University Park Mayor Wants Cafritz Apology

Mayor, town council call for reforms and greater oversight after confusion over authorship of letters of support for controversial development.

Following a town council meeting earlier this month which left some of University Park's elected officials feeling as if they had been deceived, town leaders had harsh words for the legal team representing the company which wants to redevelop the Cafritz property. 

"I am not comfortable with what happened," said Mayor John Tabori during last night's University Park Town Council meeting. "I will probably never be comfortable with it."

Drafty Documents

This latest round in the ongoing Cafritz saga began two weeks ago, when University Park's town council members prepared to review a preliminary plan of subdivision up for consideration at a special session on Jan. 14.

In the hours before that meeting, the Cafritz developers, Calvert Tract, LLC, submitted three letters of approval to town council members which, to the untrained eye, were attributed to the president of the adjoining American Center for Physics (ACP), the mayor of Riverdale Park, and a county economic development official.

In fact, each of the three letters had been composed by lawyers for the Cafritz property. They had been intended, according to an interview published in The Diamondback with Cafritz attorney Chip Reed, to serve as draft stand-in documents pending the actual approval of their respective attributed authors. 

Two of the letters, attributed to ACP President Beth Cunningham and Riverdale Park Mayor Vernon Archer, were marked "draft" but bore no other outward indication that they were written by Cafritz attorneys. 

ACP's support for the project is seen as crucial, because it is the site where developers plan to build a bridge to span the CSX railroad tracks which line the eastern border of the Cafritz property.

The third letter, attributed to Thomas Himler, deputy chief administrative officer for the Prince George's County Office for Budget, Finance and Administration, was marked only "memorandum" and bears no outward indication that it was written by Cafritz attorneys. 

Each of the three letters were dated Jan. 14. Each was composed in a different font. None bore a signature. 

The letters arrived in council members hands only hours before the meeting. Later that week, developers had hoped to take the letters, along with the sought after support of the University Park Town Council, before the Prince George's County Board of the Maryland-National Capitol Park and Planning Commission which would consider approving the Cafritz preliminary plan.

However, the members of the University Park Town Council assumed the letters were written by the authors attributed on the pages. 

Outrage Ensues

Reed, according to reports, argued that he was up-front with the town council about the nature of the documents from the outset. 

“I got up and stated emphatically that I drafted this letter,” Reed told The Diamondback. “I do not represent the American Center for Physics; I don’t speak for the American Center for Physics.”

When it was discovered that the letter of support from ACP was, effectively, a placeholder, outrage ensued.

Councilor James Gekas (Ward 2) was taken aback.

"Personally, I was surprised," said Gekas last night, echoing a nearly unanimous sentiment from the University Park town council. "I did think it was a done deal. I thought they were going to meet their contingencies, and it was a total flip of the coin."

A report issued by the Prince George's County Planning Board staff dated Jan. 10 recommended "disapproval" of the Cafritz Preliminary Plan of Subdivision, saying that key conditions had not been met. On Jan. 15, Cafritz representatives announced to the College Park City Council and the Riverdale Park Town Council that the developers would be pulling their application off the planning board's agenda that week because they had been unable to work out an agreement with ACP. 

Reed's announcement had been preceded by an actual letter from Cunningham who wrote that it would likely be several months before ACP would make a decision about to support the placement of a bridge on its property.

"The ACP Board is angry that a letter was provided at the Monday, January 14th, meeting of the University Park Town Council, which erroneously appeared to present ACP’s support for having a roadway across our property," wrote Cunningham "That letter was never reviewed or authorized by the ACP Board."

Transparency, Reform, Oversight Called For

University Park's elected officials were still sorting it out last night. 

The brouhaha has inspired calls for reform of the planning board application process and greater oversight by town officials.

Councilor Arlene Christiansen (Ward 3), with Tabori's support, asked the town council to submit a letter to county officials lobbying for changes to the way applications are handled and considered by the planning board. Under Christiansen's proposal, any applications must be submitted in full 30 days before the planning board could consider the applications. A similar law has been in effect in Montgomery County since 2007. 

Tabori said that he has also insisted that developers provide important documents to the town council well ahead of town council meetings. 

"I don't want to have anything coming in less than 10 days before a council meeting," said Tabori. "I don't care what it is, I want 10 days."

Tabori also wants Reed to apologize to the University Park town council, a move supported by Christiansen. 

"I really do believe we were mistreated," said Christiansen. "If we are to have any good faith going forward, we need to hear an apology."

Tabori said that developers plan to refile the preliminary plan with the planning board within the next 120 days.

Michael B. Cron January 29, 2013 at 01:47 PM
The county planning board needs to adopt and adhere to a more stringent review process. I do not have any problem with Calvert Tract, LLC wasting their time, resources and money, but I do have a problem with them wasting county official's review time and resources. I am angry that this apparently deceitful process has created mistrust among the University Park Town Council members including other stakeholders in the nearby municipalities involved with this development. I implore that the county review board not allow Calvert Tract, LLC to even reapply until they have everything needed so as to not abuse the process going forward.
Kristina Iverson January 29, 2013 at 02:13 PM
I am dismayed that this has now soured the entire discussion,and potentially the whole development from moving forward. As a supporter of the development, I'm less than convinced that Calvert Tract and the Cafritz team is capable of developing the property in a mutually agreeable way to all neighbors. This is disappointing in the very least.
s January 29, 2013 at 09:29 PM
The sense of entitlement that comes from University Park (UP) is tacky. Tabori you want 10 days to review document before a council meeting. Good luck. Where do you live, the back hills of nowhereville? It’s 2013 and you are inside the DC Beltway. If you don’t have the time to meet the requirements of your elected position don’t slow down progress. Few years back UP closed Queens Chapel resulting in worse traffic for everyone except UP and now they want to stop the Whole Foods development. You have never liked the development plan and now you are inflating offence and fabricating drama to forward your personal agenda. Should we look for you on the next season of RuPaul’s Drag Race? Shame on UP for being bad neighbors. Your sense of entitlement and politicing is tawdry.
Jb Russell January 29, 2013 at 09:41 PM
We don't want Cafritz liars OR Whole Foods libertarians in our neighborhood. If that makes us "entitled," so be it. I hope their plan implodes in the most ugly of ways.
Lise Nau January 29, 2013 at 09:44 PM
I am also a potential supporter of the development, but only if it is done right. So far I have seen very few indications that the Cafritz team is committed to fulfilling obligations to Calvert Tract neighbors or the wellbeing of PG County. The recent submission of bogus letters as "placeholders" strikes me as both sneaky and insulting. It's reasonable to expect application documents to be presented with 10 days notice before they are considered or voted upon. The Planning Board review process needs amendment.
Larry Prikockis January 29, 2013 at 10:19 PM
I don't think expecting important documents reasonably well ahead of a meeting for appropriate review is "tacky" or remotely unreasonable. Maybe 10 days isn't possible, but surely the only reason for submitting documents "a few hours" before a meeting is if you're trying to pull something sneaky and underhanded. I'm not against development or Whole Foods but I am against the kind of bait and switch tactics we're seeing here. Nice job Cafritz in living up to the worst preconceptions many had when this project started. It seemed like things were moving forward in a way that all parties could be happy with, but I have more doubts than ever now about the Cafritz team's intentions and the integrity of the whole process. what a shame
Adele Ellis January 29, 2013 at 10:21 PM
Some development is going to happen, but there is nothing entitled about the surrounding towns wishing to have input to make it the best fit for the area as possible. For the Cafritz group to agree to work with the towns and then try to deceive them is a very bad start to a long process. A "draft" letter purporting support that is not yet decided is more than misleading. No "inflating" is needed. This is misrepresentation, Mr. Reed's credibility is shot, and he should not be trusted in the future.
Linda Murphy January 29, 2013 at 11:10 PM
Dishonest, underhanded, actions have consequences. I hope the ACP Board does more than get angry over the deception that Mr. Reed tried to perpetrate. Vote against the placement of a bridge on the ACP property. The other letters which Mr. Reed wrote as "placeholders" for people and organizations he did not represent should cause him legal jeopardy. I want to see more than an apology. I want to see him sanctioned by the bar. Linda Murphy
Doug Hamilton January 29, 2013 at 11:29 PM
Three bogus letters, not illegal because they were unsigned and marked "draft," but deliberately misleading. Different fonts? Submitted just hours in advance? Really Mr. Reid, can you and your team sink any lower?
Plum Smith January 29, 2013 at 11:52 PM
Attorney Chip Reed "argued that he was up-front with the town council about the nature of the documents from the outset." The funny thing is that everyone in the room seems to have missed this. Perhaps all those who were in the room, plus the folks Reed channeled in these forged letters (who were quite unhappy about his actions), are idiots. Or perhaps Reed, a veteran attorney who knows very well how to make himself clearly understood--or misunderstood--became profoundly incompetent just for a day or two and ACCIDENTALLY fooled a large number of rather bright and attentive elected officials and others, including several attorneys. And perhaps there really IS a tooth fairy. Alternatively, it is possible that in a remarkable act of desperation, and under intense pressure from the Cafritzes, Mr. Reed chose to cross the ethical line in a last-ditch effort to win approval for the Preliminary Plan. He gambled and lost--damaging both his reputation and that of the Cafritzes. It seems likely that Jane Cafritz has now realized that despite the millions of dollars of her family fortune that she has already poured into this effort, and despite the political hardball played on her behalf by key rich and powerful friends, this project is starting to fall apart. And this is even before the legal challenges to the illegal rezoning by the District Council hit the courts. We will get another upscale grocery store nearby and Jane Cafritz will be OK but for a bruised ego and reputation.
susan January 30, 2013 at 12:53 AM
Mayor Tabori has worked tirelessly to see that this development proceeds in a way that he and many others believe to be in the best interests of University Park, Riverdale Park and College Park. While I personally do NOT believe that the development as presently conceived will in fact meet the interests of the surrounding communities, I think it repugnant to question Mayor Tabori's motives in expressing understandable frustration with the last minute document dumping on the town council of unauthenticated, unattributed communications.
Mike Derry January 30, 2013 at 02:00 AM
In general I'm distrustful of developers.... I grew up in Harford county and saw them destroy small town BelAir by turning it into a multitude of strip malls, poorly constructed town homes and little box home communities... they put little thought into traffic patterns/ congestion , and the need to retain some space for grass, trees , parks and ample parking. The recent over development of the Arts district in Hyattsville should be warning.... too much construction , not enough parking.... and a knee jerk(and poorly thought out) reaction by putting parking spaces along route 1. Personally I think all of our neighborhoods need to come together and have more oversight over what kinds of development is taking place in our community... A nice grocery store is one thing.... but changing the unique character of these wonderful old and historic neighborhoods by throwing up more town homes, and increasing congestion is quite another.
Michael B. Cron January 30, 2013 at 04:23 AM
One of the letters was not marked as a draft, just unsigned.
JiminyCricket January 30, 2013 at 12:52 PM
Scot Brown...why so bitter? How does wanting sufficient time to review documents equate a sense of entitlement and tackiness? As for Queens Chapel Road, how long ago was that closed? Twenty plus years ago? You need to get over it. Holding onto resentment and bitterness is not good for one's self.
s January 30, 2013 at 02:18 PM
It would be nice to have a big park there at the Cafritz property. Maybe we can get Riverdale Park to sell millions in bonds to raise funds to buy the land. The whole foods could go on 410 in front of the Five Guys. That would be nice. And what happened to the Safeway plan for the lot? Is it killed for good? That Giant on 410 is not very good. I want more options. As a regular shopper at Yes! I say Whole Foods is not needed but more options would be helpful.
s January 30, 2013 at 02:24 PM
JiminyCricket that sure is an odd name. As for the Queens Chapel comment, I wanted to see who would comment. And wouldn't you know it Pinocchio's official conscience responded. In fact closing the road was very good, much safer neighborhood for the kids to play in. How about using your real name? It's a public forum not a Disney message board.
Laura January 30, 2013 at 02:36 PM
Indeed, Mr/Ms Smith has it spot on. Mr. Reed needs to be fired; the Cafritzes need to rethink their strategy and commitment to the terms of the proposal and either comply or go away. The fact that there are two other locations already set up with roads, parking lots, infrastructure to locate Whole Foods--Riverdale Plaza and the old Shopper's Food center on University Blve--makes this a no brainer. And both of them actually meet the published rules for MUTC zoning-- which the Cafritz's woods do not!
John Essex January 30, 2013 at 04:32 PM
Scot, I believe that the Safeway project planned for 410 was shelved when the housing market tanked. Safeway was going to build condos above the new grocery store. Meanwhile, Glover Park/Georgetown has their beautiful, new "Social Safeway," while be lowly PeeGee non-people get nothing!
s January 30, 2013 at 07:03 PM
I know right John. PeeGee non-people get nothing and when we try to get a Whole Foods it falls apart.
HyattsvilleCouldBeBetter January 30, 2013 at 09:01 PM
That would make too much sense.
Mark G February 01, 2013 at 03:52 PM
You makes some good points but I see an inherent contradiction in the concern over well planned communities with a healthy mix of spaces for living, working, shopping and recreation and the need for "amplle parking". Isn't the example of the ugly, poorly planned development of BelAir you cite, driven by the need to accomodate automobiles? I agree that the Arts district may currently have a problem with parking but shouldn't we be focused on how people can get there without neeeding to park their cars nearby? I would ratehr have the problem of the Hyattsville Arts District (lots of people and not enough parking) than the problem of UTC where tehre is plenty of parking but no people.
Mike Derry February 05, 2013 at 04:43 AM
Mark, The issue is about balance.... and while the issue of public trans vs driving is a useful debate... the reality is people are going to drive and if you want to attract folks to commercial areas you better have ample parking.... the problem with BelAir was not parking lots, it was that almost all the open farm and wooded land was turned over to the developers for commercial and residential use... too many people... too many housing developments built on top of each other... You don't need more residential development to support local business... if anything the existing communities along the route 1 corridor are underserved... But do we need to sell our souls to the developers just to get a nice grocery store.... do we need to turn over another track of wooded land for that... ??? build the grocery store ( and yes with ample parking) ... but use the surrounding land as a wooded walking or biking park... build an outdoor amphitheater... build an Oregon Ridge Park like in Hunt Valley... build something the community can enjoy while preserving the land... This area does not need more townhome/apartment development built on top of itself.... that might be nice for tax revenue , but at what cost to the character of the area... Who benefits besides the developers ?
s February 05, 2013 at 01:24 PM
As a person who comes from generations of real estate developers I find your statement “But do we need to sell our souls to the developers just to get a nice grocery store” totally insulting. You are implying that real estate developers are the devil. I don’t see life that way. The Cafritz have owned that plot of land for decades. Over 50 years I believe. It is their land. They are not the devil; in fact they are considered one of the most philanthropic families in the Washington DC community. Yes Mike you are right, development can be done badly. Much like anything, but doing business is not evil. Yes the document thing was questionable? Yes, but dear lord Mayor grow up, don’t cry like a baby. University Park is being totally unprofessional in this process. As a municipality that is totally residential it is clear they have little experience playing with the big boys. So I suggest they just stay on the porch. If everyone loves the trees so much, then make a fund and buy the land. If you pay enough they will sell it to you. What I want is a supermarket I can walk to that is not suburbia ghetto like the Giant on 410.
Mike Derry February 05, 2013 at 03:22 PM
Scott, No offense intended... but having spent most of my life in baltimore and Harford counties... I have seen development "done badly" resulting in a loss of open spaces and major congestion, poor thought to traffic patterns, ect... The situation in the Arts District is another example... there is not adequate parking for the number of folks using those shops...Then the knee jerk response by putting parking meters in along route 1... especially right at Jefferson... which is a major intersection. I've been screaming about that for months, now that is has happened... folks are starting to complain on the list serve... I'm not totally anti-devlopment... but it needs to be done smartly,... everything needs to be above board.... and the community should be involved in the process... we are not talking about developing large trtacks of farmland in the middle of nowhere... but rather a major development in an already congested area with older neighborhoods that have their own charm and history.... as a community we should be involved in preserving that.... I'll give you a couple of expamples...
Mike Derry February 05, 2013 at 03:49 PM
continued- I work at a 160 year old historic hospital in Towson... several years ago we sold land to Towson university. for apartments .. as part of the deal however we had say into the architectual design of the buildings... They wanted them to blend/match the design of the Hosp....they also wanted to make sure certain structures and tracks of land were preserved... as well as preserving mature trees and requiring new plantings... Same with Towson Place (the old eudowood shopping center) next to the 60 years old Brick townhome neighborhood of Loch Raven Village... as part of the re-development the neighborhood association required that developers try to match the feel of the neighborhood... even down to determining the color and style of brick that was used... I remember months of negotiation before the Neighborhood association would sign off on the reconstruction...That is a community having direct involvement over what kind of development is in their area... It would be nice to see that level of involvement and oversite...
s February 05, 2013 at 04:17 PM
I love the parking on Rt. 1. Saturday evening I parked right in front of elevation burger got a meal and was home in 3 mins. I like to walk when it’s not cold. I don't see the problem. There has always been a plan for the city to build a parking garage in the area and now that the development is taking off they are working on it. I just don't see why the development is bad. I love it and would not have bought a home and spent $50,000+ in renovation if it was not being built. I would have bought in MoCo. I can spend my paycheck anywhere and took a risk in PG County. Gas Tax=Purple Line=better public transportation. Rt 1 and 410 are congested because there are no other thru streets. They must be used to get anywhere. RI Ave needs a straight shot to Beltsville (never going to happen). UMD needs a link to 495 and 95N via the truck weigh station (never going to happen). Riverdale Park needs more ways to cross the CSX track and needs to bury the tracks straight thru town to make a more livable community (never going to happen). Hyattsville needs to connect Queens Chapel and Rt1 somewhere other than 410. When that was suggested with one ways on Queens burry and Ogelthorpe the community about peed themselves. Community involvement is good and needed as is good leadership. I think the community is involved in the Whole Foods development. I mean look they just go the project shut down and back to the drawing board.
Mike Derry February 05, 2013 at 06:09 PM
Scott, The route 1 parking is certainly convenient... if you are parking !!! but if you are driving down route 1 or trying to turn left or right at Jefferson it is a nightmare... it is the worst place to lose two lanes.(one in each direction ) .. Jefferson is a highly used cut through road... The traffic lights are short as it is... and the left turn lane into the shopping area (at Jefferson ) is pretty short as well and backs into the left lane of route 1..... what you get is a bottle neck of traffic coming up to that intersection... beside the bottleneck I'm fearful some poor soul who has parked on route 1 is going to have their car run into... or worse yet be hit by a car... i've already seen some near misses as cars do not realize the diving lane ended and jammed on their brakes and swerved....If I remember corrctly there is no on street parking north of that area all the way up to the beltway... it is two driving lanes each way...cars are not anticipating those lanes ending... I'd certainly never park along there


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