community.
Opponents contend that the rezoning violates the county’s master plan, and they are expected to use that argument to challenge the council’s decision in court.
Still, Chip Reed, an attorney for the Cafritz family, said the company plans to move forward with the project. A lease with Whole Foods, he said, states an obligation to open the grocery store in January 2015.
Supporters of the development plan say the project would create jobs and provide the type of retail that residents feel has been lacking in Prince George’s. But opponents say the development would exacerbate traffic on Route 1 and overwhelm schools and other services.
Council member Eric Olson (D-District 3), who represents the area where the site is located, made a motion to deny the rezoning request. But his motion drew the support of only two other council members, Mary A. Lehman (D-District 1) and Chair Andrea C. Harrison (D-District 5).
Olson said the proposal is not smart growth and is not consistent with the current master plan, which he says does not envision a mixed-used development for that property.
“It doesn’t follow the plans for the area,” he said. “I still view this as an inappropriate development. It is almost a mile from a Metro station. It will put thousands and thousands of cars on Route 1, which is already congested.”
In rejecting Olson’s motion, the council deviated from a tradition known as “council courtesy,” which calls for council members considering a project to defer to the council member from the district where the project is planned.
Lehman said she believes the process became “all about the applicant and not the application.”
“To believe that a gourmet grocery store is going to save Prince George’s County economically is folly,” she said before voting against the proposal.
County officials say construction of the Whole Foods would demonstrate the county’s appeal to high-end retailers and attract similar businesses to the region.
“We have been struggling for more than a decade to bring redevelopment and rejuvenation to that area,” Riverdale Park Mayor Vernon Archer said, noting mixed-use development is already taking place in nearby Hyattsville. With the rezoning, he said, “We are going to see that kind of economic development continue along the Route 1 corridor.”
Developer Jane Cafritz said the project would be an economic boost to the county, bringing in 1,920 full-time construction jobs followed by 463 full-time jobs in retail and food services.
Attorney Susan Dorn, who lives in adjoining University Park and is against the proposal, said that depending on how the rezoning order is written, some people may be determined to challenge it. “I think we have people that are determined to insist that the law is met,” she said.