If anyone thought the Cafritz Project was a done deal, events over the course of less than one week have been enough to shake that belief. Headlines taken from the Riverdale Patch show how quickly the narrative can change:
All the controversy and hearings over Cafritz last year were to approve a rezoning plan that would allow the 37 acre property to be changed from single family detached residential to mixed use town center. After the Prince George’s District Council approved the Cafritz rezoning plan last July, there were two other major steps requiring county approval before construction could begin on a Whole Foods, luxury hotel and nearly 1000 housing units: (1) Preliminary Plan of Subdivision, and (2) Detailed Site Plan.
The Preliminary Plan of Subdivision (PPS) was originally scheduled for review by the County Planning Board on Jan. 17th. However, the Riverdale Park Town Council found issues with the proposed path of the hiker-biker trail and the crossing over CSX rail lines. County Planning Board staff also found the proposal failed to meet several conditions required for passage and recommended disapproval of the PPS. Shortly afterwards, the Cafritz development team decided to temporarily withdraw its proposal.
Of all the concerns raised with the Cafritz PPS, issues with the proposed CSX crossing are the most problematic. Opponents have long argued that a project of this scale would only exacerbate traffic woes on Route 1. Smart growth measures such as a hiker/biker trail extension and shuttles to College Park & Prince George’s Plaza Metro stations helped alleviate some concerns, but the CSX crossing was a key component to address Route 1 issues head on and win over many Cafritz skeptics, since it provided another path for future traffic. The funding and timing of a CSX crossing was one of the final issues resolved last year before the rezoning plan was approved by University Park and Riverdale Park. The CSX crossing is also featured prominently in the long list of conditions that were agreed upon before final approval of the Cafritz rezoning.
Last month, the mood was more optimistic, as the Cafritz development team shared an early version of the PPS with the Riverdale Town Council. The PPS specified that the CSX crossing would be an elevated bridge placed at a location involving the use of property belonging to the American Center for Physics (ACP). At the time, the Cafritz team mentioned that ACP approval could be a potential stumbling block, but remained confident. However, it turned out ACP wasn’t on board with this vision and eventually opted to launch its own investigation of the potential impacts of the CSX crossing. No decision from ACP is forthcoming until its independent analysis is complete, which is predicted to take at least several months. Further, ACP sent out a strongly worded letter about the CSX crossing to officials in Riverdale Park, University Park and College Park that included the following passage:
“The ACP Board is angry that a letter was provided at the Monday, January 14th, meeting of the University Park Town Council, which erroneously appeared to present ACP’s support for having a roadway across our property. That letter was never reviewed or authorized by the ACP Board.”
Shortly afterwards, the Cafritz development team decided to withdraw the PPS from consideration.
This turn of events leaves Cafritz developers scrambling to satisfy the conditions of the rezoning approval while also meeting its own development goals, which called for construction to start by January 2014 and the opening of a Whole Foods Market a year later. Though the Cafritz team has until the end of January to submit the PPS to the county, it may take months before they reapply. If Cafritz developers can eventually reach an agreement with ACP or find a viable alternative location for the CSX crossing, their path towards groundbreaking becomes much clearer. If not, the lack of a CSX crossing threatens to send the massive project back to square one.