The parking situation at the proposed Whole Foods on the Cafritz property continues to be a point of contention between the Riverdale Park town council and the Cafritz developers.
A letter to Cafritz was presented for approval at last night’s town legislative meeting. The letter addressed several needs that the town council wanted addressed by the Cafriz developers, and one of the issues was the amount of surface parking in the front of the Whole Foods structure.
The town requested, in agreement with University Park, that the majority of the parking be structured parking, as opposed to a large surface lot. This request would bring the proposal into compliance with Riverdale Park’s M-UTC guidelines, under which free-standing parking lots are not permitted.
Jane Cafritz and members of her development team were present at the meeting and commented on the letter, particularly on the issue of parking.
“I’m not sure where this idea comes that parking is negotiable,” Cafritz said to the council, stating that a surface parking lot is part of the existing lease agreement with Whole Foods.
Architect Jim Voelzke was also on hand to discuss the design of the parking lot. He explained that they had significantly reduced the number of spaces in front of the store to 200 and that these spaces serve as a teaser-lot for the entire development. Voelske also pointed out that the proposed lot does not represent a dedicated lot for only Whole Foods, something the grocery chain usually requires.
Voelzke also told the committee that structured parking puts a grocery store at a disadvantage, and that Whole Foods was already taking a risk by opening their first store in Prince George’s County. He also made specific reference to the new location of the Whole Foods in North Bethesda and said that customers had complained about the lack of surface parking and that as a result, sales had suffered.
“Structured parking works best with multiple entry points,” said Voelzke, and there are not multiple entry points on the current plan.
Council Member Jonathan Ebbeler (Ward 1), questioned the idea that Whole Foods requires surface parking. He specifically mentioned a store the chain is opening in 2012 in Charlotte, NC, where the design has only 57 surface parking spaces and 146 below-ground parking spaces. According to Ebbeler, this design would be more consistent for our area.
Voelzke was not familiar with this store, but said he would look into the design.
Ebbeler also thought that the current proposed parking lot was not fitting with Whole Food’s green policies, and asked for an explanation.
“I think it only proper for Whole Foods to explain to impacted municipalities why they believe a football field of parking fronting Route 1 is appropriate for a company that touts itself as green, community-minded, and forward thinking,” said Ebbeler.
“If that is not Whole Food’s actual position, I think it is also important for the town council to know that prior to voting,” he said.
Ebbeler and the town council remain dedicated to solving the parking issue, and Cafritz reiterated her dedication to this project as well.
“The town is excited to have a gold-standard company like Whole Foods committed to the Cafritz site and we are performing due diligence to ascertain the facts prior to voting on zoning changes on a key development project,”he said.
The discussion will continue on Wednesday, November 9, at the council’s worksession dedicated to Cafritz. The meeting will be held at 8 p.m. in the Town Hall. The Cafritz developers are expected to be in attendance.