A team of workers boring soil on the Cafritz property raised alarm early this week among nearby residents, some of whom were concerned that the developer had jumped the gun on its mixed-use blueprint for the site.
Shortly before noon on Tuesday, several workmen could be seen clearing brush with a chainsaw and maneuvering a large piece of drilling equipment around the densely-wooded section of Riverdale Park.
That observation followed a similar report from Riverdale Park resident Joe Kelly, who emailed Patch and other area residents Monday night to note that heavy machinery was present at the site.
The Cafritz team is seeking to have its 37-acre parcel redesignated from single-family detached residential (R-55) to mixed-use town center (M-UTC), clearing the way for a Whole Foods, 900-plus units of housing, and other office and retail space.
But the developer's rezoning plan , and one of the recommendations attached to the Planning Board's approval of the project calls for key archaeological reports to be delivered before any ground is disturbed at the site. (See p. 58, "Planning Board Recommendations relating to Historic Preservation.")
Contacted by phone Tuesday morning, Cafritz attorney Chip Reed said he was unaware of any heavy machinery on the scene but promised to look into the matter.
That afternoon, Reed called back to report that the developer's geotechnical team was indeed conducting soil borings.
"It's mainly to understand the consistency of the soil," Reed said, including factors such as compactability and load-bearing capacity.
Reed said that the work required some brush to be cleared but pledged that "there won't be a single tree cut down."
"That piece of equipment will be removed from the site," he added, noting that the team "hope[d] to wrap up today."
But that explanation fell flat with Kelly, who said the soil boring "violates the spirit" of the conditions introduced in the rezoning approval process.
"It's not a violation of the law—it's their perfect right to do that—but for elected officials to say that not one shovelful of earth will be disturbed until everything that we made them bend over backward to do is finalized? That's not what's happening," Kelly said.
University Park Mayor John Tabori said he had also contacted Reed on Tuesday when apprised of the situation.
"He essentially made sure they would stand down," Tabori said. "They're going to discontinue the activity at a minimum until the hearing and the vote of the council is finished."
Tabori said it was "kind of silly" to conduct the boring before a full agreement was in place but that it appeared to be a case of "someone getting ahead of themselves."
"It just reinforces the fact that this is going to be an ongoing process," he added. "We're going to have to continue to monitor their activity, and we're going to have to pay attention. That's just the way it is."
The District Council is set to resume its hearing on the Cafritz rezoning proposal this Monday, April 30 at 10 a.m. Proceedings after many attendees said they were unaware the hearing would be quasi-judicial—meaning it would include cross-examination, sworn testimony, and other evidentiary constraints.