Editor's note: A fifth day of proceedings in the District Council's Cafritz hearing wrapped up Monday afternoon. Below is a recap.
4:20 p.m.: An end in sight
The Cafritz hearing has been recessed to this Friday, May 11 at 10 a.m. for what seems likely to be the final day of proceedings.
The applicant's attorneys, Riverdale Park counsel Frederick Sussman, and College Park counsel Robert Manzi tell the council they have exhausted their witness lists. However, University Park Mayor John Tabori has yet to testify and was unable to do so today due to illness.
Attorney Susan Dorn says there are additional residents who had planned to testify on Friday believing they would not be able to today.
Attorney Jayson Amster says he also plans to speak on Friday and that he believes a member of the University Park Town Council will appear, too.
Chair Andrea Harrison says residents will, as usual, be allowed three minutes, while elected officials will be given five minutes. Each side will then be given five minutes for closing arguments.
"I am hoping we can complete this on Friday, and I am hoping that we don't have to go very late on Friday," says Harrison.
4:04 p.m.: So many conditions
"Why did you recommend the rezoning even with all those conditions?" County Councilman Will Campos (Dist. 2) asks Schum.
Schum says it's customary when an application does not cover a significant portion of College Park for the city to be supportive of the neighboring municipality.
“I think in the end, the city … went to extraordinary effort to meet with the applicant and with the other towns involved in order to have a meeting of the minds. ... After all that effort, after all those conditions, although not everything was all wrapped up nice and neatly, our staff felt we could recommend support," Schum sayas.
3:43 p.m.: Here to represent the mayor and council
Cafritz attorney Timothy Maloney fires a string of questions at Schum regarding the recommendations from College Park's planning staff for the city council to conditionally approve the rezoning request.
In addition to speaking as a planner, "You are here to express the position of the mayor and council?" Maloney asks.
"Yes," Schum responds.
3:36 p.m.: College Park stance
Schum explains that while College Park's planning staff recommended approval with 15 specific conditions, the city council ultimately voted against the request.
Schum lists the seven reasons why the council voted against the rezoning.
“First and foremost, city council did not feel the M-UTC zone was the proper zone for this project,” she says, adding that the council also had concerns over density, transportation, and the amount of surface parking in the first phase of the project.
The council believed there was no guarantee of a high-end retailer appearing at the site, Schum adds, and feared there would eventually be a vehicular connection built on the north end of the property through Calvert Hills.
3:15 p.m.: M-UTC perspective
Councilwoman Mary Lehman (Dist. 1) asks for an answer to two questions:
- How many square feet of the current M-UTC zone are reserved for and occupied by commercial use?
- Who are the occupants?
"I think we should have some perspective. … I would like to have the numbers," she says.
Riverdale Park Mayor Vernon Archer has arrived but has chosen not to testify. College Park's planning director Terry Schum has taken the stand.
3:07 p.m.: Catalyst and connector
Riverdale Park town administrator Sarah Imhulse takes the podium, saying that the Cafritz project can be a "catalyst" for the area and connect various parts of the surrounding communities.
2:53 p.m.: Relevance of side agreements
Riverdale Park Attorney Frederick Sussman repeatedly objects to People's Zoning Counsel Stan Brown questioning Thompson about agreements between the developer and the municipality, as they are provided in documentation.
"This council will make a decision based on the criteria," Harrison interjects. "We are not making a decision based on what may or may not have been a deal-breaker or part of a deal. ... Quite honestly, whether they made an agreement or not is of no consequence to us at this point."
2:33 p.m.: M-UTC and the master plan
Riverdale Park Councilman and M-UTC Committee Chair Alan Thompson rises to testify.
Thompson points to a map in the county's master plan recommendations that shows areas along the Route 1 corridor suitable for M-UTC zoning. The map covers several sections of Riverdale Park, including the entire Cafritz property.
Opponents have argued that the Cafritz property was never explicitly considered for M-UTC zoning by any master plan—a prerequisite for changing the borders of such a zone.
Attorney Jayson Amster then cross-examines Thompson. Among Amster's questions: why the Riverdale Park council asked the Cafritz team to propose an M-UTC extension instead of an MUI zone, as originally planned.
"The main reason is that M-UTC has mandatory design provisions that MUI is lacking," Thompson explained.
2:16 p.m.: Don't expect a conclusion today
We're back—and we'll almost be certainly back again Friday.
Chair Andrea Harrison: "At the rate we’re going, I can guarantee we’ll be here on Friday."
1:18 p.m.: Recess
The council calls a 30 minute recess.
1 p.m.: Not a failed intersection
Randall says she wouldn’t call the crossing of East-West Highway and U.S. Route 1—just south of the Cafritz property—a failed intersection. The intersection has earned ratings of E and F, depending on the time of day, she says.
“[But] F is calling out congestion. It’s calling out a heavier level of congestion but it is not necessarily calling out that the intersection is not functioning,” she adds.
12:50 p.m.: Relevance?
People's zoning counsel Stan Brown questions whether the bulk of Randall's traffic report is pertinent to the District Council's proceedings, as opposed to the subsequent step of a preliminary plan of subdivision.
"The problem I see here, Ms. Randall, is that you have put in a tremendous amount of information concerning traffic that—as a required finding—is not relevant, and the applicant is requesting this council to make a decision in part based on your traffic study," Brown says.
12:29 p.m.: Cross-examination
Attorneys (and University Park residents) Jayson Amster and Susan Dorn press Anne Randall on what assumptions and proposed traffic patterns she used in crafting her report.
12:01 p.m.: Comprehensive traffic study
Randall says that in 25 years of working in Prince George's County, she hasn't carried out a traffic study as comprehensive as the one that would be required of the Cafritz team. She notes that it would look at traffic levels in the morning, at midday, in the evening, and on Saturdays.
11:49 a.m.: 'Very excited for the transport potential'
The Cafritz team calls traffic engineer Anne M. Randall to the stand.
"I am very excited for the transport potential for this site," she tells the council, reviewing the mass transit options for accessing the site.
Randall says that she disagrees with the conclusions of the report prepared by Faramarz Mokhtari—a traffic expert for the county—which estimated that the Cafritz property would receive 11,000 additional vehicle trips per day once fully developed. She says it failed to make any reduction for mass transit passengers, customers on foot, or the presence of the CSX crossing. Randall puts the number closer to 3-4,000 additional trips.
11:39 a.m.: Foul!
College Park resident Carol Nezzo—wearing a referee-patterned scarf—says there will be a "foul" if the council neglects the county's master plan, the criteria for M-UTC zoning, or the current condition of the Cafritz tract in making its decision. Nezzo punctuates each item by blowing a whistle she brought with her to the witness stand.
11:29 a.m.: Call to order
Chair Andrea Harrison calls the hearing to order.
Monday's session—the fifth to date—comes after six hours of proceedings on Friday that once again failed to arrive at a final council vote.
The Cafritz family is seeking to have its 37-acre parcel on the north end of Riverdale Park rezoned from single-family detached residential (R-55) to mixed-use town center (M-UTC), easing the way for the construction of more than 900 units of housing, a 35,000-square foot Whole Foods, a 120-room hotel, and additional office and retail space.
Supporters contend that the project will spur economic growth and bring a desirable mix of retail and residential development to the area—an argument embraced by the Prince George's County Planning Board.
Critics charge that the plan would impose extreme fiscal, environmental, and traffic pressure on the surrounding communities.
Previous District Council coverage: