Whole Foods moves closer to reality with county zoning approval

February 8, 2012

BY PAULA MINAERT — On February 2, the Prince George’s County Planning Board unanimously approved a rezoning request for a 37-acre wooded property in Riverdale Park.  The approval opens the way for the land, owned by the Cafritz family, to be turned into a mixed-use development that would feature a Whole Foods grocery store as its anchor.

The proposed development, near the intersection of Route 1 and East-West Highway, calls for 995 residential units, a 120-room hotel, 22,000 feet of office space and 162,000 feet of retail space. The ambitious plan has been the subject of intense controversy in the towns near the property. Supporters claim the project would attract business, make the area more walkable and provide an economic boost to the jurisdictions. Opponents cite traffic and environmental concerns, as well as long-term impacts on the infrastructure.

Hyattsville resident Colleen Buckley says, “The Route 1 corridor between the Hyattsville Arts District and the University of Maryland can certainly support high quality retail and this would benefit our community. [As for traffic,] I think we should focus on how we can improve our infrastructure so that we can support quality development instead of using this as a reason to turn down worthwhile projects.”

The three towns most closely affected, Riverdale Park, University Park and College Park, worked with the developer and came up with what published sources described as a long list of conditions, some dealing with traffic and environmental concerns.

A major one was providing a separate entrance to the site that would go over the CSX tracks. The Riverdale Park Town Council voted last month 5-0 to support the rezoning plan, with those conditions. The University Park council did as well, with a 4-3 vote; Hyattsville voted for it as well. College Park, however, voted against the plan, 6-2.

Marc Tartaro, mayor of Hyattsville, said, “This is only the first step in a long process. I’m hopeful the project will be successful and [the developer] will be able comply with the requirements the communities came up with. To use a Reaganesque term, trust but verify.”

He also said that if the project is done well it will benefit the region but it will present challenges to the quality of life in Hyattsville in terms of local businesses and traffic.
“They haven’t looked at schools and things like that. They haven’t really dealt with the impact of the project. All they’ve done is conditionally dealt with zoning.”

The plan will go next to the District Council, which is what the County Council is called when it deliberates on zoning and land use matters.