Editor's note: The Prince George's County District Council wrapped up oral arguments on the Maryland Book Exchange project Monday in Upper Marlboro. Below is an archive of the proceedings.
3:53 p.m.: Arguments closed
Oral arguments on the Maryland Book Exchange project have now closed. The council is addressing several other items before turning to the Cafritz project.
3:50 p.m.: People's zoning counsel speaks
"I would find that I am in agreement and concur with [the planning board's] analysis and their final recommendation of approval," says People's Zoning Counsel Stand Brown.
3:39 p.m.: Density considerations
Olson questions Kosack and Ferguson about the density of the project, which would place 313 units of housing on 2.71 acres.
"The disparity is very large" between the density of the project and the surrounding residences, Ferguson said, which was an area of concern for the city.
3:25 p.m.: Original recommendation
After a brief rebuttal from Wayne Curry, Councilman Eric Olson takes over questioning. He asks Jill Kosack what the planning department's original recommendation was; she responds that staff advised against approval in December before later revising their assessment.
3:18 p.m.: 'Not appropriate'
"[This project] is not appropriate next to a recognized residential neighborhood that is called out in the sector plan for protection," Ferguson says on rebuttal.
Though neighboring St. Andrew's Episcopal Church does qualify as an institutional use, she argues, that doesn't change the fact that the development is next to a residential area.
3:12 p.m.: Wayne Curry speaks
Former County Executive Wayne Curry, serving as a consultant for R&J Company, argues the project satisfies an imperative to develop the area smartly and that it is not "insensitive" to its surroundings.
"What has emerged is a very good economic development proposal consistent with the progressive activity that has taken place up and down Route 1," Curry says.
3:01 p.m.: 'We find conformance'
Michele La Rocca, an attorney for the developer, steps to the mic. She says the question of which neighborhood the project falls does not affect its viability as a project.
"We find conformance [with the sector plan] regardless of which project this neighborhood is in," La Rocca says.
2:52 p.m.: Galvanizing opposition
"This project has galvanized more opposition in our neighborhood than any project I have ever seen," says Old Town Civic Association President Kathy Bryant.
Bryant says she is hopeful a better project will eventually be proposed and developed on the site.
Oral arguments are proceeding very quickly, as each side has only 30 minutes to state its case.
2:47 p.m.: 'A very unusual situation'
College Park Councilwoman Stephanie Stullich (Dist. 3) says that the city council does not often flatly disapprove a project.
"This is a very unusual situation we find ourselves in," Stullich says.
"[This project] is not in compliance with the existing sector plan, which is supposed to protect the neighborhood," she adds.
2:41 p.m.: Step down
Following brief comments from Carlo Colella, the University of Maryland's Associate Vice President of Facilities Management, Ferguson returns to the lectern.
She argues that the so-called "step down" in the developer's plan—which would taper the height of the building from six stories to four stories on the Yale Avenue side—fails to meet the formal definition of a step down, in part because it is not deep enough.
2:30 p.m.: Sector plan
After Kosack completes her presentation, College Park counsel Suellen Ferguson steps to the mic. She says that the book exchange proposal is incompatible with the Central US 1 Corridor Sector Plan and notes that the Prince George's County Planning Board's approval did not incorporate all of the conditions recommended by planning department staff.
2:03 p.m.: Under way
And we're under way here in Upper Marlboro. Jill Kosack of the Prince George’s County Planning Department is currently recapping the department's report on the Maryland Book Exchange project.
Meanwhile, many in the audience are sporting green t-shirts as a sign of support for the Cafritz project, which is also on today's agenda.
Two key development proposals affecting College Park are due to come before the Prince George's County District Council Monday afternoon when it meets in Upper Marlboro.
The first, a revised detailed site plan for Maryland Book Exchange, is slated for oral argument at 1:30 p.m.
Under the proposal from R & J Company, a six-story mixed-use facility would be built on the current site of the exchange, tapering to four stories on the Yale Avenue side. The building would include 14,366 square feet of retail space on the ground floor and 313 units of housing.
That plan was unanimously rejected in January by members of the College Park City Council, who contend that it doesn’t comply with zoning ordinances or the 2010 Approved Central US 1 Corridor Sector Plan.
Nevertheless, the Prince George's County Planning Board conditionally OK'd the developer's application, 4-1, in January.
County planning staff had initially recommended disapproval of the of the project in December, but after a continuance was granted to allow the developer to make several changes to its application, that recommendation was changed to approval with conditions.
Opponents appealed the planning board's decision in March, leading to today's oral argument.
The second item, the Cafritz rezoning application, is set for discussion and a likely vote later in Monday's meeting. Public hearings on the plan—which lasted 30-plus hours over six days—wrapped up in May.
If approved, a 37-acre parcel on the north end of Riverdale Park would be redesignated 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.
Supporters say the project will spur economic growth and bring a desirable mix of retail and residential development to the area—an argument embraced by the Prince George's County Planning Board. Critics charge that the plan would impose extreme fiscal, environmental, and traffic pressure on the surrounding communities.
For its part, the city council voted against the plan, 6-2, in January. Most members said that the conditions crafted by the developer and surrounding municipalities weren't enough to allay their concerns.