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 futureĀ proposalsĀ 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.

7 thoughts on “City Council Rejects Book Exchange, Opposes Cafritz”

  1. Ugh, I am legitimately starting to think that having a bunch of freshmen on the City Council would be more effective than what we have now.

  2. Really unfortunate and disappointing. To me, having a project that would bring a great set of amenities closer to my home (and provide me the opportunity to walk or bike) far outweighs the costs of having to drive out of my hometown to go to a grocery store or a decent restaurant, and it certainly outweighs the supposed cost of additional traffic. The fact that traffic concerns are at the center of this issue displays how reliant we, as Americans, have become on automobiles. Unfortunately, much of this traffic stems from the fact that residents in places like College Park must drive to reach the goods and services they demand. Even IF traffic increased b/c of this project, it would still provide a shorter trip than driving to Hyattsville, Silver Spring, etc.

  3. Has anybody done a sensible traffic analysis that takes the specifics of this site into consideration? The alarmist figures that I hear seem to be the result of plugging numbers into a spreadsheet that is based on models of suburban sprawl, where all traffic at a site is new traffic that wasn’t already there. Our existing problem with traffic is caused by (i) having lots of good jobs, mostly filled by people who don’t live here, and (ii) having few amenities, so that folks who live here go elsewhere to shop, etc. Who would choose to live in a small home at Cafritz? Would it be somebody who wants to commute to some random far-away place, or somebody who is attracted by living close to UMD, M-Square, Metro/MARC etc.? More likely the latter. So those people would be reducing traffic rather than increasing it, since they’re currently driving a longer distance to get here each day. The development would attract people who specifically want to avoid conforming to traffic planners’ spreadsheets. The retail will clearly add some new traffic, but it will also divert some traffic that is currently going from this area to more far flung places. If I buy my groceries at Cafritz rather than in Silver Spring, then that’s a net reduction in miles driven. Whole Foods would probably bring more cars, on balance, but the other retail would presumably serve a more local market, so would attract car trips that are already happening in this area. And the bridge over the tracks to River Rd will take a bunch of trips that are currently locked onto Route 1, serving the key goal of helping to move traffic from Route 1 (over-crowded) to Kenilworth Ave (under-crowded).

  4. Preposterous. The Book Exchange vote is understandable, since the developer’s step back design didn’t meet the Route 1 Sector Plan. On paper, it looks like the project could win approval if the step back goes down to three stories, but somehow that seems unlikely. The neighborhood association has dug in and seems determined to torpedo anything that adds apartments for undergrads on that side of Route 1 … even though this would be just across the street from UMD, closer to the university than the neighborhood in question AND it may eventually lead to fewer students living in Old Town.

    The Cafritz vote is mind-boggling. College Park votes to oppose the rezoning, even though it can’t give specific reasons why. Looking back at old articles, one of the reasons given to oppose the Book Exchange development was that the site should somehow be used for other purposes — such as putting in an upscale grocery, like Trader Joes. But when the neighborhood gets an opportunity for a WHOLE FOODS to go in just down the road, along with a lot of other jobs & development to grow the tax base and add some amenities people always complain that are missing around here, they oppose THAT. Even though they seemed to get everything that was once asked for from the developer, including bike/ped trails and a plan to put in a CSX track crossing early in the project to alleviate concerns with traffic. Somehow, that’s still not good enough and so they fall back on traffic and cutting down trees to say NO.

    Granted, the Cafritz project isn’t perfect and there’s definitely issues to be concerned about. But it’s crazy so many NIMBY’s just want to shut it down, or tell Whole Foods they should be looking at some other sites around the area instead. Would they be happier to keep driving out to Silver Spring to shop at Trader Joes & Whole Foods ?? Sorry, but the optics of all this is pretty bad. College Park comes off looking backward, not ready for prime time — wanting better amenities, but not willing to take any risks to get there.

  5. “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.”

    Just what we need. Myopic council members who aren’t “comfortable”. Guess what, you’re no longer needed or wanted.

  6. Something I haven’t heard enough about is how this would affect the local hydrology. Paint Branch and the Anacostia are pretty gnarly these days, and I don’t think that replacing a forest with (presumably) a lot of pavement will alleviate the already-F’d water quality problems. What little the site plan mentions of water only concerns flood control — important, yes, but routing flood water is quite different from mitigating runoff pollutants and sediment. Until this plan addresses the impact on the health of local waterways, I would rather have a forest.

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