Talks Resume for Whole Foods Just South of College Park

There’s nothing like talk of a Whole Foods opening in the neighborhood to get local pulses racing. After a few years of recession-induced torpor, it appears that plans are again underway to develop the Cafritz Property, a 35.8-acre tract of undeveloped land on Route 1 immediately to the south of College Park. Whole Foods would like to be the anchor tenant for this development (it is listed among their “stores in development“. As the lively discussion on the Riverdale Park Patch shows, some locals regard this as the best thing since unsliced organic bread, while others view it as the latest in a line of development and transportation disasters to hit the area.

A little background. The Cafritz Property is an overgrown/wooded tract bounded by Route 1, the MARC/CSX train tracks, and the towns of College Park and Riverdale Park. It’s where the Green Line metro exits the tunnel shortly before College Park Station. See the location in a map or an aerial shot It is one of the largest undeveloped pieces of land inside the Beltway. The land is currently zoned for single-family housing, but the Cafritz family would like to develop it as a mixed-use development. There was a flurry of community meetings and discussion on the development back in 2007. And then we all know what happened to real estate development in 2008. Some older schematics can be found at the long-dormant web site for the development. It is rumored that the new plans for the property will reflect less density than the earlier plans. We have not yet seen specific plans, or heard of new community meetings. If the newer plans are well received, then the development could move ahead sooner than East Campus (remember that one?).

Already saving your pennies for those perfectly proportioned tomatoes? Or groaning in despair? Let us know in the comments.

Why is this development different from other struggling developments, e.g., University Town Center, which is barely limping along? Simple: Whole Foods. Like it or not, nothing gives a neighborhood a stamp of approval like the upscale grocer.

Should locals rejoice? Well, some like to see housing prices go up, and others are less enamored of the much discussed Whole Foods Effect. Some see it as a much needed boost to the local tax base. Others as a way to save on driving to Whole Foods in Silver Spring. Others as a much needed antidote to the local inferiority complex.

What about those nice trees? Who’s going to look out for the environment? If you want to save the tree canopy in your own back yard, then you have reason to be worried. But if you’re serious about saving the planet, then a broader view is needed. People gotta live someplace. And we can save more trees if they live in dense developments, rather than in sprawling suburban castles. Dense development is more likely to work when it’s within walking distance to a transportation hub (Green, Purple, MARC, Bus lines). Not to mention proximity to the university and M-Square. Packing people close to transportation is one of the best things you can do for saving trees.

And will it create transportation gridlock? Hard to tell, really. Route 1 can get congested in downtown CP, generally in the direction of the morning/evening commute. But the stretch near Cafritz is rarely backed up. Whole Foods would certainly attract traffic. How many of those cars are not already on Route 1 heading elsewhere is hard to tell. Would dense housing compound the travel nightmare? For CP as a whole, probably not. The traffic in town is so bad already in part because so few of the people who work or study here also live here. If more of those people lived here — and those are the people most likely to settle in the new development — then their commute wouldn’t be clogging up our roads so much. Many would be attracted to the development by the prospect of being able to walk to the Metro and to Whole Foods.

24 thoughts on “Talks Resume for Whole Foods Just South of College Park”

  1. This would definitely be good for College Park’s image and possibly property values. A different grocery store may also have some of that effect while also providing more accessible prices. Whole foods is too overpriced for many people to shop there regularly.

  2. Exactly right. It brings cachet to a neighborhood, but isn’t the best mainstay, particularly for a college town. That’s one of the reasons why UMd has consistently shown no interest in having Whole Foods as the grocery store in East Campus. (Same for Trader Joes – due to selection, rather than prices.)

  3. I wholeheartedly support the arrival of nice vendors to the area… unless it’s them. John Mackey can go to West Texas and shrivel up. How about a Harris Teeter? (I know, won’t happen- they only come after gentrification.) I’d be fine with Trader Joe’s.

  4. It’s good all around. I mean if we had to choose between Shoppers, Giant, or Safeway, I’d choose Whole Foods hands down. Trader Joes, like Harris Teeter, would likely come after gentrification. I recall Hyattsville petitioning Trader Joes years ago to no avail. RT. 1 has a lot going for it now with all the developments going on within a 3 mile stretch. I’m glad I live close enough to it for it to be within walking distance even though I’m in Adelphi.

    We need a quality grocer that provides a little more wholesome food choices. In addition, they are rated #1 for employee benefits. If they treat their employees well, the employees will treat their customers well. I look forward to it.

  5. This is by no means a done deal. They still have to go through the whole development approval process and build the thing. That could easily be 4 years. WF could easily pull out.

    Also, I think it’s fairly difficult to talk about gentrification here in the sense that it is understood in the region. CP/Riverdale/UP is the wealthiest community in the county. University Park is right across the street.

  6. Harris Teeter has been mentioned at times as a possible anchor for East Campus. It would be a good fit. But the choice of grocery store in EC could be driven by complex political forces.

  7. I very strongly support any plan that brings Whole Foods to the neighborhood, and the sooner the better. Not only would it be a boon to local property values, but also Whole Foods is an excellent store which I would patronize nearly exclusively. I’m sensitive to possible concerns about loss of trees and change in traffic, but I think these can — and WOULD — be mitigated responsibly by Whole Foods. The company has an excellent track record of responsible development. I think that would be especially true with excellent local politician Erik Olson being involved.

  8. Sorry for using the word “excellent” 3 times in a single comment (above)! I guess it’s obvious how I feel about Whole Foods coming.

  9. Whole Foods is nice, Trader Joe’s is a better fit for a college town. What about offering TJ’s one of the retail spaces below all the new high rises on Route 1? Or the empty car dealership next to McDonald’s? Lots of parking and access to hungry students…

  10. There will be a grocery store in East Campus once it is built out. For this reason there’s no interest in establishing another grocery store a block or two away. (Whole Foods would be more than a mile away, different matter.) When asked in the past about Trader Joes, the university & developers have explained that it’s not suitable for East Campus because it is not a full service grocery store. For sure, it has a lot of neat stuff. I shop there all the time. But TJ’s makes no commitment to having all the basics available. So not the same as a regular grocery store. It’s an interesting argument.

  11. “People gotta live someplace. And we can save more trees if they live in dense developments, rather than in sprawling suburban castles.”

    We could save even more trees if Central Park were redeveloped like the rest of mid-town Manhattan, but does anyone think that would be a good idea?

    If you’re going to pack people into denser environments, which makes sense for a number of reasons, it’s even more important to provide green oases that sustain the human spirit.

    That’s not an argument for putting “sprawling suburban castles” on Cafritz, but for preserving the green space — perhaps as a park that could do at least as much for the local quality of life as a yupscale grocery store.

    The current trends indicate that there will be more and more shopping amenities in the Rte. 1 communities in the future, but less and less green space. Shouldn’t we try to preserve some of what’s left of the latter?

    Do what Hyattsville did and put the commercial yuppie playgrounds on under-performing and less dense commercial tracts. That makes better economic as well as environmental sense. And it leaves us with a few places to breathe.

  12. Chris, how many parks do you need? The Maryland suburbs are known for their numerous parks. There are parks everywhere. Greenbelt Park and Cherry Hill park are a few of the largest in the region. Every time I drive in my car in this area, I’m passing a park. You can’t compare this area to New York City. They are even building a park right next to the Varsity. Can we get a grocery store please? Just one? lol So I don’t have to drive to Downtown Silver Spring for natural quality food. We are inside the beltway less than 5 miles from the D.C. line and next to two metro stations. You can’t possibly expect undeveloped land to go untouched for very long or be converted into yet another park. The D.C. area is growing due to a healthy job market. People need a place to live. Are we going to send them all into our farmland? Or into the neighboring counties where they can add to their tax revenues? Let’s keep the parks we have and keep our outer suburbs and rural areas green.

  13. @ Chris:
    To “preserve the human spirit”: develop in ways that gets people driving less.
    For “better economic as well as environmental sense”: build near transit.
    The current situation, where we have a station that hosts 1 metro line already, with another in the works, plus MARC rail, plus buses, while very few people live nearby, is economically and environmentally irresponsible. People will drive less if they live and work very close to transit. Simple as that.
    The comparison with NYC is not realistic. Look at a satellite map of the area: the existing amount of green space is remarkable. And those spaces are woefully underused at present. Too bad, as the green spaces around College Park are really quite good.

  14. A Whole Foods would be a tremendous asset to our community, and I would love to have a grocery store that I could walk to from my neighborhood. I am not a Whole Foods shopper now, but I would certainly become one if it was built on the Cafritz property.

    The idea that the Cafritz family should simply hold on to undeveloped land indefinitely is not realistic. This area has plenty of great parks already, and as it is now, the Cafritz property is an overgrown jungle that nobody can enjoy. If the development is done well, it will provide more opportunities for exercise and recreation than it currently does. It should include a continuation of the Trolley Trail biking/walking trail, and perhaps other trails and recreation areas. Trees can be preserved on the property, too. I’ve seen such a development around a quality grocery store in Texas, and if it can be done there, it could certainly be done here, too.

    University Park Guy – I appreciate your enthusiasm, and I hope that you are right about Eric Olson. Remember that he did not support the Cafritz development when it was discussed several years ago, writing in a comment on Rethink College Park, “Setting aside the ‘Whole Foods’ talk (which the developers knew would get the most support), the site is not even zoned for such development, and Route 1 could not handle the thousands of cars per day that the development would bring. Beyond all this, people contacting me opposed the project by wide margins. I’m willing to support good, well thought out projects that enhance our community even if there is some opposition – that’s the nature of redevelopment, and my record supports that. However, when the flaws are so great, like at the Cafritz property, I cannot be a party to such development. I confess I have high standards for the vacant properties on Route 1 and won’t just accept anything that comes along – otherwise we lose in the long run.” (http://rethinkcollegepark.net/blog/2010/3046/)

    The comment above is troubling, but perhaps Eric will support the new plans for the property. I hope that those of us who support the project will be vocal in making our support known, once the plans are revealed, since those opposed seem to be so vocal. I also worry that to many of our local politicians, there is no development that is good enough for them (see the opposition to the Maryland Book Exchange project at its very early stages). In my opinion, developments don’t have to be perfect, because every aspect is subjective. You can’t please everyone, and we need to give developers a reasonable chance to make a profit.

    I also worry about the traffic argument. Will Eric Olson and others continue to say that Route 1 can’t handle the traffic a Whole Foods would generate? Personally, I have only gotten stuck in really bad traffic on Route 1 a handful of times in the last five years, and it has almost always involved a football game or construction. (Of course, I use Metro to commute to work and don’t see everyday rush hour traffic, so I can’t comment on that.) I find people that complain about traffic on Route 1 hypocritical, because they want to be able to drive without congestion but don’t want other people to be able to drive and crowd up the roads. A Whole Foods and other quality retail/restaurants on the Cafritz property would help keep many of us off the road, and I’m sure many College Park/University Park/Beltsville/Laurel residents would be stopping there when driving home anyway on Route 1.

    I’ll be eagerly awaiting more details about the plans for the development, and hoping that the rezoning request will be successful. Unfortunately, with the speed of development in this county, it will probably be years before we see anything happen, but I hope to see progress made.

  15. This is not a choice between building on farms or building in dense transit oriented areas. It’s about not building on the dwindling green space in established communities. Believe it or not, replacing green space with impervious surface impacts our local water quality, erodes our streams, and floods our communities. The author of this post clearly has no understanding of this.

    If we want a Whole Foods (or other upscale grocery store), put it on land that is NOT a greenfield, there are plenty of existing impervious lots in and around College Park that can be redeveloped. There is such an abundance that deciding to build on the Cafritz land is even more short sighted and irresponsible. Putting this kind of a store in East Campus (brownfield development) would make a lot more sense if you want to be environmentally conscious.

    Development is not automatically environmentally responsible just because it’s near transit and in in a densely populated area. That is a criteria it should meet, but it’s not the only criteria.

  16. @Bill I certainly have no reservations for building a Whole Foods on the parking lots in front of UTC on 410. It’s less than a mile away. Therefore Whole Foods wouldn’t be too far from the demographics it’s trying to reach. I say bring it!

  17. Just because you have to cut down trees to build it doesn’t make it environmentally irresponsible. The Cafritz property has pretty much zero ecological value. It’s also inaccurate to call it a greenfield. The site was originally used for World War II defense housing development. It is wedged between a WMATA tunnel, the CSX tracks, Route 1, and a major post office facility. It’s a second growth forest with zero connectivity to ecologically significant protected lands. As someone else noted, there is ample greenspace in the area.

    MNCPPC manages and extensive stream valley park system with trails and several fields. There is also ample green space on the UMD campus.

    These parks are already underutilized. If you’re proposing the developer keep the property as a park, then please suggest where the county will come up money to purchase it. This isn’t a choice between a mixed use development and a park no matter how much neighborhood opponents would like it to be. It’s a choice between a) a mixed use development with buffering, open space (30% of the site during previous talks) and ample community involvement in the development review process or b) a cookie-cutter single-family home neighborhood for which the property is already zoned. There is always a better place, but the proposal is for this specific site.

    I trust that Eric Olson will be able to successfully broker and agreement between the developer and community groups to bring much needed amenities to the area that the vast majority of people would like to see.

  18. I am not so certain Eric Olson will successfully broker an agreement. Former Councilman Tom Dernoga and Councilman Eric Olson have not been able to promote development in College Park. In fact, they have killed several very good projects, in some cases using questionable tactics. The only projects of any significance that have come online are University related. The University has the influence to bypass these Councilmen. This is the only reason they were built. Our leadership is the reason College Park and Rt. 1 in particular looks the way it does, filled with vacant lots, runned down buildings, and closed businesses, while neighboring cities are growing and thriving.

    Recent ethics legislation was proposed that would have limited the County Council’s input in development projects. In no other Maryland jurisdiction does the County Council have the influence over development like Prince George’s County. In other jurisdictions in Maryland, input and decisions come from professional land planners, not politicians pandering for votes with NO development or land use experience. Allowing experienced professionals to handle matters of development puts the process in professional decision makers hands and limits politics and corruption from the process. Our elected County Council did not want this legislation enacted. They did not want to give up their influence or power despite the fact that this would be in the best interest of Prince George’s.

    This is the same council that gets paid the highest salary in the state approximately $97,000 per year for a part time job. Other counties such as Montgomery, Howard and Baltimore pay the County Council between $44,000 and 53,000. Oh by the way, last year they voted to give themselves a raise.

  19. I agree the development review process is very political in Prince George’s. No doubt. That’s a major emphasis of this site. Dernoga did a lot to harm good projects in north College Park. He quashed projects or delayed them into the recession where the financing fell apart. South of 193, in Olson’s district, it’s a little bit different. Student housing was the only recession-proof development. Yes, these projects had the university’s support, but they also had the financing package and were not being obfuscated by Olson.

    Fortunately things are turning around. Domain was recently approved in his district. It will be interesting to see how other projects unfold in Olson’s district after we come out of the recession… east campus, a scaled down cafritz proposal, book exchange, etc.

  20. “$97,000 per year for a part time job” What kind of f’ing joke is that?! They’re not worth that kind of money!

  21. I’ll keep saying it till blue in the face … if you are serious about protecting the environment, then building densely close to transportation hubs should be a #1 priority. No ifs or buts.

    To see why, look up (i) the amount of CO2 that a typical American puts into the atmosphere, through driving, heating/cooling large houses, etc; and (ii) the amount of CO2 absorbed by a mature tree. You’ll find that (i) dwarfs (ii). SO, the biggest gains are to be had by reducing the carbon footprint of humans. And you do that by putting them close to transportation, stores, schools, workplace, etc., and in a place where they’re happy to live in smaller/denser dwelling.

    For sure, the building should be done responsibly, with state-of-the-art practices and management of run-offs etc. But those are details. Build densely near transportation hubs is #1.

  22. One of the challenges to recruiting faculty and for that matter, graduate students, to the university is that College Park offers few of the amenities that many college towns offer. That means that many who come to build careers at the university take their income and tax dollars to other localities. For those of us who elect to live in the area of the university, the quality of the grocery stores and restaurants often mean we drive to Bethesda or Silver Spring. I believe we need good development on the Cafritz property and East Campus.

    My experience in a previous home was that the advent of Whole Foods in a low income neighborhood brought jobs, foot traffic and ultimately spawned other businesses. College Park and for that matter, the county, needs these opportunities. I support the development and when Whole Foods opens, I predict there will be a line waiting outside!

  23. when new faculty and graduate students come to look at the university, one of the obstacles to recruiting them is the state of the community. Even when they consider College Park as a place to live, the quality of the grocery stores and restaurants is a challenge. Therefore, many take their income and taxes to other counties, leaving Prince George’s and College Park to fall Additional quality development, including restaurants and stores, will help with the property values and improve quality of life.

    every single weekend, we leave Prince George’s County to shop, go out to eat and often to go to movies. We shop at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s in Silver Spring, in part because the quality of the grocery stores in the College Park/Greenbelt area is just not very good. We would prefer to spend our money in our county, and the new development with a Whole Foods will help us do that. (We are thrilled with the addition of Busboys and Poets, and have been there several times already).

    Finally, when we moved to our old neighborhood in another city, there was no Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s. In 2002, Whole Foods opened in a low income community. It sparked a re-development in that area that included restaurants, shops, a Trader Joe’s, housing and now a new Target. It also sparked an upgrade for the Giant Eagle grocery store that enhanced its quality significantly. It became not only a source of jobs and revenue, but a destination for people from all over the city.

    I support this development and will be at the Whole Foods the first week it opens. Now, add to all this a great development on East Campus, and we might find people choosing to live in College Park more often.

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