City Council Poised to Appeal Cafritz Development Decision

Cafritz development at Riverdale Park

In tonight’s regular meeting, the Council will vote on whether to appeal to the Prince George’s County Circuit Court of the final decision of the District Council to approve Zoning Map Amendment A-1 0018 for the Cafritz property development.

On July 12, 2012, the District Council took final action on this case and on July 18, 2012 mailed the written order of the Council to all persons of record. The deadline for appealing the decision is August 17, 2012.

The approved project includes the rezoning of 35.71 acres of property in the Town of Riverdale Park from R-55 (single-family residential) to M-U-T-C (MixedUse-Town Center) and amends the 2004 Approved Town of Riverdale Park Mixed-Use Town Center Zone Development Plan. The project, as approved, includes up to 1,915,320 million square feet of mixed-use development including retail, office, residential and hotel.

While good arguments could be made in regards to a few legal and technical issues in this case, the ultimate outcome may include a remand back to the District Council and then to the Planning Board at which time they would correct all of the defects. Based on the original 7-2 votes, it is likely that the project would again be approved. Also, the delay may cause the loss of the Whole Foods, something many residents may not prefer. Among other things, the Council will consider a modest legal cost ($25,000) and its impact on the relationship with our neighboring city Riverdale Park.

[Fazlul Kabir is a Council member of City of College Park (District 1). You can read his daily blog at KabirCares.org]

College Park Development Update – January

The Development Update is a bi-monthly newsletter prepared by the City of College Park Planning, Community and Economic Development Department covering development activity in the City. This edition features updates on the Maryland Book Exchange redevelopment, Domain at College Park, Cafritz Property, and The Varsity. If you have any questions or would like to subscribe, please feel free to contact Michael Stiefvater at (240) 487-3543 or mstiefvater@collegeparkmd.gov.

November College Park Development Update

The College Park Development Update is a bi-monthly newsletter prepared by the City of College Park Planning, Community and Economic Development Department covering development activity in the City. Please feel free to distribute this information as you see fit. Questions or comments can be directed to Economic Development Coordinator Michael Stiefvater at (240)487-3543 or msteifvater@collegeparkmd.gov.

Route 1 Event Seeks to Educate Residents about Redevelopment Opportunities

Route 1, College Park

According to City’s Economic Development Coordinator Michael Stiefvater, the City is working on an event concerning redevelopment opportunities along Route 1 and they want to begin publicizing it in order to give everyone some advanced notice.

The agenda is a work in progress, but the basic premise for the event is to educate residents on the current status of these opportunities, while collecting feedback on their vision for these sites.

There will be presentations by the Planning and Economic Development staff along with plenty of time for open discussion and questions. Here are additional details for the event:

Date: Saturday, November 19, 2011
Time: 8:30am to 12pm
Place: City Council Chambers

 

Cafritz development informational meeting – Tuesday Nov 1

An informational meeting on the proposed development at the 36-acre Cafritz property will take place Tuesday, November 1 at the College Park City Hall (4500 Knox Road). As most readers are aware, the Cafritz property is located adjacent to Route 1, immediately south of College Park and east of University Park. The meeting will include a presentation on the latest development plans from the Cafritz developers and provide an opportunity for a public Q&A.

wholefoods

The updated site plan (above), including a commitment from Whole Foods, has sparked discussion and debate throughout the region and in surrounding areas including the Calvert Hills neighborhood of College Park as well as the cities of University Park and Riverdale Park. While the prospect of a Whole Foods has garnered lots of positive attention, the most recent site plan resembles something similar to a 1970s suburban strip mall and leaves lots of questions about what “Future Development” will look like. This meeting will provide an excellent opportunity for residents to hear directly from the development team and weigh in on the conversation. Hope to see you there!

City’s First Skate Park to Open Early Next Year

Rendering of the proposed Sunnyside Skate Park

Back in March this year, the City Council approved the design of College Park’s first skate park. According to City’s planning department, if permits are issued (as expected), construction of the facility should begin next month. The site of the project is within the confines of Sunnyside Park on Rhode Island Avenue just north of Edgewood Road in north College Park. Construction is anticipated to take 60 days. The City’s planning department published the final design late last week to its website.

On Mar 22, 2010, the City awarded Seattle-based Grindline Skateparks (http://www.grindline.com/) a contract to design and build a skateboard park in Sunnyside Neighborhood Park in north College Park. The City held two public hearings on the park, one in April and another in June last year.

In October last year, the park’s design went through a few major revisions, after receiving concerns from M-NCPPC and some residents on children’s safety in the proposed park. According to the new design, the park’s bowl is much shallower (four feet) compared to the previous one, which was more more than seven feet deep. The new design is expected to attract more beginning skaters and would be more safe for the community and easier to maintain. There are also an addition of a stair element to the new design.

M-NCPPC continues to have concems about maintenance and has requested that the City provide assistance. The City Manager and Public Works Director indicated that supplemental maintenance could be provided as part of the City’s routine park maintenance program.

Speaking of the park, Kennis Termini, a long time resident of north College Park, and a member of the park design committee, said: “I look to the Sunnyside Skate Park as being a positive outreach to our youth community that is local, safe and widely supported.”

[Fazlul Kabir lives in north College Park and writes a daily blog at http://KabirCares.org]

September College Park Development Update

Be sure to see the September College Park Development update. The Development Update is a bi-monthly newsletter prepared by the City of College Park Planning, Community and Economic Development Department covering development activity in the City. It covers status updates to the Maryland Book Exchange redevelopment, M-Square, and East Campus proposals among others. To subscribe, please feel free to contact Robert Riker at (240) 487-3544 or internplanning@collegeparkmd.gov.

The Varsity at College Park to Open on Sept 6

Varsity
Varsity

The Varsity at College Park (8150 Baltimore Ave) is finally ready to open for this fall semester.

Potomac Holdings, the owners, will be hosting a ribbon cutting ceremony to launch the property on Tuesday, September 6, 1 – 3 p.m.

Speakers will include Dr. University of Maryland president Wallace Loh, Prince George’s County vice chair Eric Olson, and Prince George’s County executive Rushern Baker, III.

In addition to speakers, there will be guided tours and refreshments available at Looney’s Pub and tours of the building. Please RSVP to Kate Kuhlman at kate@bendurepr.com by September 3.

Eminent Domain of #1 Liquor in Question

#1 Liquor at University View

With the city council election only a few months away, and an increasing number of residents are voicing their opposition, the council may soon vote on a motion that will permanently put a stop to the negotiation to purchase #1 Liquor: College Park’s most infamous homestead holdout. The small parcel (8200 Baltimore Avenue) is sandwiched in between University View and the Varsity high rises, has been a point of contention for the council for years. In December 2009, the City Council authorized the City Manager to negotiate the acquisition of the property and turn it into a “pocket park” for general public use. The purchase would be funded by College Park’s allocation of the state’s localside Program Open Space (POS) money.

City council members who supported the motion in 2009, argued that the property was “an eyesore.” They also said that the purchase would be an opportunity “to improve that portion of Route 1 corridor“. The 2009 resolution allows the City to pursue the acquisition using all “actions necessary to proceed with condemnation if negotiations are not successful.” This meant eminent domain, or compulsory purchase by the government against the will of the landowner, was on the table if the store owner refused to make a deal.

However, opposition to the eminent domain option from the residents in recent days have forced some council members to soften or even reverse their support. One of these council members is Patrick Wojahn (Dist 1), who has come under fierce scrutiny for his original support for eminent domain from a small but vocal group of residents in his north College Park constituency.

I was on the fence initially about eminent domain, and after hearing what residents have had to say, I oppose it.” -wrote Mr. Wojahn in an email to his north College Park newsgroup.

However, Mr. Wojahn’s reversal on eminent domain option did not completely please the group of residents; they want the Council to stop negotiation with the #1 Liquor owner altogether.

The City should stop going after this particular business.  You [Mr. Wojahn] and Mr. Catlin keep saying the City should continue because the owner is still willing to negotiate [to sell]” – charged one resident.

I have not seen anyone on the council move to amend this item be removed” – continued the resident.

During the recent budget worksession, this topic was brought up and the City Manager (Mr. Nagro) said the only way to stop the negotiation would be for the Mayor and Council to do another vote to “unauthorize” it.

Mr. Wojahn’s counterpart in District 1, Councilmember Nagle, who has been a vocal opponent to the #1 Liquor purchase from the beginning,  has recently done just that. She has asked the city to unauthorize the City Manager from pursuing any further negotiations to obtain the property (arms-length or otherwise). The council will vote on that motion in next Tuesday’s (May 24) regular council session.

In the mean time, the debate on the property deal is intensifying. Most opponents to the idea of acquiring the property argue that “uglinesss” should never be the reason for purchasing the property.

.. if you want to get rid of it, why don’t you get rid of town hall or that vacant building that is an eyesore between Burger King and Taco Bell (on Rt. 1).” – said one long time residents.

If we are looking to make the city look good, there is nothing on US 1, in my opinion, from the IKEA corridor on down except the University of Maryland that looks attractive to anyone wanting to relocate to the city.” – continued the resident.

Council member Robert Catlin (Dist 2), who sponsored the 2009 motion disagrees. Catlin thinks location, and not the look, should be a major factor why the City should buy the property.

(The location of the property) is great because of the large population that will be living or passing through there.  It can be a place for people to buy food from the adjacent food establishments and enjoy eating outside or interact with people (like Dupont Circle). ” – said Mr. Catlin.

In addition to location, Mr. Catlin argues that  the property would make for a good bus superstop location, as it the southernmost point that southbound buses can stop to pick up passengers. He also points out that the current business owner is not the same business owner that was there when University View was built.

The current liquor store owner is free to lease space elsewhere in College Park. ” – he argued.

In response to the argument that the City will be losing precious tax dollars from a legitimate business, Mr Catlin said: “The $1,500 in revenue derived from the store is insignificant in the city’s budget, especially when considering that the redevelopment here generates hundreds of times more revenue than was generated here before redevelopment.

What could we buy [with POS money], only church property?” – asks Mr. Catlin.

Some residents want the City to spend the fund to purchase the property in the design and rehabilitation of Duvall Field project in north College Park. The City originally received $300K as part of State’s Program Open Space (POS) fund, however it could not use the money due to a related fund from a Greenbelt south core development project.

Others have a different perspective on how the purchase should be viewed,

Program Open Space is neither a highway beautification fund nor a blight reduction tool. The park idea is a farce. A fraction of an acre ‘pocket park’ on the #1 Liquor site will not meet the city’s conservation or public recreation goals, especially in light of the fact that the 5-acre North Gate Park (another POS project) is about to open just to the south.” – said the Rethink College Park editor David Daddio.

Daddio thinks the North Gate Park parcel would make an excellent location for a bus super stop for the emerging North Gate District.

Indeed POS funds could be used for the purchase; but let’s not pretend that there is a park deficit in the city.” – said Daddio.

Though it is unclear at this moment how the Council will vote next week, intense lobbying by the opposing residents may sway the minds of the council members. If there is a tie, Mayor Fellows will cast his vote to break the tie. Mr. Fellows who supported the original 2009 motion is also undecided.

We have not established what that cost to the City might be.  I do understand the concerns of a significant number of residents, and they are a factor in my consideration. ” – said Mr. Fellows.

In the mean time, opponents to the purchase plan are hoping that the upcoming November election could swing the Council decision next week.

Mazza Grandmarc NOW OPEN

The long awaited opening of the Mazza Grandmarc took place today as the first graduate students were allowed to move in.  The primary move in date for non graduate students will be August 22nd.  I spoke with the on site manager who told me the Mazza is now around 45% full (it was under 10% full when rethink college park visited there a few months back).  A little over 60 people will be moving in today which is a around 10% of the total capacity for the apartment complex (around 630 beds).   Two aspects about the Mazza that excite me the most are that it is connected to the Paint Branch Bike Trail system which leads to the University of Maryland campus and that it has its own UMD DOTS bus route.  Hopefully students will take advantage of these ecological friendly options when deciding how to get to campus which would help minimize the traffic impact that the Mazza will create.

I won’t write too much about the Mazza Grandmarc as there is already a long history of articles on it on this site, but the Mazza property owners are still trying to buy the properties directly on Route One in front of the apartment complex so they can build decent retail establishments there.  Hopefully the opening of the Mazza today is just the start of a redevelopment process that will both beautify a section of Route One and lead to more high quality dining and shopping options in College Park.  Despite the fact that the Mazza is finally opening today this project is still a work in progress in terms of its full potential.