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Cafritz project tests Prince George's commitment to TOD

The owners of the Cafritz property in Riverdale Park want a zoning change to build a major mixed-use development on a wooded, 37-acre single-family-zoned property with, at best, mediocre access to transit. If Prince George's County is serious about its commitment to smart growth and development around its 15 Metro stations, it will deny the rezoning.

Boulevard at Cap Centre, a better site for this development. Image from Google Earth

In recent years, Prince George's has repeatedly rezoned low-density sites with poor transit access all around the county, such as the Westphalia and Konterra mega-projects.

The county is desperate to attract high-quality mixed-use development, but all too often, this desperation leads it to act against its own best interests. Each time the county allows a huge project in any arbitrary location, it becomes less likely that the right kind of development will come to the Metro sites.

The Cafritz owners want to build 2 million square feet of mixed-use commercial, residential, and hotel space, including a Whole Foods Market. Building the retail there would make stores less likely to locate at other sites which are closer to transit and already zoned for high-density mixed-use development, like the Boulevard at Capital Centre near the Largo Town Center Metro, University Town Center at Prince George's Plaza, or Arts District Hyattsville.

On February 2, the Prince George's County Planning Board of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) will resume its deliberations over whether to recommend the rezoning to the County Council. The County Council will then hold a second public hearing and receive additional public comments before deciding whether to rezone the property.

Recently, I argued that the Boulevard at Capital Centre is a better location for the Whole Foods and the rest of the project. Alex Block argued, "Metro isn't the be-all and end-all of transit. The [Cafritz] project is a perfectly reasonable infill development site."

The Cafritz property site may indeed be perfectly reasonable for some kind of infill development, such as a suburban residential subdivision of 200 homes with some limited "corner store"-type convenience retail. But 2 million square feet of development, including 995 housing units and more than 370,000 square feet of retail, office, and hotel space, is not a reasonable infill project for that location. That's more than 4 times the size of the current development at the Boulevard at Cap Centre, near a Metro station.

Without excellent existing transit options, this much development will induce a disastrous amount of auto traffic. Even the Planning Board staff says the traffic generated by this proposed development will exceed countywide master plan of transportation vehicle limits for the US-1/East-West Highway area. (See pp. 33-36 of the staff report.)

Meanwhile, the 69-acre Boulevard site can easily accommodate the level of development proposed for Cafritz Property. It's also already zoned for high-density mixed use development. In fact, the county's 2002 General plan designated the Largo Town Center station area as a "Metropolitan Center," suitable for the most intensive "downtown-style" development in the county. The county Revenue Authority owns the Boulevard site, so it could easily facilitate this development.

The Boulevard site is already cleared, so developing there would not require further deforestation and could even improve stormwater treatment by replacing the existing sea of surface parking with buildings and additional trees. The Largo Town Center Metro would absorb more of the travel demand, and deevlopment here would be more consistent with the county's master plan of transportation and with smart growth principles generally.

Besides taking retail and housing demand away from potential Metro sites, the Caftitz project could detract from nearby mixed-use projects already in progress. The brand-new 25-acre Arts District Hyattsville development is just 1 mile south of the Cafritz site. Although construction is still underway on the first phase of that development, the entire project will eventually have 500 housing units and 40,000 SF of commercial space when completed.

Similarly, about 1.3 miles to the west of the Cafritz site, near Prince George's Plaza Metro Station, sits the 56-acre University Town Center development. Construction began in earnest on that site in the 1990s and was really beginning to gain momentum in the mid-2000s, until the economy tanked. Recently, several buildings in that development were foreclosed upon and are being held by Wells Fargo, until the original developer can recover or a new owner is found.

There is still oodles of space remaining at UTC for high-density mixed-use residential and commercial development of the type proposed for the Cafritz site, without the need for any zoning changes or clearing of wooded land. Furthermore, UTC is within a half-mile of a Metro station and can accommodate any additional need for high-density retail, residential, and commercial development in the surrounding retail market area, which includes nearby Riverdale Park.

Before authorizing the up-zoning of new greenfield sites like the Cafritz property, the county should insist that developers maximize the development potential at existing Metro stations, such as the Boulevard at Cap Centre or University Town Center, or at existing inner-Beltway mixed use projects like Arts District Hyattsville. If Prince George's County is going to be successful in attracting the type of quality investment and development it says it wants around its Metro stations, its leaders have to be disciplined about following the county's comprehensive land use policies.

The county can't keep approving the wrong type of development in the wrong locations just because a particular property owner or developer wants it. It would be great for the county to gain 2 million square feet of high-quality transit-oriented development, but that needs to happen at the Largo Town Center Metro or one of the other existing Metro station areas in need of such high-intensity development.

Bradley Heard is an attorney and citizen activist who resides in the Capitol Heights area of Prince George's County. A native of Virginia Beach and former longtime Atlanta resident, Brad hopes to encourage high-quality, walkable and bikeable development in the inner Beltway region of Prince George's County. 


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I still disagree that Largo makes a better site for Whole Foods than the Cafritz Property, but you raise a good point about University Town Center, which had a site for a Safeway (with apartments or a hotel on top, I can't remember).

Hyattsville Patch wrote about shops closing at UTC (it was in yesterday's Breakfast Links, I think), followed by a really interesting and intelligent comment thread about why that development is struggling. One commenter suggested that Whole Foods could be a good fit for that development, and I tend to agree.

I think nothing should happen at Cafritz until Prince George's County and the city of Hyattsville fix the area around Prince George's Plaza and get those empty shops filled. More than any place in the county (including New Carrollton, IMO), PG Plaza and Route 1 between College Park & Hyattsville has the potential to become a major regional, transit-served destination for offices, shopping, housing, etc. In other words, another Silver Spring or Bethesda

Cafritz is great, but you're right: it's a little far from Metro, and it's a wooded site. It's a good place for development, and I think it should be developed eventually. But it makes more sense to finish what you started, at least right now.

by dan reed! on Jan 31, 2012 12:42 pm • linkreport

One of the basic problems with UTC is the design. Its not designed well for pedestrians especially but its not designed well for arriving by auto either.

by Tina on Jan 31, 2012 12:59 pm • linkreport

Also, I do not like the idea of tearing up a forest that has been there for 50 years even though I like other parts of the Caffritz plan. I am not at all enamored with the shopping center in Largo. Maybe its a good place but I would never go there. I would go to Rte 1 or UTC, even with UTCs weaknesses.

by Tina on Jan 31, 2012 1:04 pm • linkreport

The developer can't just pick up and move the project to another site. The proposal is for this site with Whole Foods and a number of developer-financed amenities. They've spent years engaging with the community and fine tuning plans. It's a take it or leave it proposition.

by David on Jan 31, 2012 1:17 pm • linkreport

@David - Spot on. It's a take it or leave it proposition now. After so much time and effort on hammering out a pretty broad agreement (except College Park, which seems to oppose everything), any changes basically puts it back to square one.

I'd also disagree with the idea that this is a greenfield. It's somewhere between green and brown, really. It's not like it's usable park land for the community - it's overgrown, relatively new trees with the old foundations of 40's era housing still there. Personally, I'd hope we could get the WMATA strip on the North side turned into a mix of light development and usable park. It would blend into Calvert Hills nicely.

by Distantantennas on Jan 31, 2012 1:38 pm • linkreport

I agree that UTC should be finished before another project is started. The problem is, there is no "destination" retail that will draw people in. I think UTC is an excellent location. I too am surprised that it stalled so abruptly. And why was the Safeway the end all be all? There wasn't another grocer itching to get in UTC being so close to a Metro? I think there are deeper issues that we haven't seen. I believe it is just bad management. You have 410 and a Metro station within a 5 minute walk and you had to foreclose? bad economy or not, that's just bad management.

by adelphi_sky on Jan 31, 2012 1:44 pm • linkreport

Unless the County chooses to condem UTC, pay the owners for the seizure and then develop it itself, I don't think there's a way to speed up UTC. My understanding is that the financing got messed up in the collapse, on top of issues with the design. UTC would also do a lot better if PG Plaza were redeveloped into something more walkable and 410 became less of a traffic gutter.

by Distantantennas on Jan 31, 2012 2:11 pm • linkreport

It would be a mistake to block this development based on: 1) wishful thinking about the imminence of development at other sites; or 2) the assumption that development resembles a zero-sum game where a successful, high-end development anywhere in PG County takes away from the prospects for success elsewhere.

Bradley, you state that: construction at University Town Center "began in earnest on that site in the 1990s and was really beginning to gain momentum in the mid-2000s." Yet fifteen years has not brought destination retail to that site. And I don't think the Riverdale Park site is realistically a competitor for customers and development with the Boulevard at Cap Center -- drawing a 4-5 mile driving radius around each site simply doesn't have that much overlap.

Rather than stealing development opportunities from Metro-accessible locations, successful projects anywhere in PG County can help make development at the Metro sites a success. Having development successfully navigate the many hurdles to fruition will help turn around the perception that PG County is a place where business investment goes to die, whereas killing Cafritz will reinforce existing negative perceptions. Metro is a sufficiently limited amenity in the DC area that Metro-accessible sites will eventually be developed, but until there are developers ready to make that investment , it's time to start making PG County an attractive place to live, work, and shop by accepting development where the groundwork has been laid.

In short, the county shouldn't hold its residents hostage to waiting for a proposal for the "perfect" location.

by Arl Fan on Jan 31, 2012 2:19 pm • linkreport

Uh, I grew up about a mile away from the proposed site, and I'm all for it. I think this site will do better than the UTC over by the Plaza. Being just south of College Park will draw in customers. Hyattsville just lost a Safeway on Hamilton near Queen's Chapel. The biggest grocery store on Route 1 is a Shopper's just north of College Park right by the 495 interchange.

by Paul C on Jan 31, 2012 2:20 pm • linkreport

@ David & Distantantennas: If the developer's proposition for the Cafritz site is "take it or leave it," the answer should be: leave it--at least for right now. That scale of development is not appropriate in that particular location (too far from transit, and too close to other massive mixed-use retail developments that are transit-oriented, auto-accessible, and have plenty room for expansion).

There are many, many ways to develop the Cafritz site -- and not just with single-family homes. But the role of the planning and zoning authorities is to ensure that the right type of development occurs in the right places in the county, irrespective of what any particular developer wants to do with a paritcular piece of property. Development, particularly at that scale, has to be in accordance with a countywide strategy for growth and development.

@ Arl Fan: The real "mistake" (and it's one that the county has made time and again) would be to approve this project when it goes contrary to the county's stated policies of focusing large-scale development and growth around Metro station areas and making it transit-oriented. Development may not exactly be a zero-sum game, but it's close. Any market area can only support so much development--and only so much of a particular type of development. So, if you put 2 million square feet of retail, office, and housing at Cafritz, it does in fact reduce the likelihood that UTC and PG Plaza will get the density they need to support high-scale transit-oriented development. And if the goal is to make your Metro sites the focus of development, approving the Cafritz project runs counter to that goal. That's just the naked truth.

And no, the county shouldn't sit around "waiting for a proposal for the 'perfect' location." Its economic development folks should be actively marketing development opportunities and incentivizing the right kind of growth. To the extent TIF bonds are used as an incentive, they should be used only where the county's comprehensive plans dictate that large-scale TOD should go (e.g., within a half-mile of a Metro station). The Cafritz team is looking for TIF bonds to help them build the CSX bridge. Why should the county spends its own tax dollars to help a developer build in the wrong place?!

Responsible developers, many of whom work extensively in other jurisdictions in the DC area, understand and will be responsive to coordinated, clearly stated, and consistently followed (i.e., predictable) development policy and process--ones that do not depend on bribery, corruption, and "say-one-thing-do-another" politics and politicians, as we saw in the last county administration (and in too many others before that). This county has too many people and too much money to be kowtowing to the whims of individual developers and property owners.

by Bradley Heard on Jan 31, 2012 3:20 pm • linkreport

One large plot of land is closer to any Metro station than most of the projects you mentioned, and you don't even have to raze many, if any, existing structures to accommodate a dense TOD development. This land is the West Hyattsville Metro station. You can build hundreds of thousands of square feet of mixed use development literally on top of the metro station. It already has an existing street grid surrounding the property, and is closer to downtown DC (12 minutes from Gallery Place) than even Prince George's Plaza. Despite years of rumored development, this plot of land continues to remain vacant, and is even partially returning to its natural wooded state. Carfritz would do well to relocate the Whole Foods and residential/commercial mix to this location. My property values would also benefit.

by Scott M. on Jan 31, 2012 3:29 pm • linkreport

It's misleading to lump the Cafritz site in with Westphalia and Konterra - both of those are sprawling developments on the fringe, while the Cafritz site is within the developed tier. If you want to push development to those metro sites (all else being equal), you've picked the wrong enemy. The Riverdale area doesn't have the best transit accessibility, but it has the potential to dramatically improve, both via MARC and via Route 1 improvements.

From the staff planning report (page 21):

Staff agrees with the applicant that this application is generally consistent with the
2002 General Plan Development Pattern policies for the Developed Tier. The 2002 General Plan
designated the Riverdale MARC station, currently located in the existing mixed-use town center,
as a possible future community center. This subject application is located in the Developed Tier.
The vision for the Developed Tier is a network of sustainable transit supporting, mixed-use,
pedestrian-oriented, medium- to high-density neighborhoods. The property is also located along
the Baltimore Avenue Corridor as designated by the 2002 General Plan.

by Alex B. on Jan 31, 2012 3:47 pm • linkreport


Don't get me wrong: I'm all for development at Cafritz, but I still think University Town Center is a better place to put stuff. I guess what I'd like to see is how the county and surrounding towns (Hyattsville, College Park, University Park, Riverdale Park, etc.) see Cafritz, UTC, downtown Hyattsville/the Arts District and downtown College Park fitting into a larger vision. Can we ensure that each of these developments can occupy their own niche without cannibalizing each other? I think the demand is there (now and in the future) to support all of this stuff, but only if it's handled correctly.

by dan reed! on Jan 31, 2012 4:23 pm • linkreport

@Paul C-there's a Yes! Organic grocery store in the EYA development next door to the Busboys and Poets on Rte 1.

by Tina on Jan 31, 2012 4:27 pm • linkreport

@ Alex: No, the Cafritz project, as currently contemplated, is still an enemy to responsible TOD. All Developed Tier locations are not the same. Yes, the Riverdale area and the Route 1 corridor have the potential to improve their transit accessibility -- but the Cafritz site will still be just outside of the ped shed for the Riverdale MARC station and the CP Metro Station. Also, the Arts District Hyattsville development, which is closer and more accessible to the Riverdale MARC (w/o having to traverse the E-W Hwy) sufficiently meets the TOD demand for that station area for the foreseeable future. Like I said, the Cafritz site is still appropriate for some type of modestly-scaled TOD (primarily residential)--just not at the scale and density envisioned in this proposal.

And BTW, it's worth noting that the Riverdale MARC Center is currently only a "possible future community center" according to the 2002 General Plan, which also had Westphalia listed as a "possible future community center." Thanks to corrupt developers and a former county executive who are now all on their way to jail, Westphalia was up-zoned from a "possible community center" to a current General Plan "regional center" in 2007, to justify the massive sprawl development they wanted to see there.

by Bradley Heard on Jan 31, 2012 4:43 pm • linkreport

...and if you think there should be better transit along Rt. 1 than you should be advocating for the return of streetcars or BRT.
For the life of me, I cannot figure out your fascination with this Largo site. How is this site better able to capture transit trips vs. Cafritz? Where are the connections to residential areas for trips by bike or on foot? The Cafritz location provides easy non-motorized access from CP, Hyattsville, Riverdale Park, and University Park. Not to mention only slightly less easy non-motorized access from Mt. Rainier, Edmonston, Brentwood, East Riverdale Park, Colmar Manor, Cottage City, Berwyn and Berwyn Heights. All areas that are fairly well served by mass transit.
The Largo site is surrounded by big box, suburban sprawl development and has zero connections to (what there are of them) residential areas nearby. I can't speak to the bus connections, but my guess is, they aren't great. One metro station (serving mainly commuters) outside the beltway is hardly going to reduce trips made by motor vehicle.
Rt. 1 can and should become an economic engine for the county and state. Your Largo idea simply pushes more development where we can least afford to put it.

I would agree with you Re: UTC however.

+1 to the mention of West Hyattsville station by Paul C.

by thump on Jan 31, 2012 5:02 pm • linkreport


It's still very misleading to lump the Cafritz site with Konterra and Westphalia. Very different contexts. Likewise, you assert that the Cafrtiz site is not in compliance with the County's plan - and despite flaws in the plan, that's clearly not the case. This is

I'm curious - what studies tell you that the Arts District project "sufficiently meets the TOD demand for that station area for the foreseeable future."?

I appreciate your enthusiasm, I just don't know that it's focused in the right spot.

by Alex B. on Jan 31, 2012 5:04 pm • linkreport

@dan reed- As crazy as it may sound, I'd like to see the communities along Rt. 1 secede from PG County and govern themselves. I'm fairly certain we'd do a better job and pay less in taxes than we currently do (1st or 2nd highest in the region??).

by thump on Jan 31, 2012 5:14 pm • linkreport

Remember the carrot in front of the donkey. Well, the carrot is the Whole Foods Market. According with the College Park Counsel, there is a remote consideration from Whole Foods' to open a store in this area. The developer is using this to lure our community into irresponsible development. Lets be smart, if Whole Foods wants to open a store, it can use the current available commercial real state. In the meantime, lets enjoy and take of what we have.

by Gabriel Iriarte on Jan 31, 2012 5:18 pm • linkreport

@ thump: I'm glad we agree on UTC, and I, too, give a +1 to Paul's West Hyattsville Metro suggestion. That, too, is a perfectly appropriate spot to locate a development on the scale of the Cafritz project. The point of my piece is not that the Cafritz development, in particular, should come to Largo. Rather, it's that the Cafritz development doesn't belong at that location in Riverdale Park, but instead should go to a Metro Station area (like PG Plaza/UTC or West Hyattsville or Largo).

Regarding Largo specifically, it's not that I'm not "fascinated" with the Boulevard at Cap Centre. However, the reality is that it's immensely better equipped (as nearly any Metro station area would be) to caputre transit trips than the Cafritz site. The Largo Town Center Metro is adjacent to the Boulevard and within easy walking distance. There are 10 bus routes that directly connect at the station -- far more than connect on Rt. 1 at the Cafritz site. There are scores of acres upon which to build 1.5 million SF of housing, both at the Boulevard itself and on the surrounding parcels on the other side of the Metro and across Arena Drive. Indeed, the area needs more housing units to support the retail uses and the Metro Station itself. Like it or not, there is a Metro station already built in Largo, which represents a significant infrastructure investment by the county and the region in the area. Therefore, it needs to be developed. (And to your secession and tax-paying point, locating development where transit infrastructure already exists saves far more tax dollars and is better for the environment.)

@ Alex: The County's current plan for the Cafritz site is reflected in its current zoning: R-55 (residential single-family detached housing). And for all the recent county plans that have come around the Route 1 corridor, the county's zoning of that property hasn't changed. What the property owner is trying to do here is request a change to the county's plan for the area and relate it to a nearby plan -- the Riverdale MUTC Plan. And let's be clear: they're doing that for their own economic self-interest, not necessarily for the good of the county. As for your question about market studies, I haven't done an exhaustive search; however, I did look at a recent study done by the Hyattsville CDC which seemed to suggest that that there may not be as great a need for paritcular types of retail development in the corridor area. The study did suggest that the area could use a specialty grocer like Whole Foods -- but that doesn't mean it needs to go on the Cafritz site. That's the point. It can and should go somewhere in the area that can better accommodate that use, like UTC or W.Hyattsville.

@ Gabriel: Couldn't agree more. +1

by Bradley Heard on Jan 31, 2012 7:38 pm • linkreport


Assuming that current zoning matches planning is a dubious assumption.

by Alex B. on Jan 31, 2012 8:05 pm • linkreport

@Bradley-I disagree that Largo captures more transit trips. There are a number of bus lines around the Cafritz property and my guess is that some bus routes would be rerouted to capture even more trips. Add to that the purple line. Then add the number of people who can and will walk and bike to the property from adjacent neighborhoods on a comprehensive gridded network of streets already in place. Getting to work would involve a short bus ride to CP for the green or yellow lines, or a longer trip on one of the 80's (83, 86?) to RIA and the red line..and there's always MARC. From Largo you get the blue line.
Here's the other thing that gets me about the Largo site. It's hemmed in by Arena Drive, Lottsford Rd., Central Ave., and I-495 (I assume this is the area you are describing more or less). If you don't live on those "scores of acres", you're absolutely not going to go there by foot or bicycle. You're not going to cross Landover Rd. or Central Ave. Clearly you're not crossing I-495.
It may make sense in 10-20 years to (I don't think it will then either..) but I don't think it does now.

by thump on Jan 31, 2012 8:55 pm • linkreport

I am fascinated by the idea of development at West Hyattsville Metro. I'm going to head down there tomorrow and get a look-see.

While perhaps not the primary topic of this blog-site, nobody has mentioned the crazy process that this zoning change has had to undergo. Because there's not a precedent or established process for expanding/amending an existing MUTC zone over the top of a R-55 zone, we the residents, have never know which step was next ! The developer and the local town governments (University Park and Riverdale Park) submitted conditions or changes to their plan just a couple days before the hearing, and as a result, the public didn't have adequate notice to review and comment.

Other local elected officials claim that Whole Foods will save the area from the declining residential tax base - but the presence of this monstrosity of a development and resulting problems (traffic, further overcrowding of schools) will make at least some of the residential tax base move away.

Lastly, a previous poster, Alex B. justifies the development by quoting the staff report that says that the a comment by referencing the staff report that states that "this application is generally consistent with the
2002 General Plan Development Pattern . . . " but if you actually look at the MUTC zoning guidelines, the county master plan, etc., one can see that they are very inconsistent with the development.

As the developer was in negotiations with the three area municipalities to try and convince them to support the development, they offered up many different concessions, a few extra trees here, a piece of art there, etc. But they have NEVER reduced the amount of commercial/office/retail/hotel square footage, nor the number of "residential dwelling units." They just tried to distract us with trees and "objets d'art"

Put 1/2 of this development in a mile in any direction on property that's already zoned commercial, and me (and most of the other opposition) would be lining up to shop/live/eat there.

by Scrapper105 on Jan 31, 2012 9:20 pm • linkreport

@ Scrapper105: +1

@ Alex: What's dubious about it? Show me the county plan that says that the Cafritz site should be anything other than R-55 and/or that recommends 2 million SF of development to go there.

@ Thump: As the old saying goes, you're entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts. The fact is there are exactly two bus lines (83, 86) around the Cafritz property. Your "guess" as to what additional bus routes will be rerouted there is just that--a guess. The reality is that Largo currently has 10 bus connections and a Metrorail station. Your argument that there's only the Blue Line there is ludicrous. There's "only" the Green Line at U Street. "Only" the Orange Line at Clarendon. "Only" the Red Line at Silver Spring. The Blue Line Metro at Largo will get you to the Green, Yellow, Orange, and Red Lines in downtown DC in 20-25 minutes.

Arena Dr & Largo Rd don't "hem in" the Largo area any more than US-1 "hems in" the Cafritz site. And the Beltway is just as much of a "hem" as the CSX railroad that abuts the Cafritz site. And at least there's already an overpass (Arena Dr) across the Beltway and another one (Truman Dr) over Central Ave. All they would need are ped improvements to make them walkable -- not a multimillion dollar, taxpayer-funded, brand new overpass.

But the reality is people are only going to regularly and willingly walk about a half mile to any destination. From Largo Town Center -- right now, with no further ped improvements -- you can walk comfortably, on sidewalks, for more than a mile in 2 directions (north and east); for nearly 0.75 miles to the south; and for 0.5 miles to the west. Landover Rd (MD-202) is more than a mile away from the Metro in both directions, so even if it were a barrier (which it isn't), it wouldn't prohibit development at Largo Town Center Metro.

Developing at Largo (and many other Metro station areas, including West Hyattsville and PG Plaza) makes sense now, not in 10-20 years.

by Bradley Heard on Jan 31, 2012 10:44 pm • linkreport

To be fair to the Cafritz site, one could argue that it is TOD 2.0 in terms of the Purple Line. I argue that PG needs to seize on the coming of the Purple Line to reboot their land use planning around transit connectivity.

About the other stuff...

1. there has been a sector plan for TOD at West Hyattsville for more than 5 years (at least 8 years, maybe close to 10 by now). Development won't happen there until Fort Totten and PG Plaza are built out. In the context of other sites, it's still a marginal location, although with the Hamilton business district there now, if I had to choose, I'd rather live there than in Ft. Totten, where there are minimal amenities (right now) although you can walk to the Giant supermarket.

2. Plans for intensification around PG Plaza have been occuring since the early 1960s, because the developer knew that there would be a subway line there. It just took three decades to happen.

3. As much as we as planners or advocates would like developers to do things our way, that's not how market capitalism works. Cafritz has the land they have and they want to develop it. They don't want to trade it for someplace else. And that typifies other developers as well.

4. And neither do cities. Hyattsville has an aggressive annexation program to get taxable land, they love the intensification at PG Plaza for obvious reasons. I can't see why UP, Riverdale, RP, and other jurisdictions would want to give up their opportunities in favor of Hyattsville, without property tax harmonization.

5. Anyway, Mt. Rainier could annex the W. Hyattsville area, my understanding is that the land in question isn't formally within Hyattsville (yet) but the County. And the shopping center on Queens Chapel and the one behind it offer incredible intensification opportunity, as W. Hyattsville re/develops. One is in Mt. Rainier for sure, the other might be.

6. Bradly, with regard to your point about:

Developing at Largo (and many other Metro station areas, including West Hyattsville and PG Plaza) makes sense now, not in 10-20 years.

This demonstrates that you are not yet attuned to how the market works. Between DC, MoCo and PG, PG is the weakest real estate market, with the most foreclosures, and massive drops in property values, even in the "nice" areas along Rte. 1. (Houses in Mt. Rainier have lost 50% to 100% of their value.) Even in non-A locations, it's very hard to do high quality mixed use development in DC that isn't at subway stations (e.g., the debacle with the Walmart at the 5900 block of Georgia Avenue, W7--Skyland, St. E's, W8--Anacostia, etc.).

College Park is a bit immune from this general trend because its housing submarket is driven by the college market for housing for UMD.

But mostly, developers won't be choosing to do speculative development in most of PG, including at Metro stations without superlative station plans and great incentive packages anytime soon.

Konterra and National Harbor are different, because they have different drivers, and in reality will probably soak up and deflect all the development energy there is right now, away from transit sites.

by Richard Layman on Feb 1, 2012 7:15 am • linkreport

sorry about the typo on your name.

by Richard Layman on Feb 1, 2012 7:16 am • linkreport

and my math sucks as far as Mt. Rainier goes. I should have just said prices have dropped as much as half in Mt. Rainier residential property (e.g., from close to $400,000 or more to $220,000).

by Richard Layman on Feb 1, 2012 7:18 am • linkreport

oh, regarding my point about developers, speculative development, and PG Metro stations, regardless of the specifics, the "failures" of UTC are going to discourage developers from doing similar projects at other Metro stations right now, with the exception of College Park (which doesn't have that kind of developable land) and maybe, Greenbelt, except that the site's so big that it would redevelop in phases. (And wouldn't satisfy real TOD desires, as it would still promote polycentric development as Belmont would say.)

by Richard Layman on Feb 1, 2012 7:23 am • linkreport

@ Richard: Purple Line planning is good, but the Cafritz site is nearly a mile away and on the opposite side of a rail line from either of the two closest proposed Purple Line sites (M Square and Riverdale Park).

As to your points 3 & 4,this is why it's so important for the county to follow its comprehensive land use policies, so that development is viewed in a broader regional context and is not unduly swayed by the parochial interests of property owners, developers, or even small municipalities.

As for your point #6, tust me, I'm painfully well aware of the current housing market in Prince George's. My house's assessed value in Capitol Heights dropped about 40% from the last assessment in 2009 -- a reflection of the disastrous foreclosure rate. But that's a recent aberrational development, and one that'll hopefully improve soon. The historical reason that this county's property values have lagged behind its neighbors is largely the result of two factors: (1) the county's failure to get its fair share of the region's substantial federal jobs and (2) its haphazard and corrupt land use policies that haven't focused enough on developing quality walkable, transit-oriented places around its Metro stations.

You hit the nail on the head when you said: "But mostly, developers won't be choosing to do speculative development in most of PG, including at Metro stations without superlative station plans and great incentive packages anytime soon." That's exactly where the county's focus needs to be -- not on the Cafritz property.

by Bradley Heard on Feb 1, 2012 8:11 am • linkreport


Metro stations aren't the only places where PG can develop walkable places, however. The Cafritz site has the potential to help do that to Route 1.

by Alex B. on Feb 1, 2012 9:11 am • linkreport

WRT your last point, I agree with you, but more needs to be done, and the reflexive somewhat cheerleading points made by many of the smart growthers wrt issues in PG County won't get you there. E.g., the recent comments by Cheryl Cort about the need for permit reform. It ain't permit reform that's keeping developers away from PG County.

While the Cafritz project isn't located where you or I would want it to be located, I'd focus on making it a great and successful project, and prioritizing a set of paths and connectors (e.g. a shuttle to the Metro) so that it becomes a beacon of success, which can in turn be marketed to other developers.

Note that the failure of UTC needs to be analyzed very carefully so that you can learn from it. And while the PG Plaza area generally is intensely developed, it's the opposite of walkable and bikeable, even if it is proximate to transit.

E.g., in DC, plenty of developers do s***** work. And for the most part, DC's elected officials (which empower or disempower people who work for agencies) don't push very hard for excellence.

So the fact that you have developers like Donatelli pushing the envelope first in the U Street area, then Columbia Heights, and then Petworth is key--because of Donatelli's project in Petworth, far better work will be done on Georgia Avenue in that area (e.g., the project for the Safeway site) than could normally have been expected. Or JBG's current generation of new projects. Or PN Hoffman or Abdo.

By comparison, then deal with Foulger Pratt at the Curtis Chevrolet site. F-P sucks. Now you could say they were burned by their previous iteration to do housing there, and so they are taking the course of least resistance. But the difference between that site and the Donatelli site 2 miles away is huge. (Of course, the Donatelli site has subway service). It's very hard, because the good developers are an exception.

But then in the H St. area or Brookland sort of (Abdo sold their interest, for the most part, to Bozzuto) when Abdo is the first mover, it sets a higher bar for quality than can normally be expected, and it makes it easier to get other quality projects, as opposed to other s**** projects.

I'm not going to claim I am an expert in this stuff, although I have spent 11 years educating myself at great length on the issues, and working on projects as an advocate, consultant, Main Street program manager (the basic plan for the development in the Brookland Metro area with Monroe St. as the new spine was laid out by meet at a planning advisory committee meeting, although I would also aver that this was an obvious course), commercial district revitalization planner, and now business start up dealing with developers (but on bike issues).

You need to continue to up your game in order to help make the ideas and concepts you propose come closer to reality. It's not a criticism, just advice, since you obviously care.

by Richard Layman on Feb 1, 2012 9:18 am • linkreport

For what it's worth, there are hundreds of thousands of square feet of office and residential (2,900+ apartments, condos and townhomes) in the pipeline for the land located behind the Mall at Prince George's (PG Plaza), including a 330+ foot tall office tower. The full plan can be viewed here:

IF and when this is built out, this is potentially 5,000+ new residents living at the PG Plaza Metro, and a large number of office workers during business hours. 5,000 new residents would be a boom for any grocery or retailer that located nearby and would likely reinvigorate the stalled/failing development at UTC.

Construction on the land seems to be ramping up as some of the older apartment buildings in Toledo Terrace are being de-constructed today.

by Scott M. on Feb 1, 2012 9:33 am • linkreport

1. looked at in isolation, its better to have TOD at a metro rail station than at a commuter rail station, to be sure. But the cafritz site is not in isolation. Its relatively close to several potential TOD sites on metro (West hyattsville, pg plaze, and UTC?) , to a walkable community evolving not on metro (hyattsville arts district) and to a major University. Plus it has a commuter rail station (where service could be increased?) Plus its not far from the purple line. I think what Im seeing, and what Alex B, who may be more familiar with the area than I am, may be seeing is the potential for an entire area to come together (eventually linked by a street car line - along rte 1). The model here would be, yes, North arlington, where you can't look at each metro station in isolation, but where the TOD areas around each metro have reinforced each other, and encouraged walkable development in nearby areas that do NOT have metrorail within 1/2 mile.

2. What ARE the possibilities (purple line and rte 1 street car aside) for improving transit in the area. I'm not up on issues relating to the Camden line - however it seems to me that even a modest increase in service could make a big difference. Im also wondering what the status of bus service along rte 1, and also linking the metro stations to each other and to rte 1 is. Would a circulator bus of some kind or some other high frequency bus line make sense?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 1, 2012 9:41 am • linkreport

On the other hand

I dont know largo at all well, but looking at the aerial photos, at the whole area between 495, 214, and 202, it does not look THAT poddy. There are a couple of places where there are roads effectively parallel to the main arterials, and it also looks like there places where roads could be extended to create "griddiness" more easily than in a more built out place like Tysons. From a NoVa perspective, the Largo metro area doesn't look that bad at all.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 1, 2012 9:51 am • linkreport

As far as Cafritz being more than a 1/2 mile away from metro lines, I would look at the successes of other similar areas that have single family houses jam up to huge dense developments. If it works for them, it can work for Cafritz.

1. Rockville Pike - Not all developments are on top of metro stations.

2. Downtown Silver Spring - at least 3/4 of a mile to the metro.

3. Bethesda/Chevy Chase - Wisconsin ave. has dense development with very expensive single family neighborhoods in close proximity.

4. Tyson's Corner - actually had no metro until the silver line.

5. Alexandria/Crystal City - not all dense development is on top of the metro line.

by adelphi_sky on Feb 1, 2012 10:03 am • linkreport

AWalkerinthecity --

1. In the mid 1990s, in association with planning for the Arts District, MTA did a streetcar feasibility study for Rte. 1.

2. In 2003, as part of the DC Alternatives Analysis, I suggested to Dan Tangherlini and others a streetcar for Rte. 1, not knowing then about the MTA study.

3. When I did an info interview with Peter Shapiro in 2004/5 for a job in Hyattsville (great interview, I didn't get the job), he suggested such a line could go all the way to Laurel.

4. Talking about this with a resident on the board of the Gateway CDC in 2007?, he suggested that rather than terminate at the Rhode Island Metro, a streetcar should start/go down to Dupont Circle...

6. In the reviving of the streetcar planning process in DC a couple years ago, they did put on the map a line for Rhode Island Avenue.


by Richard Layman on Feb 1, 2012 10:12 am • linkreport

Oh, and my "University Line" concept extends the streetcar from Brookland to College Park via Michigan Ave./Queens Chapel Road/Adephi.


Streetcars and light rail can be interoperable.

by Richard Layman on Feb 1, 2012 10:15 am • linkreport


From what I recently saw on the streetcar map, the Rhode Island line stops as the PG line. There have been discussions of extending that line at least through Hyattsville and perhaps terminating at College Park where it would intersect with the Purple Line.

by adelphi_sky on Feb 1, 2012 10:30 am • linkreport

@ Alex & adelphi_sky: Nobody's saying the Cafritz site isn't appropriate for some kind of TOD. My quarrel is with the scale of the TOD proposed by the property owners, given that the site isn't within the half-mile pedestrian shed of any type of current or proposed rapid transit (light rail, commuter rail, or Metrorail).

The scale of TOD that's appropriate at this location is the scale normally associated with a streetcar or BRT line (not that there's either of those there yet). Think H Street NE (2-4 story buildings, small scale residential on top of retail or office on the main street, with supporting single-family attached and detached residential on the neighboring streets). So if you go a block in either direction of Sticky Rice, you've basically got the appropriate scale of TOD for the Cafritz site. And keep in mind that Sticky Rice is in DC, less than a mile from the multi-modal transit terminal Union Station -- not in the burbs of Riverdale Park--and more walkable better gridded than RP, UP, or Hyattsville.

This scale of development would not require any fancy, expensive, taxpayer-funded bridges over the CSX railway -- only a few developer-funded streets, such as the internal gridded streets, the restoration of the existing Rhode Island Avenue right-of-way on the east end of the site, and maybe a new signalized intersection at US-1 & Van Buren St.

I recognize that even this level of TOD at the Cafritz site would require a zoning change -- and if the property owners were seeking an extension of the MUTC zone to accomplish that scale of TOD, I don't think I'd have a problem with it. But that's not what's happening here. So the responsible thing to do is to deny this application and encourage them to resubmit something more appropriate for that parcel.

by Bradley Heard on Feb 1, 2012 10:49 am • linkreport

I'd note that the Cafritz site will never meet be TOD, it is transit adjacent at best. Process issues have plagued this project and will continue to. I think many residents are put off by the Cafritz attempt to expand and amend the mixed use town center guidelines.

They simply do not meet the intent or criteria of Riverdale Park's mixed use town center. With truly smart sites available nearby and the required infrastructure in place, I also believe the rezoning request should be denied.

Since I've lived in in a couple Route 1 towns, I, as Richard mentioned, have serious concerns about this project, EYA and East Campus sucking all the development energy out of the Route 1 corridor. This could well leave our gateways at Eastern and 495 languishing for years to come, in addition to slowing redevelopment at other truly smart sites like UTC and properties (such as a Harris Teeter on the Applebee's/Kinko's site.

And yeah, I get the market realities. I also know how many housing units and how much commercial property remains in the pipeline. We can do better.

by Route1Resident on Feb 1, 2012 11:37 am • linkreport

Richard Layman-My understanding is that Mt. Rainier has pursued in the past annexing the land north of Chillum Rd./south of the NW Branch, and the shopping center around Queens Chapel. I don't think there has been talk recently, however, at least one council member has raised the issue within the last month.

by thump on Feb 1, 2012 11:59 am • linkreport

Here is something to ponder. Supposed Cafritz is built and is successful in integrating itself into the area with minimal impact to quality of life. How then would developments in the future like Cafritz be perceived? So much talk has been about the impending failure of the development. But what if it exceeds expectations? What then?

by adelphi_sky on Feb 1, 2012 12:05 pm • linkreport

@ adelphi_sky: Just to clarify, are you wedded to the specific 2 million SF Cafritz proposal, or would you also be okay with TOD on the scale of that near the Sticky Rice at H St NE in Washington, DC?

by Bradley Heard on Feb 1, 2012 12:13 pm • linkreport


I'm certainly not wedded to 2 million sf of development. And to be honest, I doubt it gets that big. I perceive that the first phase will be burned in for a number of years before the second phase is considered. And perhaps the first phase may do so well that the second phase can be scaled down. Who knows? At this point, I'll settle for the retail portion, an office building, and some townhomes. The point is, Cafrtiz owns the property. And it would be hard to sell to another developer so that they would have money to develop elsewhere like underdeveloped UTC, Greenbelt, or College Park. No other developer would want to face such opposition.

by adelphi_sky on Feb 1, 2012 12:23 pm • linkreport

@ adelphi_sky: Fair enough. There probably are a few NIMBYs who don't want any development of the site at any time in the near future. Every area has those. That's just the nature of the beast. But I think most of the community opposition here is based largely on the massive, unfunded, and inappropriate scale of the currently proposed project. If the Cafritz developers had come with an H Street NE-scale development, which is what you seem to be describing that you'd settle for, I think the reaction might have been different -- particulalry since all the necessary improvements and infrastructure for that type of project would be developer funded and wouldn't depend on taxpayer funding, like the Cafritz owners appear to be lobbying for in their current project.

by Bradley Heard on Feb 1, 2012 1:55 pm • linkreport


The Cafritz proposal isn't all that dense. 37 acres translates to about 1.6 million sf of land area. 2 million sf of development on that land gives you an FAR of about 1.25. I'd also note that this is a lower FAR than you'll find adjacent to H St NE.

In short - no, I don't think the scale is too large. If anything, I'd probably argue that it's too small.

The benefits of that corridor is the context - the surrounding areas can already be walkable if they had more to walk to. Put that in a larger context and you can envision a larger corridor of walkable densities up and down Route 1.

by Alex B. on Feb 1, 2012 2:12 pm • linkreport

@ Bradley: Exactly. These communities support EYA, had high hopes for UTC, support the redevelopment of downtown College Park + shop at Prince George's Plaza. Of course, there are NIMBYs, just as there are in Adelphi.

But this plan doesn't have much to offer besides a Whole Foods: it is not TOD, too much traffic for the corridor's capacity, negative impact on existing and planning *redevelopment,* a design that sucks, a need for a new zone (see link below), inadequate infrastructure and a need for public funding (proposed TIF details should be at M-NCPPC).

by Route1Resident on Feb 1, 2012 2:24 pm • linkreport

My first thought upon hearing of WFM's interest at this site was also "why not University Town Center?" The road and transit access are superior, the land is available, there are more complementary uses, and most importantly the demographics aren't any different -- it's near the same base of UM students/faculty. County economic development officials should have been more actively nudging along that particular landlord-tenant match.

Indeed, the real shame is that the Green Line wasn't built along the US1 corridor to begin with, but that's said and done.

by Payton on Feb 1, 2012 2:40 pm • linkreport


I think the UTC development is in all sorts of foreclosure hell.

by Alex B. on Feb 1, 2012 2:43 pm • linkreport

@ Alex: Let's keep the comparison apples to apples. The overall density of the comparable 37 acres of land area of surrounding the Sticky Rice site (not just the main commericial drag of H St NE) is far less than the 1.25 FAR that the Cafritz owners are proposing. In fact, most of the property that's not directly fronting H St NE is zoned R-4 (single-family residential). And remember, H St NE is in an urbanized city, with access to arguably the most multimodal transit station in the mid-Atlantic (Union Station) and the ability to connect to Metrorail, Metrobus, Circulator, MARC, VRE, Amtrak, Greyhound, and all the DC-NY buses. Not only do multiple regular and express Metrobuses run on H St NE itself (in addition to the forthcoming streetcar), but several other buses run on the adjoining neighborhood streets. The Cafritz site has none of that, so there's no way it should be anywhere close to 1.25 FAR.

by Bradley Heard on Feb 1, 2012 2:53 pm • linkreport


I think R-4 is more dense then you imply. Since it's zoned for single family homes, they don't list an FAR, but if you do the math based on the lots, you come up with a max allowed density of more like 1.8 (60% max lot occupancy, 3 story max - 60% * 3 means you're allowed 180% of the lot size, i.e. a max FAR of 1.8 for a rowhouse).

The commercial strip of H St allows more density than that, too.

You said you thought this was an appropriate level of density for the Cafritz site (H St, near Sticky Rice), and my point is that the allowed density there is much greater than what's proposed at the Cafritz site.

I'd also note that the zoning code often does not match what exists on the ground. Most of those buildings on H St pre-date the zoning code. As DC goes through their zoning code re-write, the common refrain was that if Georgetown or one of the other old, established neighborhoods were to burn down, it would be illegal to re-build them as they were and still comply with the zoning code. Thus, my earlier comment about the fallacy of thinking that the letter of the law in the zoning code matches the intent of planning and policy for an area. They seldom do, in practice.

I think that Route 1 corridor (and similar corridors in the region) generally have a tremendous ability to support more density than their zoning allows - even without direct Metro access. There's a little chicken-egg question, but the base case involves increasing density to support more retail which improves walkability which allows for shorter trips within the corridor. That density and the activity it represents can, in turn, support more transit service.

I take some issues with the design considerations for the Cafritz site, but that doesn't mean it's a bad site or that the plan they've proposed is too dense.

by Alex B. on Feb 1, 2012 3:09 pm • linkreport

@ Alex: If you do a street-level view of the area, you see that virtually none of the rowhouses has 3 stories, even if it is permitted by the zoning code. They are, by and large, 2-story townhomes, perhaps with an English basement. So the density of that area doesn't reach the maximum. In any event, the type of development and the associated traffic generation still matters. Also, you still have the issue of the vast difference in transit access between the H St NE corridor and the Cafritz site on US-1.

But I don't want to quibble with you. We both agree the Cafritz site can be developed with some level of TOD. We apparently disagree over whether this is the appropriate type and scale of development. And we strongly disagreee about whether the county should direct or permit that scale of development on that site when its Metro stations remain empty or underutilized. (Why add transit services and infrastructure when you're not using the ones you have effectively? Bad policy and economic choice, IMO.)

My sense is that the Cafritz property will not ultimately be built as currently proposed. The Planning Bd will likely recommend the rezoning of the property into the MUTC zone. The County Council may or may not go along with that recommendation. If it does get rezoned, that decision will likely get challenged in court. Assuming the rezoning gets upheld, there'll then be another big fight before the Planning Board at the subdivision stage and then before the Planning Board and the County Council at the detailed site plan stage. That's when the actual details of the development are at issue. Each of those processes can spawn their own separate rounds of litigation. Add in even more time if you have to involve the appellate courts. And let's not even talk about what kind of outcry there will be if the county approves a TIF Zone for this property and seeks to spend public money on that CSX bridge!

That's why most reasonable developers try to build consensus with the community rather than hold to their guns and move forward in the face of significant opposition. In other words, it's probably better for all concerned to reach consensus on H Street NE-style development on that site and get started breaking ground in a year or two, rather than to wait 10 years and spend zillions of dollars in legal fees defending a plan that may get overturned in court, or that may ultimately be too ambitious and unsustainable in that that location even if it is approved.

by Bradley Heard on Feb 1, 2012 4:25 pm • linkreport

"But I don't want to quibble with you. We both agree the Cafritz site can be developed with some level of TOD. We apparently disagree over whether this is the appropriate type and scale of development. And we strongly disagreee about whether the county should direct or permit that scale of development on that site when its Metro stations remain empty or underutilized. (Why add transit services and infrastructure when you're not using the ones you have effectively? Bad policy and economic choice, IMO.)"

Do you think DC should not build street cars till every mero station EOTR is built out? That Virginia should not have built the Silver Line while Huntington metro is still not fully converted to TOD?

I don't think your strategy is realistic. While its certainly worthwhile to conserve transit $$ and not to spend a lot to create alternatives while TOD areas are available, one needs to understand the limits on the local govts ability to control where development goes, especially when there are factors limiting development at existing transit stations.

In this case you have a property close to a MARC station, on a potential light rall route, in between a metro station/light rail junction thats at a major university, and a new walkable area (hyattsville arts district). I would suggest that if this ISN't going to be build at fairly high density, it would be better to keep it vacant so it can be built at higher density in the future, after more of PGs stations are more built out, the purple line is there, and the rte 1 light rail is looked at more seriously. To build at lower densities might foreclose future options.

Of course there are probably arent policy levers to keep it vacant.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 1, 2012 5:00 pm • linkreport

Given that this is one of the only active, potentially high quality developments within the Beltway in Prince George's County, the likelihood of it not being approved is remote. PG County needs a big win right now, especially after the Johnsons debacle. A win is likely to be defined as = Whole Foods especially.

by Richard Layman on Feb 1, 2012 5:57 pm • linkreport

@ AWalkerInTheCity: I probably overstated my point about adding transit services and infrastructure, but only slightly. Some targeted infrastructure improvements in an already-developed area may well be appropriate, even in advance of full Metro station build-outs. But there needs to be a balanced strategy, and the balance needs to tip toward maximizing the resources you already have in place. Prince George's County is a big, big county, with just the inner-Beltway portion alone being larger than all of DC. The county needs to make sure all of its urbanized (i.e., inner-Beltway) areas have good connections to Metro, so that they all can develop and absorb a larger share of the region's growth in the coming years. That means the county can't spend all its money or put all of its focus in the US-1 corridor, which is already amply served by transit.

That said, certainly the US-1 corridor could use better and more frequent bus connections right now. That is a high priority and costs comparatively little money. But streetcars and light rail? Probaly not anytime soon, given the proximity of other rapid transit options nearby (2-3 Metrorail stations, a MARC station, and the forthcoming Purple Line), all of which could be easily reached by more frequent bus connections, without spending unnecessary $$, and the need to do more in other developed areas of the county.

Keepig the Cafritz property vacant is an option, but it's not a necessary one. Putting H St NE-level development there is plenty dense enough, now or in the future, and probably could garner community support. The property isn't going to get any closer to MARC, Metro, or the Purple Line than it already is -- and it's not in a half-mile walking distance of either of those forms of rapid transit. Higher TOD densities belong at or within a half-mile of Metrorail, the region's primary rapid transit system. Smaller densities at MARC and the Purple Line, and even smaller densities in urban corridors served primairly by bus and outside of the ped shed of rail stations (like the Cafritz site).

@ Richard: Agreed as to the likelihood the zoning won't get approved. Not so sure about the subdivision and DSP stages, though -- paritcularly if the opposition remains vocal and the county's stated commitment to developing at Metro stations keeps getting called into question. The county does need a TOD "win" (as opposed to a sprawl win, like Woodmore "Towne Center" and Wegmans), but that could be accomplished by locating WF near a Metro station, like UTC. After all WF doesn't have to wait for the Caftitz site. It can open wihtin a matter of months at any number of places in the county.

by Bradley Heard on Feb 1, 2012 6:12 pm • linkreport


Putting H St NE-level development there is plenty dense enough, now or in the future, and probably could garner community support.

I don't mean to keep harping on this, but the 1.25 FAR Cafritz proposal is less dense than H St NE and environs already.

Likewise, it's not as far from transit as you imply, either. Improve the trail connection and it's less than 1/2 mile from the MARC station. Build a ped bridge over the CSX tracks and it's less than 1/2 a mile from the Purple Line station on River Road.

In short, don't let perfect be the enemy of good. The proposed level of density here is perfectly appropriate.

by Alex B. on Feb 1, 2012 6:43 pm • linkreport

@ Alex: Okay, so if you build a multi-million dollar taxpayer-funded ped bridge over a railroad, you can maybe push the Cafritz site into the very outer edge of the ped zone of a yet-to-be-built light rail station. Or, you could take those same millions of transportation dollars and improve bus transit connections all over the inner-Beltway, incentivize development at an existing Metro station like UTC or the Blvd, and/or directly redevelop blighted areas around existing Metro stations. As a taxpayer in Prince George's, I'd rather see either of the latter options. Then maybe we can talk about the CSX bridge.

But let's not lose site of the larger, original point (a point with which you appear to disagree): the county's stated land use and TOD priority is to to direct its limited financial resources to developing its 15 underutalized and undeveloped Metro stations. Building a multi-million dollar railroad overpass on spec just because a developer wants to maximize profits on its property is contrary to that purpose and is absolutely the wrong decision for the county. I have no problem with the Cafritz team developing its property and bringing TOD to the site, but it should do so in a way that respects its neighbors and does not require the county to underwrite their venture.

by Bradley Heard on Feb 1, 2012 7:22 pm • linkreport

Make the ped bridge a developer contribution as a condition of the rezoning. Simple. $1.5 million added to a $225+ million project. Or make it conditional upon Purple Line construction instead. There are lots of creative options.

I'm not aware of any direct subsidy to this project, thus I'm not sure what you mean about the county 'underwriting' this development, or what else you'd like to see in terms of 'focus' on other sites. I guess I'm missing which county financial resources this project would consume.

by Alex B. on Feb 1, 2012 7:37 pm • linkreport

@ Alex: FYI, here's what the developer ("Applicant") is proposing in its list of conditions:

The Applicant shall participate in the design, provision and acquisition of rights-of-way, permitting, funding and construction of the CSX Crossing, equal to half the complete costs, but not to exceed Five Million Dollars ($5,000,000). The Applicant, its successors and assigns, shall make all reasonable efforts to obtain public funding (federal, state, county, municipal) as necessary in addition to its CSX contribution to construct the CSX Crossing. Public funding may include all or a portion supported by tax increment financing as may be authorized in accordance with state and local laws. If the manner of public funding is tax increment financing, or any other funding mechanism that requires the approval of the County Council or other government body or entity, the approval of the County Council and all other government bodies or entities must be obtained prior to the approval of any Detailed Site Plan for the subject property.

In other words, they only want to pay half the cost for the bridge, they want a cap of $5M exposure for the bridge, and they intend to seek public financing of the rest of it.

by Bradley Heard on Feb 1, 2012 9:41 pm • linkreport

So, all the County has to do is say to Cafritz, look "we are getting all this pressure to show that this is a smart growth, transit related initiative, and that Richard Layman guy keeps writing blog entries about how we need to reposition our planning, land use and transportation paradigm around transit and the Purple Line is the perfect way to do that, so pay for all of the bridge, do these couple of other transit related things and we'll make this project happen and we'll tout it [correctly I might add] as the harbinger of next generation TOD and smart growth initiatives for Prince George's County, which is what I [in this case, presume that this is a statement by County Executive Rushern Baker] have been calling for since my election."

The issue here is "Mr. Right" vs. "Mr. Right Now."

There aren't any proposals, with developers in place with financing and land control, to do the kind of TOD project at a Metro that I presume you want (something like Bethesda Row).

There won't be for a few years, because the proximity to transit in PG County does not as of yet add extra value to property and allow for multistory mixed use development in the same way it does in DC, Montgomery County, Arlington County, and Alexandria.

Especially because of the failure of UTC so far. Sure it can be blamed on the real estate recession, but most developers don't care, because they know that other financiers will look leery at similar developments in PG County for awhile, because of what happened there.

If you want to see those kinds of developments happen, you better figure out how to make this one work (Cafritz), because it is a game changer, far more than "Arts District Hyattsville", because it will be proximate to transit. Maybe 0.5 miles is far for you, my house is 0.8 miles to the Takoma Metro...

Anyway, I think it's important for Prince George's County to consider Smart Growth/TOD 2.0 initiatives, because PG Plaza, not unlike some of the first iterations along Wilson Blvd. in Arlington, is Smart Growth 1.0 and is definitely not walkable, even though it is dense and intensifying and has a subway station and a great number of bus routes.

by Richard Layman on Feb 2, 2012 7:17 am • linkreport

@ Richard: I absolutely reject the notion that Prince George's future TOD success at Metro stations is dependent on its acceptance of this extremely flawed development proposal for the Caftitz site. Indeed, it's exactly the opposite -- and that's the point of the article. Permitting this level of development in places that are not currently served by Metro and that do not currently have the transit infrastructure in place to support it runs contrary to the county's own stated goals of focusing development around its Metro stations and maximizing the use of existing transportation infrastructure.

Yes, the recession has hampered real estate development efforts in the county, as it has region- and nation-wide. But what really has developers leery of this particular county is that the county historically has not had a logical and consistently-follwed land use policy and a corruption-free development review and approval process. This case is a perfect example of those problems. At the same time you have the County Executive, the County Council, and M-NCPPC all saying that Metro station development is the #1 focus of the county, you have this developer "pet project," which is nowhere near a Metro, being pushed through the approval process, even though the M-NCPPC planners themselves have said it will cause nightmarish traffic on Route 1 and will require the construction of additional multi-million dollar roadways like the CSX bridge. And the developer doesn't even want to pay the full cost of the bridge! It's proposing to pay only half the cost and also wants to cap its bridge expense at $5 million regardless.

Why would a sensible developer want to take a chance on a Metro station project in Prince George's County in a sluggish economy when it knows that the county is going to undermine it by permitting a massive competitor development to go up a mile up the road, which has the potential to gobble up all the retail market for the development at the Metro? And not only is the county allowing the competitor project, but it's also offering to subsidize it with expensive TIF financing! That kind of decision-making would definitely cause me to worry if I were a developer.

This Cafritz project is no "game changer." It's bad policy all around -- and if this is what you mean by TOD 2.0, I don't want any part of it.

by Bradley Heard on Feb 2, 2012 8:29 am • linkreport

You have to include the Purple Line in the mix of TOD. And, this will help that happen. I would argue that most of the subway stations in Prince George's County aren't well situated, at this time, for TOD, with the exception of West Hyattsville, and it's not well placed in the market right now for any development of substance to happen there.

The other word I meant to use in the previous comment was incremental.

I'm not usually a big fan of incremental improvement, I like the revolutionary course myself. But in the context of a real estate market that is driven by private development, that's the way it works.

I agree that in the overall context of Prince George's County, this isn't the best development. But in terms of centering development along the Rte. 1 corridor, and leveraging transit assets that exist or will come, and in adding the density that can help drive forward other transit investments (like a streetcar on Rte. 1), this isn't so bad.

And certainly compared to lots of bad developments I'm familiar with, this is much better, although still, not directly at a Metro station, etc. but as Alex B. said (I think), since the Green Line didn't go up Rte. 1 that's what you get (note that the Green Line was always seen as being built in conjunction with the extension of I-95 to Fort Totten which is why it takes the route it does, where it would have met with I-70 now I-270, bracketing the Met. Branch Railroad, so I don't know if that could have ever happened...).

by Richard Layman on Feb 2, 2012 8:48 am • linkreport


Though UTC has failed, there are still some TOD projects that will break ground very soon. One being the Belcrest Plaza redevelopment behind Prince Georges Plaza. I hear they have actually started tearing down the old apartments. The first phase will only include apartments though and maybe a few town homes. But the news on that project is so scares on that project it is hard to figure out where they are by more than just seeing them tear down stuff. The second phases will include office, retail, and apartments. Hopefully the first phase will revive UTC. The second TOD project is East Campus in College Park (more like Bethesda Row - residences on top of retail). The University President Wallace Loh stated that they are waiting on a start date for East Campus which will come and day now. They project to break ground between 8 - 12 months. Both projects are large in scale and are being done in phases. Other than those two, yes, there seems that no other projects are in the pipeline in the near future unless the GSA gets off their duffs and decides to put something at a metro station in PG.

by adelphi_sky on Feb 2, 2012 8:59 am • linkreport

Forgive me for the grammatical errors. Too much caffeine. :-)

by adelphi_sky on Feb 2, 2012 9:03 am • linkreport

Is East Campus as a mixed use development really moving forward to the groundbreaking phase? Ah, I forgot Cordish is involved. But the energy there is driven by UMD, campus proximity, not transit.

Cordish, like Bozzuto, being successful, has been particularly successful in being able to pick up projects abandoned by others because of the real estate crash.


And the Belcrest project, while very important, I think of as more a continuation of the intensified development that has happened at "PG Plaza" since the 1960s. (cf. the WBJ article I cited in a comment above.) It's more accurate to think of it as redevelopment/next generation development of an already exist program.

But in any case, you are absolutely correct in pointing out that these projects are important, are happening, and will contribute to a broader repositioning of how real estate development occurs in Prince George's County.

by Richard Layman on Feb 2, 2012 9:47 am • linkreport

The idea of the Whole Foods in Largo doesn't help me at all. Right now I have to make a special trip to Silver Spring to shop at Whole Foods. My Organic Market in College Park is ok, but it doesn't have the selection WF does. What all of the people who object to WF at Cafritz miserable fail to take into account is that people like me will be able to stop on our way home from work. A significant proportion of people shopping there are going by anyway, they wouldn't be adding to traffio at all. I agree Largo is a good idea, but we need the one in Riverdale, or we need both.

by Kirk Marchand on Feb 2, 2012 11:40 am • linkreport

Hey folks: On the Largo Town Center / Blvd at Cap Center walkability point, there's even a bit more good news, which I discovered driving past there last night. Turns out that the Arena Dr overpass over the Capital Beltway is actually walkable and bikeable already. There's a pretty wide sidewalk on the south side of the road (Blvd / Largo Metro side). Also, there's quite a bit of acreage at the Arena Dr(Bishop Peebles Dr) & Brightseat Rd intersection that's already zoned M-X-T (mixed-use transportation-oriented).

The ped/bike connections could definitely be improved (e.g., install another wide sidewalk on the north side of Arena Dr; put a guard rail between the sidewalk and the road, to improve ped comfort levels; put dedicated bike lanes on the road), but that's very small potatoes compared to the cost of building a whole new overpass.

by Bradley Heard on Feb 2, 2012 3:09 pm • linkreport

Oops, sorry folks. A friend pointed out that I was incorrect about the zoning west of the Beltway at Arena & Brightseet. It's all zoned I-3, for planned light industrial or employment office parks. So, while that area is definitely walkable and bikeable from the Metro, it would only be viable for employment uses, not residential uses.

by Bradley Heard on Feb 2, 2012 4:55 pm • linkreport

FYI - The Prince George's Planning Board just approved the Cafritz rezoning 4-0. Now it is off to the District Council to for a vote.

by adelphi_sky on Feb 3, 2012 11:04 am • linkreport

Before anyone asks, by the way, the "District Council" refers to the Prince George's County Council (and also the Montgomery County Council) when they are sitting for land use issues.

The other District Council, which runs DC, doesn't get a say.

by Matt Johnson on Feb 3, 2012 11:08 am • linkreport

UTC may have failed in terms of locking in high end retail and generating revenue, but the failure is due to a complete lack of on site apartments and easy parking AND most importantly racial segregation (That's right, I said it). There simply aren't enough people living in the development to support all of the retail space. However, the development is still very shiny and capable of being used, so all is not lost. Despite popular opinion that Prince Georges Plaza/UTC is not walkable, I live there, and I find it completely walkable. Crossing East West Highway is effortless with the pedestrian bridge.

Furthermore, the Calfritz development is only a 15-20 minute walk from PG Plaza or College Park metro, and even less from downtown College Park or the Arts District. Add in a couple shuttles and it'd be a great place to shop or live.

In terms of building a more walkable community for the inner beltway, it would be one more point of interest for people traveling between Hyattsville/College Park/University Park/Riverdale. All of these tightly knit communities could boast having a Whole Foods. In order to support local retail we need to encourage an influx of new residents and provide incentives for graduating students to stay in the area. The Calfritz development would help. The Northern Prince Georges County Inner Beltway community has amazing potential, but limiting development in the area only adds to the stigma that PG county is ghetto. PG has a lot of catching up to do, so restricting development is the worst thing this county could do.

by Cole Iliff on May 8, 2012 5:28 pm • linkreport

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