Some local residents and city officials are breathing a sigh of relief after preliminary plans for the Cafritz development were pulled from the Prince George’s County Planning Board earlier this month.
The developer, Calvert Tract, LLC, failed to meet conditions for county approval of some preliminary plans and may not reapply for months, according to Patrick Wojahn, District 1 city councilman. Despite the allure of a new Whole Foods store and additional housing, some local residents have found it difficult to support development of the 37-acre property, a project estimated at $226 million. Local governments have also criticized it harshly as a rushed development that would do more harm than good for the municipalities involved: College Park, Riverdale Park and University Park.
“The developer just seems to want to cut corners at every turn,” Wojahn said.
However, Chip Reed, the Cafritz development attorney, believes the plans have had a more extensive review process than any other project he’s been a part of in 30 years.
“You couldn’t have more hearings, almost, than this has had,” Reed said. “There would be, and is, no attempt to shortchange or shortcut any process whatsoever.”
The Cafritz development has been in deliberation for so long in part because many separate local governments have been involved, Reed said.
In addition, there was a major point of contention surrounding the potential construction of a bridge and roadway on land owned by the American Center for Physics, which neighbors the property, Wojahn said.
“The developer had represented that he had a letter from the American Center for Physics,” Wojahn said. “It turns out that that letter was a letter that the attorney for the developer himself had drafted that had not been approved by the [ACP].”
But Reed said when he first presented the letter to the University Park town council, he specifically noted it was labeled “draft” in order to avoid misrepresenting the ACP’s views.
“I got up and stated emphatically that I drafted this letter,” Reed said. “I do not represent the American Center for Physics; I don’t speak for the American Center for Physics.”
While Bernard Khoury, the ACP liaison to the community, said the letter gave residents another reason to oppose the development, he added it should not be seen as “foul play” in any way.
“[Reed] made a judgment, and it came out in retrospect to hurt him,” Khoury said. “He has apologized for that action, so I see that action behind us now.”
The ACP still considers the proposal for construction on its land to be an “active proposal” regardless of what happened two weeks ago, Khoury said.
Students also should not be upset with the project’s delay, said Josh Ratner, Student Government Association liaison to the city council.
“It would have been nice to have the Whole Foods, but now there’s a potential to have something closer to campus if that works out,” Ratner said.
However, several area locals said they harbor some concerns about any development on the site — Riverdale Park resident Bruce Wernek said construction would essentially mean “genocide for the wildlife.”
“It’s a terrible situation for the wildlife,” he said. “Sure, we have to have economic development and all, but we have to think about, well, what are the impacts to the other living things on the planet?”
The Cafritz family will reapply as soon as possible, Reed said. In the coming months, the ACP will need to decide whether allowing the bridge and roadway on its property would be beneficial, Khoury said.
“We’re continuing to evaluate whether we want that done,” he said. “There are clearly some benefits, so the issue we’re looking at is how we balance the downside to the upside.”