- The Washington Times - Monday, July 9, 2012

The Prince George’s County District Council on Monday voted in favor of taking another step toward a mixed-use development in Riverdale Park that includes a Whole Foods grocery store.

The 7-2 decision to prepare a document supporting rezoning the property that the council will vote on later comes after months of legislative hurdles, including days-long public hearings to debate the pros and cons of the project, which boasts the upscale grocer as an anchor store.

Wearing a bright green T-shirt under her suit coat, Jane Cafritz, one of the developers and owners of the property where the 37-acre project is proposed, called the project a “logical, progressive step for this county.”

“This project is a catalyst for developing a very current transportation system that meets the needs of this community,” she said.

Along with the grocery store, the development proposes 22,000 square feet of office space, retail space spanning more than 160,000 square feet, a hotel with 120 rooms, and nearly 1,000 residential units.

The property is located near the intersection of Route 1 and Route 410 in Riverdale Park. It is currently zoned as a single-family residential area, but developers have pushed to rezone it as a mixed-use town center.

District 2 council member Will Campos made the successful motion to approve preparing a document supporting the rezoning.

Residents have argued that while economic development is welcome in the county, the rezoning would choke the quiet neighborhood environment, feelings echoed by council Vice Chairman Eric C. Olson of District 3, which includes Riverdale Park.

“This property was never envisioned for such high density,” Mr. Olson said. “I’m deeply troubled that this very specific zone, this mixed-used zone is being used erroneously.”

Mr. Olson unsuccessfully moved to deny the request for rezoning approval, but only he, council member Mary A. Lehman of District 1, and council Chairwoman Andrea C. Harrison of District 5 voted for it.

“My objection is that it doesn’t follow the plans for the area,” Mr. Olson said. “The intensity is not there. It’s not at a Metro station; it’s almost a mile from the Metro station. It will put thousands and thousands of cars on Route 1 that’s already congested.”

For her part, Ms. Harrison chose to vote last — both for Mr. Olson’s motion as well as Mr. Campos’ motion.

Though the two motions were for opposite results, Ms. Harrison voted in favor of both, saying that she was not convinced that this particular property should be rezoned because of one user.

“I would love to have a Whole Foods come,” she said. “But this case was not about Whole Foods, but about this particular application.”

Ms. Harrison said she expected the Cafritz group to demonstrate progress in terms of building a vehicle and pedestrian bridge over CSX train tracks on the eastern side of the property.

Unlike a previous hearing in early May, when dozens of protesters wore red in solidarity against the project, at least 50 advocates Monday of the development sat in the audience wearing bright green T-shirts. Many of them left immediately following the vote.

Of the handful of critics in the audience — some still in red — at least one referenced the possibility of appeal.

University Park resident and project opponent Susan Dorn said she would wait until the order was written to see whether it was capable of being challenged.

Council members struggled with crafting the right language for the final motion, which Ms. Dorn said “tells you this is open for challenge.”

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