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After Another Marathon Session, Cafritz Hearing is Recessed to Friday

The District Council spent nearly 12 hours Monday hearing testimony and weighing the merits of the developer's controversial rezoning proposal.

The District Council's hearing on the proposed rezoning of the Cafritz property resumed Monday in Upper Marlboro. Below is a summary of the procedings.

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9:57 p.m.: See you Friday

Almost 12 hours after it began, chair Andrea Harrison takes the Cafritz hearing into recess until this Friday, May 4 at 10 a.m.

9:54 p.m.: No need to strike

Chief zoning hearing examiner Maureen Epps-Web says that because the council had the opportunity to cross-examine Dr. Fuller, she does not believe his report needs to be stricken from the record.

Chair Andrea Harrison notes that she is "troubled" by the lack of supporting information offered by Fuller, and that she will decide on the question Friday morning.

9:51 p.m.: 'Into the 21st century'

University Park resident Linda Verrill testifies in favor of the rezoning, telling the council that approving the project "will continue to bring Prince George's County into the 21st century."

9:45 p.m.: 'The right project'

Calling the Cafritz development "the right project for the right location," Former Riverdale Park Town Administrator Patrick Prangley testifies it will provide "real stimulus to the local economy, providing well-paying construction jobs while it is being built."

9:36 p.m.: Amster objects

Jayson Amster argues that Fuller's report should be excluded on the grounds that he did not name the sources of information used to craft it.

9:33 p.m.: Tough crowd

Fuller takes more flak from members of the council. Chair Andrea Harrison emphasizes that the county executive's support of the Cafritz plan is not pertinent to this proceeding—"Whether he wants this particular project or any other project, it is irrelevant," she says—while Olson points to some of the council's past actions designed to encourage new development.

District 4 Council Member Ingrid Turner grills Fuller about how he crafted his economic analysis, suggesting that he excluded key local sources of information. Fuller says he received documents from the Cafritz attornies that described the project and the area, and that he has accumulated quite a bit of expertise about Prince George's County in his past research.

9:13 p.m.: 'I sort of took offense'

"I sort of took offense at the claim that this council would not be open for business if we did not move forward with this project," District 7 Council Member Karen Toles tells Fuller.

She says that while council members must carefully weigh the impact of a development on surrounding communities during the review process, they have also taken many steps in the past to encourage new projects.

9:04 p.m.: 'It's going to be a lot'

Brown asks Fuller what his fee is likely to be for appearing at the hearing on behalf of the Cafritz team.

"It's been very painful to spend 12 hours here today, so it's going to be a lot," Fuller jokes.

8:48 p.m.: Will Whole Foods be there?

People's Zoning Counsel Stan Brown questions Fuller about which materials relating to the Cafritz project he had reviewed before reaching his conclusions. He says he did not consult most of the resources Brown names.

"You don't know whether Whole Foods will actually be at this project, do you?" Brown asks, after Fuller says he has not reviewed any contract between the developer and the grocery store.

"It wasn't important to me, but no," Fuller responds.

8:34 p.m.: Retail, housing

Jayson Amster questions Dr. Stephen Fuller—who testified in favor of the project—about his economic analysis report on the Cafritz development. He asks Fuller about the types of retail that he expects to see at the site and the impact of the project on nearby housing prices. Fuller's report indicated that the development could buoy housing prices that have "softened" in recent years.

6:01 p.m.: 'So many things that are illogical'

Olson continues to press Lareuse on the question of whether a Mixed-Use Town Center zone is appropriate for an undeveloped plot like the Cafritz property.

"There's so many things that are illogical about how this zone was never designed to be on undeveloped property. It was really designed to be on developed town centers that already existed," Olson says.

5:21 p.m.: The timeline

Councilman Olson is currently questioning Lareuse about the timeline of the Cafritz application. (At , People's zoning counsel Stan Brown noted that the application was not processed by the Planning Board within the 105-day timeline prescribed by law. County Attorney M. Andree Green argued that this window was designed as a protection for the applicant and said that the council "would in no way, shape, or form be prejudiced" by looking past the deadline violation.)

4:48 p.m.: Piecemeal not appropriate

Olson quotes page 16 of the 1994 master plan, which states that piecemeal planning of residential property for non-residential uses is not appropriate. Because the Cafritz property is zoned for residential use (R-55) and the developers wish to rezone the property for Mixed-Use Town Center, the project should not be approved, he argues.

4:38 p.m.: M-UTC criteria

“I’m troubled by the M-UTC criteria and whether this project meets these criteria," Olson says.

4:28 p.m.: Council's turn

People's Zoning Counsel Stan Brown completes a rigorous cross-examination of Susan Lareuse. District Council members begin to ask questions, starting with Councilman Eric Olson.

4:02 p.m.: Preliminary plan of subdivision

A member of the Cafritz team questions Lareuse about the significance of the preliminary plan of subdivision, when more criteria will be considered than at this point of the rezoning process. At the time of the preliminary plan of subdivision, Lareuse explains, the property will be divided into parcels and their uses and densities determined.

3:47 p.m.: Trees, compatibility

Lareuse answers questions regarding the compatability of the development with surrounding historic districts and how many trees will be conserved.

She says compatibility with surrounding areas is not a requirement for zoning approval and refers to the conditions in the planning board recommendations that guide tree conservation. The exact number of trees that will be conserved has not been determined, Lareuse says.

3:24 p.m.: CSX crossing

Amster asks if CSX has confirmed that it will allow a crossing be built over its railway as an additional traffic outlet from the property. Lareuse says no one from the planning staff has contacted CSX.

The Cafritz team says it will provide a letter from the railroad, though they are not allowed to proffer the document at this point in the hearing.

3:17 p.m.: Amster picks up cross examination

Attorney Susan Gray ends her cross-examination of Susan Lareuse. Jayson Amster picks up where she left off, first inquiring about the proposed railway crossing.

2:45 p.m.: Recess

The hearing is in recess to allow staff to copy several documents.

2:04 p.m.: Cross-examination

College Park attorney Robert Manzi and attorney Susan Gray both cross-examine County Planner Susan Lareuse on her April 11 testimony. Gray presses Lareuse on whether the proposed rezoning is consistent with the county's master plan.

1:43 p.m.: 'A better place to live'

Emily Fanning, who owns  in Riverdale Park, says the Cafritz family is best suited to develop the property in question given their background in arts, culture, and history.

"The Cafritz development will make [Riverdale Park] a better place to live, and a better place for our children to grow up in," says Fanning.

1:36 p.m.: 'Unoccupied, underutilized'

"I cannot conceive of the need for more shops and restaurants when we are faced with countless unoccupied, underutilized businesses that have either been empty for a very long time, or—in some cases—are so new that they haven't even been occupied," says College Park resident Renee Domogauer, testifying against the project.

1:23 p.m.: We're back

Having returned from lunch, the council is hearing testimony from several more members of the public before proceeding to cross-examination of County Planner Susan Lareuse's testimony.

University Park resident Howard Wilson says that supporters of the project claim opponents "are standing in the way of progress. They're afraid of change."

"Not true," he testifies. "The problem is that the proposal does not represent progress."

"It's the town of Riverdale Park that wants all the alleged benefits but doesn't want to bear any of the cost," Wilson adds.

12:29 p.m.: 'The document speaks for itself'

Attorney Susan Gray cross-examines Herman on his testimony, pressing him on the question of whether Riverdale Park's Mixed-Use Town Center plan ever envisioned the inclusion of the Cafritz property. Herman responds that he is not familiar with every aspect of the plan, which was passed after his time as mayor. 

People's Zoning Counsel Stan Brown objects to the line of questioning on the grounds that "the document speaks for itself." Several counsel members follow with additional questioning of Herman before the council goes into a half-hour recess for lunch.

11:58 a.m.: 'Can't have it both ways'

Former Riverdale Park Mayor Michael Herman says that College Park residents who oppose the Cafritz project but supported previous major developments in their own town "can't have it both ways."

"I'm here to represent a silent majority of individuals who are not here today: individuals throughout my community who know this project is essential to the economic development of Riverdale Park and surrounding communities," says Herman.

11:39 a.m.: 'Thrive and survive'

"I want to see our town center thrive and survive," says Riverdale Park resident Jim Coleman, who speaks in support of the development. He says he has worked for the town in "almost a volunteer" position out of concern for the economic health of Riverdale Park.

"My opinion: this town center will never be occupied until we have critical mass for development in this area," he adds.

11:32 a.m.: 'Fundamentally incompatible'

University Park resident John Christiansen calls the Cafritz development "fundamentally incompatible" with the surrounding areas.

11:22 a.m.: Animals and traffic

Dr. William Montgomery, a College Park resident, asks that any animals affected by the development "be removed carefully and looked after" if the project is to proceed. Montgomery also raises concerns about the traffic generated by the development.

11:18 a.m.: Bigger class sizes?

Dr. Amy Sapkota, also a professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, says she's extremely concerned about the density of housing found in the Cafritz plan. "Will we be talking about class sizes of up to 40 when my little ones attend University Park Elementary School?" She asks.

11:07 a.m.: Particulate matter

Dr. Amir Sapkota, a Hyattsville resident and assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, argues that the additional traffic generated by the Cafritz project would generate unhealthy levels of particulate matter in the air. "I strongly urge you to take these health-related facts into consideration," he says, submitting several papers he authored on the subject into the record.

11:00 a.m.: Del. Pena-Melnyk speaks

State Delegate Joseline Pena-Melnyk (D-Dist. 21) is the first elected official to testify. She says Route 1 "can't take" the amount of traffic that the Cafritz development would generate. "How much traffic do you think Route 1 can take? Have you ever driven Route 1? Have you ever gotten stuck on Route 1?" she asks, calling on the council to reject the plan.

10:50 a.m.: Epps-Web's response

Chief zoning hearing examiner Maureen Epps-Web responds to the objections raised. She says that the time limit may be waived at the discretion of the council (particularly in the case of expert witnesses) and that she believes Lareuse's testimony is admissible.

10:47 a.m.: Initial objections

Attorney Susan Gray, speaking on behalf of a University Park resident, objects to the late submission of technical reports by the developer and the 3-minute time limit imposed on witnesses.

Attorney Ronald Willoner, also a University Park resident, calls on the council to strike the April 11 testimony of County Planner Susan Lareuse on the grounds that she was simply reading a document (the planning department's report) into the record.

10:37 a.m.: Procedural notes

People's zoning counsel Stan Brown lays out the procedures to be used in today's hearing. Witnesses will be limited to 3 minutes and may be subjected to cross-examination.

10:31 a.m.: Hearing under way

Chairwoman Andrea Harrison has called the District Council to order. A brief prayer is said before the hearing begins.

Original article:

The Prince George's County District Council is set to resume its hearing of the Cafritz rezoning application this morning in Upper Marlboro. 

Monday's session follows  marked by procedural objections and confusion over the hearing format. Few in the audience were initially aware that the District Council process would be quasi-judicial, meaning it must include sworn testimony, cross-examination, and other evidentiary constraints.

After numerous members of the audience declared that they had not come ready to testify under oath, Chair Andrea Harrison decided to recess the hearing, giving residents more time to prepare. The District Council before immediately continuing the process to today.

The Cafritz family is seeking to have its 37-acre parcel on the north end of Riverdale Park rezoned from single-family detached residential (R-55) to mixed-use town center (M-UTC), easing the way for the construction of more than 900 units of housing, a 35,000-square foot Whole Foods, a 120-room hotel, and additional office and retail space.

Though the plan , critics charge that the development would pose extreme fiscal, environmental, and traffic pressure on the surrounding communities.

Alan Thompson April 30, 2012 at 11:12 PM
Hi Tina, This is the first I've heard of it! No decisions about traffic flow have been made, as the traffic studies that would help with that decision haven't been completed. Alan Thompson
Don Lynch May 01, 2012 at 01:35 PM
A typical Riverdale Town Council person, but in this case, the MUTC Chairman of Riverdale Park, eagerly voted for it, didn't think of the consequences and now disavows any knowledge of the process. This town voted them in on less than 200 votes out of 3000+ residents. As long as the silent majority lets this happen then we will see this reckless behavior continue and the town will get what this small group wished for, the monkeys paw.
Tina Van Pelt May 01, 2012 at 02:12 PM
Apparently this idea was based on a traffic study. I will contact the former Hyattsville town coucilman who mentioned this to my brother. Does the Cafritz development plan have a traffic study?
Chris Gill May 01, 2012 at 05:42 PM
Tina - There was a traffic study done by the Cafritz folks, but it has some difficiencies. For example, it didn't cover weekends. The Consensus Conditions, which will become binding if the rezoning goes through, has some fairly stringent requirements for a new traffic study. It's laid out in section 6c, if you're interested. The conditions are available here: http://riverdaleparkmd.info/draft%20conditions%20of%20support,%201-9-12.pdf The document says 'draft', but this is the final version.
stuart eisenberg May 02, 2012 at 08:21 PM
Tina, For what it's worth: I reviewed the draft traffic study done by Wells and Assocs. for the Cafritz development team; and no recommendation related to Queensbury as you described is to be found. Whereas a 2010 Traffic Study commissioned by Hyattsville, and written by Sabra Wang, made mention of Queensbury in an "if, then" type scenario as follows: "Expand access restrictions during peak hours: Should improvements to State roadways be delayed or not implemented, and increases in traffic volumes along Queensbury exceed the projections in this study, as an alternative to lifting the Queensbury Access restriction, the City could consider an alternative circulation pattern that would propose expanded conditional peak hour one-way traffic on Queensbury WB and Oglethorpe EB between Queens Chapel and Route 1. This conditional peak hour couplet would reduce traffic on both roadways while distributing the volumes more evenly." So this is, perhaps, how this suggestion and supposition emerged and gained circulation. I can't say definitively what mitigation will be proposed downstream, but I haven't found anything like that one way conversion recommendation floated anywhere, yet.

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