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A Deeper Look into the Cafritz Conditions

With the District Council set to review the hotly-debated development Wednesday, Patch runs down the 'consensus conditions' and how they came to be.

Editor's note: The District Council's hearing on the Cafritz property is scheduled to begin Wednesday at 10 a.m. Check back with Patch throughout the day for the latest news out of Upper Marlboro.

Back in December, as many were busy preparing for the holidays, local and county officials were hard at work  for the proposed Cafritz development.

Now, those same conditions—along with the rest of the project—will face a key test as the Cafritz rezoning plan comes before the District Council on Wednesday. Composed of the members of the Prince George's County Council, the body will have the final legislative word on the developer's application.

Working up to today's hearing, in meeting after meeting, lawmakers, civil servants, and representatives of the developer hammered out a set of limitations and concessions seen as pivotal to each community's support for the project.

With a few short days to go before a key Prince George's County Planning Board hearing, a working consensus was reached in mid-January. The Riverdale Park and University Park town councils followed up quickly with  and  votes in favor of the plan.

And though the College Park City Council broke ranks , the so-called "consensus conditions" found their way nearly word-for-word into the Planning Board's .

The Cafritz team is seeking to have a 37-acre parcel on the north end of Riverdale Park redesignated from single-family detached residential (R-55) to mixed-use town center (M-UTC). If the rezoning bid is approved, it will effectively clear the way for 900-plus residential units, a Whole Foods store, a 120-room hotel, and other office and retail space.

Concerned about the enormous strain such a development could place on its surroundings, local lawmakers lobbied hard last year to curb the potential downsides. Officials before the two sides agreed on a set of controls and obligations to impose on the project.

If approved, some of the conditions would simply refine and clarify design standards—dotting i’s and crossing t’s—while others would serve as general guidelines with few binding requirements. But many are intensely specific, detailing measures to limit the traffic, environmental, and fiscal footprint of the development.

Speaking after February's Planning Board vote, Riverdale Park Councilman Jonathan Ebbeler (Ward 1) said the process of drafting the conditions "set a new normative standard for development and cooperation between municipalities."

"I think that the consensus conditions—when you actually take a hard look at them—it's going to be hard not to support them," Ebbeler said.

"We still haven't institutionalized it, we still haven't figured out all the rules about how to do that, but on the whole I think it was an extraordinarily open process," University Park Mayor John Tabori said of the negotiations.

"Would I have liked to have had some other conditions in there? Yeah, I would have. But I think we got what will protect our town, and we've got some things that are starting to get other people interested," he added.

“I think the conditions will mitigate some of the problem,” said Councilwoman Stephanie Stullich (Dist. 3), who represented the College Park City Council in the negotiations. “[But] some people at the table believe the conditions sufficiently addressed the concerns, and others—including me—felt that they didn’t."

For Stullich, the conditions didn’t tackle the real problem. It’s not the right project for the site, she said, especially when there are other properties along U.S. Route 1 primed for non-residential development and properly zoned for it.

Despite the councils' conflicting votes, Stullich said the negotiation process strengthened the relationship between the communities. If the project moves forward, she’s hopeful officials will be able to come to terms on the big principles of the development.

“I think a lot of good work was done between the municipalities," she said.

WHAT'S IN THERE?

Below is a summary of many of the conditions included in the Planning Board's resolution. The list is not intended to be comprehensive, and the provisions outlined are still subject to the approval of the District Council.

The Review Process

  • The design review process for the Cafritz property will run according to Riverdale Park's existing M-UTC development plan, with several key changes.
  • A detailed site plan must be approved before any permits or subdivision plats are issued. Though this represents a higher bar to development than the typical M-UTC process, the Planning Department's report called it a "logical review mechanism to ensure that the guidelines and development standards and other county ordinances are adequately addressed."
  • Surrounding municipalities will enjoy the right of review at the detailed site plan and permit levels—a condition Mayor Tabori called "particularly important" in his comments to the Planning Board.
  • Any development that increases the gross floor area of the site by 5 percent or 2,500 square feet will trigger a comprehensive review of the site for compliance with design standards. (Lesser changes would expose only the impacted portion of the site to review.)

Transportation and Traffic

  • Before a preliminary plan of subdivision is accepted, the developer must submit revised traffic data that takes into account projected weekend traffic levels and the impact of proposed road connections to the site. 
  • The developer must lay out trip reduction strategies and submit a Transportation Management Plan which identifies measures "to achieve a maximally efficient use of the adjacent transportation facilities." Trip caps will also be established.
  • The developer must commit to organizing and implementing a private shuttle to and from the Prince George's Plaza Metro station and the College Park Metro station.
  • Designs for the intersection at Van Buren Street and Baltimore Avenue—the main entrance to the development—must be submitted before any detailed site plan is approved. The intersection must prevent traffic from directly accessing or exiting the property through Van Buren.
  • Before any occupancy permits are issued, the developer must complete an extension of Maryland Avenue from the southern boundary of the property.
  • The developer must also file plans for pedestrian safety features throughout the site along with detailed information on bicycle storage facilities.
  • The Rhode Island Avenue hiker/biker trail right-of-way must be completed and open to the public before the third building permit is issued.
  • On-site roads must be turned over to the Town of Riverdale Park for public use.
  • Riverdale Park, University Park, and the Cafritz team will petition the District Council to establish a Transportation Demand Management District (to be financially supported by the developer).

Concealing Cars

  • The amount and location of surface parking lots must be minimized by architectural and landscaping features.
  • Vehicle-accessed ATMs must not be visible from Woodberry Street, Van Buren Street, or from 45th Street north of Van Buren. (The same rule does not apply to pedestrian-accessed ATMs, which must outnumber vehicle-accessed ATMs.)
  • Drive-through lanes are not permitted at restaurants at all.
  • Car repair businesses may not store vehicles in front of the buildings—only in the rear. If they are near residential areas, screening must be provided. 

The CSX Crossing

  • The funding and construction of road crossing over/under the CSX tracks—perhaps the hardest-fought aspect of the project—is closely tied to different phases of the development.
  • Before a preliminary plan of subdivision is approved, the Cafritz team must establish a funding mechanism, a system of financial assurances, and a construction timetable for the crossing.
  • The developer must cover half of the total costs of the design and construction up to $5,000,000 and make "all reasonable efforts" to obtain public funding as necessary. (Public funding may come partially or entirely from a tool known as tax increment financing.)
  • Before any permits are issued for development on the property, the Cafritz team must submit a roadway plan along with approvals from CSX and the affected property owner on the opposite side of the tracks (likely the University of Maryland).
  • Construction must begin on the crossing before building permits are issued for more than 100,000 square feet of commercial space.
  • Construction must be halfway complete before occupancy permits are issued for the same amount of space.
  • The crossing must be open to vehicular traffic before building permits are issued for more than 382 residential units.

Environmental Factors

  • The property is currently covered by trees—oaks, sweetgums, hickories, and so on—though none of them can be cut down until a detailed site plan for a specific portion of the property is approved.
  • The developer must demonstrate that every effort has been made to maintain a tree canopy that shades at least 10 percent of the property. When trees can’t be preserved, a professional arborist may transplant the trees somewhere else on the Cafritz property or in Riverdale Park.
  • The 100 townhomes on the property must have ample front yard space for tree planting. 
  • A buffer must be constructed along Baltimore Avenue, retaining as many trees as possible.
  • The developer must integrate various sustainability techniques in the stormwater management plan, including bioretention, infiltration, and green roofs. 
  • Light pollution must be minimized, and the developer must conduct a study to determine the noise and vibration levels created by the CSX railway.
  • All utility lines must be underground.

Historic Preservation

  • The Historic Preservation Commission will review the preliminary plan of subdivision and any subsequent plans "for their impact on identified archaeological features, the impact of a potential vehicular access road on the Engineering Research Corporation (ERCO) Historic Site … and the impact of proposed buildings visible from the ERCO historic site and the adjacent National Register historic districts."
Don Lynch April 14, 2012 at 02:58 PM
As the general manager of the Historical Association of Riverdale Park, our organization opposes the total disregard for the archaeological integrity of the "Cafritz development" property.This is the first violation of the 110 plus "conditions" of the Cafritz Rezoning process, wherein, " an archaeological survey will be performed before any development". We are not associated with this action. Our organization opposes any group that is promoting the travesty and destruction of Riverdale Park's frail history. The Towns Historical association the Historical Association of Riverdale Park (HARP), does not support this caviler and ignorant action.
HyattsvileRocks April 26, 2012 at 09:18 PM
Did somebody say, "Shuttle to PG plaza?" That's awesome!

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