Development Plan for Cafritz Property on Route 1 Corridor Raises Concerns
By Carrie Dindino
Friday, Nov. 16, 2007
RIVERDALE PARK, Md. - Officials of the towns surrounding the 35.8-acre Cafritz property - which fronts U.S. Route 1 in Riverdale Park - are raising concerns about the scope of development that owners are proposing for the now-wooded property.
“I think all of the communities in this area have expressed concern that it is really too dense, too many people, for that site,” said Riverdale Park Council member Alice Walker.
The property is nestled next to College Park and is across Route 1 from University Park, a residential neighborhood that is home to many University of Maryland employees.
Owned by the Cafritz family since the 1950s, the tract is currently zoned for single-family detached housing. The property would have to be re-zoned to accommodate the proposed mixed-use development, which would include residential townhouses and condos, businesses and office space.
The family has not yet begun that re-zoning process, said Chad Williams, community planner with the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.
Owner Jane Cafritz, whose family has been involved with the development of the Washington metro area since the early 1920s, said, “Very few want the property to remain vacant.” Most, she said, “see an opportunity to bring something special and of service to the existing residents of the community.”
She said now is a good time to develop the property, because mass transit is either in place or planned nearby. The site is close to the College Park Metro and the MARC line in Riverdale Park. In addition, a station for the proposed Purple Line of the Metro is being considered nearby.
The proposal currently calls for 2,000 units of townhouses or condominums, some of which would be senior housing. A retail and office area at the southern end of the property would include up to 20 businesses and 12-story office buildings. Included in the retail plan is a high-end grocery story.
There are no current estimates on the exact footage of the development, Cafritz said.
Red Flags Raised
Officials from all three surrounding towns -- College Park, University Park and Riverdale Park -- have expressed varying levels of concerns about the proposed density.
Walker said Riverdale Park is opposed to the current proposal but is optimistic that working with the developers will produce a suitable plan.
University Park opposes the current plan, Mayor John Tabori said, because of serious concerns about the impact of the development on traffic and local schools.
College Park officials have not taken an official position, said Director of Planning Terry Schum. But, she said, officials are concerned about the increased traffic the project could generate along the Route 1 corridor.
Schum added, though, that the city would benefit from the increased residential space. “It provides more housing choice for residents in the area, for folks employed with the university, or those in M Square [research park]. It would be a real benefit to have them live nearby and not just commute in.”
|Business space in the Riverdale Park Town Center sits empty. (Newsline photo by Carrie Dindino)
Cafritz said they are working on revisions to the proposal and will meet again with the community once changes are made. No date has been set for the meeting, she said.
Walker said that it is important that any development of the Cafritz property be connected to the existing Riverdale Park town center. The sleepy town center consists largely of empty store fronts, despite a redevelopment more than 10 years ago. A pet store is the only highly visible shop in the town center.
“We’ve had a lot of challenges about getting that area occupied and leased, and we are concerned about adding another town center that doesn’t add viability to our existing historic town center,” Walker said.
The Riverdale Park town center is separated from the Cafritz property by a small strip of industrial property. Walker said the town would like to see the industrial area developed along with the Cafritz property, connecting the property with both pedestrian and vehicle routes to the town center.
“We don’t want any new residents in the Cafritz property to be disconnected from Riverdale,” she said.
She added that residents want the current town center to be the main access road to the Cafritz property, rather than a connection to Tuckerman Street, which borders the property on the south.
Traffic, School Impacts Questioned
University Park officials are concerned with the effect the development could have on traffic and local schools. “We’ve publicly stated that we are opposed to this high density at this time,” said Tabori. “It would have a tremendous impact.”
|Temporary classrooms at University Park Elementary School provide more space for a school already over capacity. (Newsline photo by Carrie Dindino)
Tabori estimated the development could add 150 students to University Park Elementary School, which already uses temporary classrooms to deal with the overcrowding. “The building just wouldn’t hold any more students,” he said.
Increased traffic congestion is also a major concern to residents of University Park.
"Some days it takes me 12 minutes to make it to 410 [East-West Highway] when it’s only a few yards away. It should take a minute," said Jocelyen Owens, a University Park resident and an instructor at the Naval Academy in Annapolis. "You can imagine what it will be like with the new development."
Prince George’s County Council member Eric Olsen agrees “traffic would need to be addressed.”
Cafritz said the family would pay any required impact fees to the county, to offset the impact of the development on area schools and public facilities. “We are subject to these fees. We are also talking to community leaders about the school issues in this area of the county,” she said.
Olsen concurs that senior citizen housing should be part of the plan, to keep traffic increases to a minimum. He said seniors would not contribute to commuter traffic or to the capacity of local schools and that housing for them “is a real need in the community.”
Cafritz said she did not know at this time how much of the housing would be reserved for seniors.
The Riverdale Park Traffic Study Committee has allocated $20,000 in next year’s budget to study how the development of the Cafritz property would affect traffic on Route 1 and on local streets in Riverdale Park, said Mary Donaldson, chairman of the committee.
“We are going to apply to the state to get matching funds so we can do a through study,” she said.
Cafritz said developers will be conducting their own traffic study, “demonstrating how traffic generated by the development will be mitigated.” She added they will not do the study until the exact mix of use is known for the development.
Some Would Welcome More Restaurants and an Upscale Grocery
The development of the Cafritz property is part of a burst of development along the Route 1 corridor. Some 7,600 units of housing have been approved by the M-NCPPC since 2002 along a three-mile stretch of the corridor from the Capital Beltway to Guilford Road in College Park, said the M-NCPPC’s Williams. Not all of these units have been constructed, he added.
One of those major developments is the “East Campus” development proposed across from the main entrance to the University of Maryland in College Park, which would include 2,000 living spaces and more than 500,000 square feet of retail and office space.
Further south along Route 1 - and outside of the 7,600-housing unit count - Hyattsville is undertaking a revitalization of its arts district to include housing and more retail.
Not all of the reaction to the Cafritz tract has been negative. Some residents of both Riverdale Park and College Park have expressed interest in more retail and a grocery store on the property.
Morgan Gale, president of the Calvert Hills Citizens Association in College Park, said the community is also in need of “a good-sit down restaurant.”
Walker said Riverdale Park supports “quality retail and especially the Whole Foods.” She added: “[There is] a desire to see sensitive development that is high quality and that is energy efficient.”
Cafritz said that Whole Foods is, “very enthusiastic” about the site and has stated its intention to locate on the property.
|The Cafritz property in Riverdale Park, Md. Its boundaries are: the WMATA property on the north along Albion Road; the MARC rail on the east; a U.S. Postal Service facility on the south; U.S. Route 1 on the west. (Google Map edited by Carrie Dindino)