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Hyattsville Council Sees Safeway Proposal

Developers need financial incentives before project can move forward.

A rendering of the proposed Safeway grocery store, viewed from the south east across East-West Highway. Credit: MVA Architects
A rendering of the proposed Safeway grocery store, viewed from the south east across East-West Highway. Credit: MVA Architects

The Hyattsville City Council got its first look at new plans for a proposed Safeway along East-West Highway at the University Town Center. 

The approved 2006 detailed site plan for University Town Center already allows the construction of an 11 story grocery store and apartment complex along East-West Highway. The developer's modified proposal, which must be approved by the Prince George's Planning Board, strips out the proposed residential complex in favor of a two-story retail and commercial complex.

Regional market saturation in the rental and multifamily housing market figured considerably into the decision by developers to not pursue the mixed residential-commercial option, according to Matthew Tedesco, attorney for the Pittsburgh-based developer Echo Realty. 

Tedesco reviewed the plans for the new grocery store before the council, saying that a Safeway could provide the "critical mass" needed to fully develop the University Town Center, which has had trouble filling commercial and residential spaces and drawing foot traffic in great numbers outside of the business day. 

"Pivotal to the reasons for the failure of UTC to draw traffic…there is not clear line of demarcation that welcomes anyone in, or identifies itself as a retail center. More importantly, there is not an anchor," said Tedesco. "We can provide that key anchor."

Hyattsville City Council Member Robert Croslin (Ward 2) asked if the project would reduce the number of parking currently available at University Town Center. 

Tedesco said that Safeway and the developer were very keen to make sure that enough parking was available for both grocery shoppers and those who might otherwise have used the parking lot which currently exists on the site of the proposed grocery store. 

During the meeting, Tedesco also revealed that developers are looking to secure financial incentives before the project can go forward. 

"We are in discussions with the county as far as [Economic Development Incentive] fund grants and other various programs for [transit-oriented development] projects like this," said Tedesco. "The price of land, price of construction and the price of the return on investment, all of those things factor into it."

Tedesco declined to discuss how much financial incentives developers are looking to secure before the project could go forward. 

J.W. Hampton August 08, 2013 at 12:09 PM
While I certainly understand, and to a degree agree with holding "Safeway's" feet to the fire on the proposed developement, I just wonder what the current occupancy is for the apartments and condo's already available at UTC. Last I checked occupancy was fairly low. So does it make sense to demand more residential units be built just to have them sit empty?
Adelphi Sky August 08, 2013 at 12:30 PM
@JW The "apartments" you see across from the glass office building were once or is still condos. The property went into bankrupt and there was an auction. I'm not sure if they are still condos now. The grey art deco building in the center of UTC are also condos and were going for $700k when completed. They too have been auctioned off or severely reduced. Still no takers I guess. The only true apartments in UTC are the student apartments which I believe are at capacity or close to it. Also, you have to look at occupancy rates at the other nearby apartment projects which aren't too bad. I think building another apartment building literally across the intersection from the metro station would see high occupancy if leases are lower than at other similar projects along the metro system.
HyattsvilleCouldBeBetter August 08, 2013 at 04:29 PM
I'm not actually very worried about the Safeway not having apartments on top of it. There is still plenty of room to build around PG plaza and 50 years from now it will be time to start knocking down buildings rethinking some of the suburban design aspects, the worst offender being the Mall at Prince Georges. Until then, the hodge podge build out will give the area character. Some of the most interesting cities are not planned but instead evolved over time in a natural way. Also, in terms of a city feel, height is not necessarily as relevant as open space. Many downtowns have a great vibe because the buildings are close to eachother so it takes less time to walk from one to the next. What kills walkability is surface parking and open space between lots. Large lot sizes in general tend to detract from the urban vibe. We need to see some smaller subdivisions if this area is ever going to flourish as a hip community.
Donald James August 09, 2013 at 10:02 AM
What comes first...the chicken or the egg? Perhaps if UTC had been better marketed and planned there would be something there to draw people to it. On the other hand, maybe the lack of people was the reason it didn't fair well and having more apartments adjacent would help. I do tend to agree with HyattsvilleCouldBeBetter in that cities should be grown organically. If everything is to planned out it'll look cheap and boring in my opinion.
Jonathan Ebbeler August 09, 2013 at 11:27 AM
Removing the residential component means that the original size and scope of the store should be rethought as well. If you are removing that much residential density on-site you should remove square footage of the store as well. The prior approval was predicated on variables that are now being asked to change. A 60k sq foot store (across the street from another 60k sq foot grocery store) is either designed for high-density mixed-use on-site development or built to be automobile-focused and attracting those in a 3-5 mile radius. Everyone talked about the 'traffic' for Whole Foods, which is a 35k sq ft store, yet I have yet to hear anyone bring up the traffic argument on a store that clearly has little connection to the existing site and is being built to be a regional draw. A 30k-35k sq. ft. store would be much more appropriate for this site if the developer was concerned about its integration at UTC. I too agree with preserving opportunities for open spaces - but you do that by massing residential development as close to transportation nodes as possible rather than punting on the problem, encouraging future sprawl, and assuming it will be addressed decades down the road. There is nothing wrong with this site other than horrendous marketing. Take a look at their site and form your own opinion: http://www.universitytowncenter.net/residential.html

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