TOD Plans for College Park, M Square Purple Line stations

Back on April 4th the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission presented the results of their Purple Line community workshop at a public meeting. I attended, and while M-NCPPC’s delay in posting material has delayed this writeup, there’s still quite a bit to talk about. The Prince George’s County Planning Department within M-NCPCC established five Station Planning Areas to address stations areas not covered by another plan of some form.

M Square and College Park station areas, looking West.

Continue reading TOD Plans for College Park, M Square Purple Line stations

Planning Board Approves Cafritz 4-0

The Prince George’s County Planning Board approved the Cafritz rezoning by a 4-0 vote yesterday evening. Board Chairman Elizabeth Hewlett had recused herself from the matter because in her work as a

Cafritz Site against the larger area. From Cafritz Tract, LLC

land use attorney she had consulted with Cafritz (She also recused herself from board proceedings in January). The Patch’s John Davisson posted a thorough blow by blow of Thursday’s hearing which can be found here. The proposal will next go to the District Council, which is made of up the members of (but not the same as) the Prince George’s County Council. The date for that hearing has yet to be set.

The conditions for the rezoning did go through additoonal changes since the previous hearing – the full changes are available here. Most changes were gramatical or technical. Notable changes include

  • Requiring plans for Baltimore Ave/Van Buren signalization, crosswalks and bicycle parking with the Detailed Site Plan, rather than the building permit applications
  • A requirement to put all utilities underground
  • An explicit requirement to send plans for the Baltimore Avenue buffer to University Park
  • More explicit process for turning over roads to the Town of Riverdale Park
  • Requirement for SHA preliminary approval for Baltimore Ave/Van Buren signalization before issuing a grading permit.
  • More explicit requirements for the staging of the Van Buren and Maryland Avenue extensions
  • Inclusion of Riverdale and University Parks in working to create a Transportation Demand Management District

In many ways, the Planning Board stage served as the appetizer. I’m sure we’ll get a big full meal of debate when the project moves to the District Council.


City Council Rejects Book Exchange, Opposes Cafritz

During a four hour meeting Tuesday night, the College Park City Council rejected the Maryland Book Exchange site plan and voted to oppose the Cafritz Property rezoning.

The Council voted unanimously to reject the revised detailed site plan for the Maryland Book Exchange. The detailed site plan describes the specifics of a development project, including height, footprint, materials to be used, and architectural design. Councilmembers took offense to the plan as “hardly modified” from a previously rejected site plan. While the revised site plan reduced building height along Yale Avenue from six stories to four, councilmembers argued it still went above the two to three stories permitted by the Route 1 Sector Plan.

In a six to two roll call vote, the Council voted to send a letter to the Planning Board opposing the rezoning of the Cafritz Property from R-55 (residential, single family homes) to M-U-TC (mixed use town center). The motion made by Councilmember Stullich received the support of Councilmembers Dennis, Mitchell, Stullich, Wojahn, Day, and Afzali, and was opposed by Councilmembers Kabir and Catlin. At time of posting the text of the motion is not available electronically.

The Council heard from and questioned the developers, as well as Mayor John Tabori of University Park and Mayor Vernon Archer of Riverdale Park. University Park voted Monday evening to support the Cafritz Rezoning 4/3, while Riverdale Park voted Tuesday to support the rezoning unanimously. Both towns made their support contingent on a set of consensus conditions. The conditions were negotiated during twelve meetings held over the holiday among representatives from all three municipalities and the Cafritz developers. Councilmember Stullich served as College Park’s lead representative in the discussions.

Mayor Tabori emphasized that he had begun as a skeptic of the project, particularly of the traffic studies and the site’s transit orientation. He argued that the major weaknesses in the proposal had been addressed and noted that this was the first time a developer in Prince George’s County actively supported creating a Transportation Demand Management District. Developer opposition had stalled efforts to get a TDMD covering PG Plaza. Mayor Archer echoed Mayor Tabori’s support, observing that through the consensus conditions, the muicipalities had exchanged their power to stop the project entirely for significant influence over how it evolved.

Thirteen members of the public spoke for opposing the rezoning, including one visitor from University Park. Opponents of the rezoning emphasized concerns over traffic, unreasonably high density on the site, and questioned the desirability of any type of mixed-use development on the site, expressing a preference for single family homes. Several speakers also indicated distrust of the developer in general, specific anger over past behavior and a belief that the consensus conditions had been negotiated behind closed doors without public input.

Four members of the audience spoke against the letter of opposition, including your author and one visitor from Riverdale Park. Supporters of the rezoning pointed out that many concerns could be addressed during later stages of the process, that the consensus conditions adequately addressed community concerns, and that opposition now would limit the City’s ability to influence future proposals on the site. One speaker emphasized that change in the community was inevitable and better treated as an opportunity to adapt.

In discussion among the Council, Councilmember Catlin critiqued Councilmember Stullich’s stated objections to the rezoning, deeming them either irrelevant or already handled by the consensus conditions. Councilmember Kabir said he has struggled to support the project because of concerns over traffic and the mechanism for College Park to be involved in the M-U-TC process. In his view, the city got exactly what it asked for and his concerns were addressed. Councilmembers Wojahn and Afzali expressed conflicted feeling over the motion, indicating that while the Cafritz plans had come a long way, too many issues remained outstanding for them to feel comfortable with it. A similar sentiment came from Coucnilmembers Mitchell and Day, who both specifically cited concerns over density on and traffic generated by the site.

The Cafritz rezoning proposal will be heard by the Planning Board this coming Thursday, at 12:30pm at their office in Upper Marlboro. Public comments are welcome and the agenda can be found here.

Update: The post originally described the College Park Council vote as six to four. The vote was actually six to two, and the post has been corrected.

Calvert Hills Access to Cafritz

The opinions expressed in this piece represent the views of the author and not Rethink College Park or its other contributors.

In conversations about the Cafritz property, I have often wound up conversations about how the property will relate to the community around it. Two basic models can be followed – the urban street grid or the suburban pod. Street grids have a lot going for them, most notably on walkability. You can get a lot further in a one kilometer walk on a grid than in pod.

Street Grid Walkability
How far you get walking 1km in either a suburban (left) or urban (right) street layout.

Grids also have an impact on traffic. When there are only a handful of roads to travel on, a problem on any one of them creates tremendous impact. Grids create alternative routes and spread out the traffic more, relieving pressure. In short, there’s a reason humans have built cities on this pattern for millenia.

Although College Park itself, particularly Old Town and Calvert Hills, leans towards the grid, it exists amid a series of pods. Calvert Hills is itself a pod, with Riverdale Park another pod, University Park a third, Hyattsville and Berwyn and University Town Center all pods further away.

Many in the communities surrounding Cafritz have rightly pushed for both a connection southward into Riverdale Park, and a bridge Eastward across the CSX tracks. Both of these links would increase site access in general and help provide connection alternatives to Route 1 and East-West Highway. With these connections already under consideration, County planning staff have also suggested studying a connection Northward into Calvert Hills.

Area in the red box suggested for study as a combined vehicular, pedestrian and bicycle link

I live in Calvert Hills and like the idea of having a way to leave the neighborhood that does not involve Route 1. A connection between Calvert Hills and Cafritz would provide direct access South into Riverdale Park and East across the planned CSX Bridge. I do not know what all the potential impacts would be but I believe it is worth studying because more informed choices tend to be better chocies.

Sadly, others in my neighborhood disagree. Councilmember Stullich, encouraged by certain hysterical Calvert Hills residents, fired off an e-mail Saturday decrying County staff for even daring to suggest studying the matter. Posters on the local listserve conjured visions of a giant “through way[sic]” which would “destroy” Calvert Hills, slammed County staff “who do not live here” as liars, and dismissed the idea of study even while acknowledging the general principle that connectivity provides benefits. The sheer ferocity of the opinions gave me pause and I realized that I was not reading a rational discussion – it was about faith.

Planning decisions have an emotional component. We all make value judgments that are not strictly rational. I dislike brutalist architecture and I will not for a minute pretend that this based in fact. It is taste, which is emotional. We ask for trouble, however, when we let emotion become everything. One can claim that a link between Calvert Hills and Cafritz would create a huge new highway, destroy the neighborhood, increase crime or unleash a plague of frogs, but merely asserting it does not make it so. That is the entire point of study – to gather the best facts and best forecasts possible so that we know what the impacts of our decisions are.

I have no idea if a connection between Calvert Hills and Cafritz makes sense. I do not have any facts to make an informed decision. If, like me, you prefer to make your decisions based on evidence and not supposition, I encourage to contact Councilmember Stullich, the City Council and the Planning Board and encourage them to support rational decision making.

Councilmember Stullich’s original e-mail is available below the jump.

Continue reading Calvert Hills Access to Cafritz