As the Prince George's County Planning Board hearing draws near, Cafritz developers are employing new tactics to rally community support for the re-zoning of the property, so that they can build a Whole Foods Market just south of College Park.
Some Calvert Hills residents received calls last week from individuals claiming to be a part of a citizens’ group supporting the re-zoning of the property, according to College Park Councilwoman Stephanie Stullich (Dist. 3). The northern boundary of the property runs along the neighborhood.
The developers’ attorney Chip Reed confirmed the calls actually came from a public relations firm employed by the development team. He said he was not aware the calls were being made until Stullich inquired about them Tuesday, Dec. 27.
“Those calls were the result of an overzealous person and the calls will cease,” Reed said. Stullich said residents have not reported calls since last Tuesday.
Robert Ramsey, who lives in Calvert Hills, was one resident who received a call.
"[The caller] was offensive and condescending and who she was representing was not at all clear,” he said.
She talked about the benefits of the development, implied there was a plot among some elected officials to block the development, and asked if he would be willing to call Stullich in support of the project, according to Ramsey. He said she hung up on him when he said he would not.
Another Calvert Hills resident, Douglas Shontz, said he received a similar phone call. Both Shontz and Ramsey said the woman claimed to be from a citizens’ group.
“We’re just anxious to get out there that the calls were made, but on further review, we thought them overzealous and they were ceased,” Reed said. He said he did not know who the Cafritz public relations firm is, and calls from Patch to the Cafritz family were not immediately returned.
The developers also sent a direct mailing to residents of College Park, Riverdale Park and University Park last week that asked residents to sign and return a postcard in support of the development. Although Reed said he does not approve of the phone calls, the mailers represent a legitimate outreach effort.
“We feel that there is a lot of support out there, and we are looking for ways to tap into that public support,” Reed said.
Citizen Support, Opposition
Among that support is a petition signed by 114 residents in municipalities surrounding the property, submitted to the county’s planning board. “We believe that it would be a tremendous benefit to our community, providing retail opportunities that are currently lacking in an accessible location, as well as adding quality housing near transit hubs,” wrote Cynthia Finley in the letter. She’s a College Park resident who helped organize the petition.
Those opposed to the re-zoning are involved in a grassroots effort as well.
College Park resident Joseph Grikis is one of several area residents who wrote letters to the county planning board opposing the re-zoning. He said in an email he plans to spend this weekend petitioning for signatures and distributing information with his concerns about the development. He said this is part of an ongoing effort among College Park, University Park and Riverdale Park residents who oppose the project.
In addition to the Whole Foods Market, Cafritz developers hope to build almost 1,000 residential units, a fitness center and a hotel in Riverdale Park. The area is currently zoned for residential use only (R-55), and so developers are pursuing a zoning change.
The developers have been meeting with area municipalities in recent weeks to reach a consensus about the proposed development.
"How College Park will vote on this depends largely on how the negotiations go," Stullich said.
The College Park City Council will discuss the Cafritz development at its 7 p.m. worksession Tuesday at City Hall, 4500 Knox Road. The Prince George’s County Planning Board will hear the re-zoning case on Jan. 12.