- The Washington Times - Monday, April 30, 2012

Scores of Prince George’s County residents slogged through a marathon public hearing on Monday during which county leaders considered a zoning change that could pave the way for a new shopping area near the University of Maryland.

The potential new development would include popular upscale grocer Whole Foods Market, but a majority of the citizen speakers criticized the plan, calling it an “unjustifiable and unwarranted” encroachment of business into a residential area and saying that the council’s decision could set a dangerous precedent for future zoning rewrites.

“This project is not essential,” said Renee Domogauer, a College Park resident. “If and when we do need commercial space, there are many projects already zoned commercially.”

Many of the speakers in opposition to the plan wore red in solidarity - their sweaters, T-shirts, scarves and jackets a stark difference from the dark suits of the attorneys sitting in the audience for the applicant, Calvert Tract LLC.

Jeanne Jennings warned the council that the area is “ill-suited” for the high volume of vehicle traffic anticipated for the town center and that the plan also relies on investments during tight budget times.

“Even assuming a grocery store could be a magic economic bullet,” the College Park resident said, “even a magic bullet fired at the wrong place will miss.”

The area under scrutiny is the Cafritz Property, roughly 37 acres of land located near the intersection of Route 1 and Route 410 in Riverdale Park.

It’s currently zoned as an area for single-family homes, but the rezoning would change it to a mixed-use town center, or M-U-TC, zone.

Linda Verrill, a resident of University Park for 12 years and a neighbor of the contested site, said she would take advantage of the mixed-use development.

“On a nice night, I would walk over there,” Ms. Verrill said. “I’m looking forward to a vibrant life that isn’t a college.”

Riverdale Park resident Louis King, a roughly 15-year resident of the area, said he didn’t see the development hurting the neighborhood’s character and said it would bolster the tax base.

“Riverdale Park is a nice, small, quaint residential community, but it doesn’t have a lot of business and industry to provide a tax base,” Mr. King said.

Despite the promise of economic development, College Park resident Leo Shapiro called the plan “completely incompatible” with the surrounding area.

“It’s taking a quiet residential area and dropping down hundreds of thousands of square feet of commercial use,” Mr. Shapiro said, highlighting the hotel and office space suggested for the land. “They think smart growth is taking the most amount of people and putting them in the smallest number of square feet. That’s maximizing density.”

Council Vice Chairman Eric C. Olson, a Democrat who represents areas of the county including Riverdale Park, expressed his concern that the plan for the rezoning did not meet criteria for approval.

“We need to make sure we get this right,” he said.

Monday was the third day of continuation for the public-hearing portion of the process, which began April 11.

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