Monthly Archives: July 2007

Landy: Not Ready for Prime Time

television-small.jpgAs you very likely know, the Landy Property would be a luxury development in a fenced, gated community with security on 34 acres off of Belcrest Rd. between Northwestern High School and Toledo Terrace. Originally approved in 2001, the plan has undergone a number of revisions. The revamped plans required a lot of work and are moving in the right direction, that is worthy of note. However, our area has grown significantly in the last 6 years and the Landy project’s improvements have not kept pace with an evolving community and its needs or concerns.

The latest iteration is hard to nail down as 3-bedroom units come and go (see below) and the unit number wavers between 1216 and 1262. What is clear is that the project is not consistent with the transit oriented development that our area needs. In addition, the Landy’s massive scale would cast a long shadow, metaphorically and literally. Shadow-wise, the M-NCPPC planning file has not been updated since the original 2001 plan. But even that less bulky building would have thrown a substantial shadow. The current proposal’s two buildings with 7-story base and 16-story towers would shadow Northwestern High School all of the year and the University Hills neighborhood a good bit of the year.

Construction would be done in phases and could take 8 years depending on market conditions. The M-NCPPC staff report recommends approval with conditions. Issues and impacts of concern to immediate neighbors and area residents include: Continue reading

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Filed under Developers, Events, Hyattsville, Landy Property, Planning Board, Riverdale Park, Route 1 Corridor, Traffic, University Park

Calvert Hills: Not Just Another Link in the Chain

img_1117-small.jpgCalvert Hills is a small section of College Park situated between the famed Cafritz property and the Old Town of College Park. In 2003, the neighborhood was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The neighborhood’s defining feature is the old trolley trail, a raised berm that was recently upgraded with a $90,000 grant from the State of Maryland. Many people probably see our section of the trail as just another segment on the greater bike trail system. Plans are underway to extend the trail to the south to Riverdale and possibly beyond. With the development of the Cafritz property and points south, I fear Calvert Hills will be viewed as a potential transportation link connecting the new commercial areas. Route 1 is at capacity and it would be easy to look to other routes to connect these areas.

To Calvert Hills residents, the trolley trail path is not just a passage, but a valued destination, a “place” in and of itself. The “bike path” is one of the few spots you see kids playing.img_1112-small.jpg Neighbors congregate in the evening, walking dogs or steadying toddlers on bikes. Sometimes you have to dodge an ad hoc skate park created by neighborhood kids and there are often chalk designs drawn on the pavement. Pirate flags appear on occasion. Many of our neighborhood traditions focus on the bike path–for example, our annual summer block party and our New Year’s Eve progressive party with midnight fireworks and trumpet serenade on the path. It would be an adjustment to have strangers walking and biking through our neighborhood but I think most folks in Calvert Hills will accept the bike trail extension.

And what about the Cafritz property? That’s a mixed bag. It has languished with old broken pavement and pipes, a ratty fence, and trash strewn along Route 1. A scrappy path has been worn along the curb as a substitute for a sidewalk. On rainy days, people walk in the road to avoid the mud on their way to College Park. Homeless people camp in the woods on the property. But farther down the property there is a beautiful meadow that goes down to the tracks with remnants of old roses and herds of deer go bounding over the remains of the trolley trail. Something could be done to enhance the value of this property for the good of the community.

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Filed under Cafritz Property, Calvert Hills, College Park, Schools

Traffic & Whole Foods

whole-foods-logo-100w.jpgLet’s examine the possibility of the Cafritz Property development including a Whole Foods. Many area residents might enjoy having a Whole Foods nearby—especially for rushed weeknight dinners. But are we ready for all the additional traffic?

If we give Whole Foods the benefit of the doubt and assume that their store will be at the small end of the scale, only 40,000 square feet, let’s think about how many trips might be generated each day as people drive to this new destination. (We’ve heard it will be 42,000 square feet, but we are generous folk.)

Supermarkets do about 102 car trips per 1,000 square feet. So, if this is a 40,000 SF Whole Foods, you are looking at 4,000 car trips a day, and about 500/hour during the peak afternoon rush. The source for these two figures is the traffic impact bible for planners and engineers: Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE), Trip Generation , 7th Ed., 2003.

However, Whole Foods real estate criteria and existing store data make us believe that they pull from a larger geographic area and have customers that are willing to drive a greater distance, thus would generate more trips, than say, Giant. In Austin, Texas, Whole Foods has a smallish store, only 30,000 square feet. There, over 3,800 trips are made daily.

Route 1 is already overloaded. The State Highway Administration has determined that Route 1 is pretty much at capacity and its intersections are operating at a level of service that would receive a classroom grade of an E or F. This is permissible only because the state and county hope to push Metro use.

However, Whole Foods real estate criteria make it clear that they prefer stand alone stores with parking dedicated to their customers. Route 1 and 410 are both heavily traveled roads that meet at a failing intersection–that is about to become worse with the addition of Wachovia’s drive through lanes. The Cafritz site’s proximity to the intersection should be a real source of concern.

To make this project work–if a zoning change is granted–will require something more than the transit adjacent development style that’s been deemed acceptable thus far in the Route 1 corridor. The Cafritz team will need to address the number of trips generated by future residents and a Whole Foods (or other retail). Transit oriented development should limit parking and push users (commercial or resident) towards Metro.

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Filed under Cafritz Property, College Park, Developers, Hyattsville, Riverdale Park, Traffic, University Park

Schools, Overcrowding & the Capital Improvement Plan

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An earlier blog entry asked where the kids would attend school if a family moved into one of the new developments in our area. Let’s take a look. On the EYA web site, I found a townhouse in the Hyattsville Arts District which has completed construction and is available to move in today. OK, I can’t afford this townhouse, but if I did purchase it my children would attend an elementary school which is at 117% capacity, a middle school at %132 and a high school at 122%.

Hmmmm…I decided to try looking for another location to buy or rent. But it turns out there are other overcrowded elementary schools in our area. If I decide to buy a condo at the University Town Center, my children would attend a more crowded elementary school.

The truth is, in the Route 1 corridor, there are more children than seats in elementary, middle and high schools. New development will likely increase the number of children attending. Continue reading

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Filed under Growth, Route 1 Corridor, Schools

Mr. Blumberg’s Luxury Apartments

monopoly-houses-small.jpgAt Monday’s University Park town council meeting, Developer Marvin Blumberg, his attorney and landscape architect presented their most recent plans for the 34-acre Landy Property at Belcrest Road behind Northwestern HS. This is one big elephant.

A previous post provides a solid project description, but new, expanded or clearer information provided at the meeting is covered below. Please note that the Landy Staff Report (issued July 3) is now available for fun holiday reading and this uses a different number of units than mentioned in this recent meeting. Blumberg requested a continuance from the Planning Board, it is possible that 7/26 will be the new hearing date.

  • Upon completion 1262 one and two bedroom luxury apartments (presenters were unclear about any 3 bedroom units, county regs. would require these to be condo units) with 2000 bedrooms.
  • To ensure luxury, Mr. Blumberg’s most used descriptor, the entire property is to be fenced (no more than five feet high) and gated at three access points. The main access would be on Belcrest Rd. with another one onto Northwest Drive and a third, tradespersons only, access onto Dean Drive.
  • Mr. Blumberg does not think this development will attract folks with children. To further allay concerns about school overcrowding, he consented to set aside one third of the units for students and folks 55 and older.
  • The visual impact of Landy Project’s seven 16 story glass, steel and reinforced concrete towers will be huge, especially from Adelphi Rd. The Landy towers are about the same height as the University Town Center student suites, on Belcrest Road across from Target. To get a sense of size and scope of the Landy towers try to visualize seven UTCs in close proximity!

Most University Park council members’ questions covered school overcrowding concerns which Mr. Blumberg’s attorney assured us was an issue they have heard and sympathize with, but really they have very limited means to do anything about. Continue reading

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Filed under Developers, Events, Hyattsville, Landy Property, Planning, Schools

Beer, Comprehensive Plans & Retail

beer-bottles.jpgOK, that was completely shameless–the beer’s just to get your attention. But it is summer, we know your hammock is calling to you. So get one out of the fridge, let’s talk planning.

This article is reprinted with kind permission from The Hometown Advantage Bulletin, a free email newsletter published by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. To read back issues or join the mailing list, visit here. The Institute’s focus is on small business vitality which is on our minds as well, the Cafritz team mentioned local businesses as a regular comment during the community input. We are somewhat concerned about so many new or redeveloping commercial centers: Univ. Town Center, EYA, Riverdale’s Town Center and more. While we do agree that our area is under served for retail, we hope to see careful and thoughtful planning given to creating a strong mix of local and national retail. Read on…

There are two primary pieces of local land use policy: the comprehensive plan and the zoning code. The comprehensive plan is essentially a vision statement containing general guidelines for development in a local jurisdiction. The plan is then implemented through the zoning code. The zoning code contains concrete rules defining which uses (commercial, residential, etc.) are allowed in each area of town and specifying certain restrictions on those uses, such as economic impact standards or limits on the scale of buildings.

Strong comprehensive plans yield a number of important benefits. In addition to serving as the basis of zoning, plans provide land use officials with guidelines for reviewing development permits and applications to rezone certain sites. Plans that clearly articulate a policy to promote small, local retail businesses and discourage corporate chains will help ensure that these goals are the focus of planning board decisions. Continue reading

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Filed under Developers, Growth, Local Economy, Planning, Route 1 Corridor