VIDEO: University Park Residents Detect Flaws in Plans for Whole Foods Market
The team behind the development presented plans to residents last night, but some firmly believe the store just doesn't "fit" with the town.
Editor's Note: This story has been corrected. In the original post, we misquoted Laurie Morrissey. We apologize for our error.
The team behind Cafritz Property and proposed Whole Foods want nothing more than to build a development that encompasses local residents' wants and needs, but plenty of area residents feel that “it just doesn’t fit.”
The nearly 36-acre piece of heavily wooded property on the northern part of Riverdale Park east of Baltimore Avenue was formerly the home of ERCO. Recently, Whole Foods Markets signed a lease with property owner Jane Cafritz, although it's only currently zoned for single-family homes. The Cafritz family has owned the land since 1958.
Although the project will be in Riverdale Park, University Park is across Baltimore Avenue, and the town, which already shut public access to Queens Chapel Road, does not want commuters to cut through at Van Buren Street either.
More than 300 residents from University Park, Hyattsville, College Park and Riverdale Park came out to hear the presentation and voice their thoughts and concerns about the project at the University Park council meeting Monday night.
Cafritz’ Attorney Chip Reed thanked the crowd for attending and said the project would develop in two phases; the commercial space, including the Whole Foods and a fitness center would be built first, followed by a second phase of more than 900 housing units, including townhomes, apartments, a senior living facility and graduate-student housing.
However, after the presentation, many thought the market studies the team presented were flawed and skewed, touting that the company does not understand the neighborhood well enough to add the niche-market grocery store.
“The market study is dated, we might want to update it,” Reed said, after one resident asked what it took into consideration.
He said the study, which indicated there is an undersupply of grocery in the area, took into account plenty of developments and work at University Town Center. However, the study didn’t anticipate a Giant at the Metro Shops at Prince George’s Plaza.
Among the issues residents had with the projected store, which is already listed as one of the coming locations on Whole Foods’ website, were traffic, overpopulation of schools, and the zoning changes.
University Park Councilman Michael Cron asked the planners how they would control the amount of traffic coming in and out of the property, with only one exit proposed.
"We agree with you — Something needs to be done to increase the capacity at that intersection," traffic consultant Marty Wells said, referring to the intersection of Baltimore Avenue and East-West Highway. "That is indeed a part of the proposal for this project."
Riverdale Park Councilman Jonathan Ebbeler (Ward 1), although supportive of the development, questioned why the team sought different zoning rather than MUTC, which is more pedestrian-oriented.
“It’s very spelled out and tightly controlled,” Ebbeler said.
The team had no qualms with taking that approach, although they did consider time restraints in the process.
The second phase of the development process would also bring in more than 900 housing units, something one former councilman, John MacKinney, pointed out was similar to the number of houses in University Park itself.
Children living in the new development would attend Riverdale Elementary School, according to Reed. He cited information that claimed the school was under populated with a declining enrollment, information which he obtained from the district.
But residents, whose children attend the school, cried out the exact opposite. The school is actually severely overpopulated, one resident stated, and the addition of more homes and students won’t help any further.
Adding to the myriad of town centers in the area, the development is seen by residents as just another method of overpopulating the town, not just the schools.
“We’re not trying to replicate the town centers, and not trying to create a new one,” Jim Voelzke from MV+A architects said. They instead want to create a grocery-anchored neighborhood, with the addition of Whole Foods.
"Why, Whole Foods?" Laurie Morrissey, a University Park resident asked. "Why not a store that reflects the values of those that are here like Trader Joe's?"
Morrissey was backed by nearly all residents when she questioned their motives, but Reed said that Whole Foods' philosophies about unions and communities is why he think it's a good fit. The development will also help to increase Riverdale Park's tax base.
But Sue Wagner, who represents the area residents who make up the Route 1 Coalition, said Tuesday in an interview with Patch that although the property will help revenues in Riverdale Park, it won't help the residents of University Park.
"The residential component will bring a lot of traffic," Wagner said. "We wanted to hear more about the residential aspects, because once the zoning is changed we have lost our power over this property."
She said she thinks people are leery about the housing.
"I got the impression that the Cafritz people seem to want to take in residents' thoughts and are committed to the project and it being a Whole Foods," she said, but added that there is empty commercial space in area developments already.
Although many residents discussed concerns about the project, a few said they supported the Whole Foods coming.
Riverdale Park resident Beth Judy said the proposed Whole Foods would only be a 10-minute walk from the metro, after some residents said the planners’ argument of accessible transit, with the hiker-biker trail and metro nearby, was unrealistic.
"I'm one of the folks that carry jugs of milk on my bike. I shop at the Whole Foods on P Street,” Judy said. “I'm for bringing one here. I think it'd be a magnet, it'll bring a lot of good things."
Reed said the information presented would be available on the Cafritz Property website and the developers will continue to work with the towns and their residents to create the best plan for the community.
“This is the first session; we hope to get a lot of dialogue going back and forth,” Reed said, particularly about traffic ideas. “But if there isn’t a traffic solution, we probably won’t be able to move forward.”