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Safeway and Whole Foods race to the finish line: Two grocery stores will be built 1.3 miles apart

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Posted on: August 13, 2013

BY SUSIE CURRIE — When Safeway left Hyattsville in February 2012, ending a presence it had had here since 1928, it seemed to be the end of an era. But a new partnership has jump-started the long-dormant plan to build a new store at University Town Center (UTC) – just 1.3 miles from the proposed Whole Foods site in Riverdale Park.

Both chains hope to open here in early 2015, said sources familiar with each project. But Safeway may beat Whole Foods to the ribbon-cutting, because developers intend to amend the site plan rather than submit a new one.

When that plan was first approved in 2006, UTC officials announced that a new 56,000-square-foot Safeway would open in 2008. But financial pressures, which have since led to foreclosures at the struggling shopping area, prevented the build. In the meantime, the existing store on Hamilton Street languished and eventually closed.

Now, the plan’s original architects from MV+A are working with the commercial development firm Echo Realty to tweak the plans and begin construction early next year. Changes to the plan have already been submitted, said Jack W. Hollon, principal of the Bethesda-based architecture firm.

The biggest change is removing the 11-story, 176-unit residential component that was to be built atop Safeway. The developer wants those off the table, especially now that the Kiplinger property, less than a mile down East-West Highway at Editors’ Park Drive, recently won county approval for rezoning that allows up to 870 apartments and 34,000 square feet of retail space.

The grocery store’s design has changed, too, from “more deco” to “more modern,” Hollon told the Hyattsville Planning Committee at its July 16 meeting. Most notable in the brick, glass and steel design is a two-story glass storefront, which he called “a departure for Safeway.”

“Right now, University Town Center is more or less an isolated island. It’s missing an anchor and an entrance. ”

— Echo Realty attorney  Matthew Tedesco

A new rooftop parking deck adds 210 spaces, with another 77 spots at ground level. That is significant because the building site is currently a 190-spot parking lot that runs along East-West Highway between Democracy Avenue and America Boulevard.

“Right now, University Town Center is more or less an isolated island,” said the developer’s attorney, Matthew Tedesco, during an August 5 presentation to the Hyattsville City Council. “It’s missing an anchor and an entrance. There’s nothing on East-West Highway that signals destination retail.”

The Hyattsville Planning Committee unanimously approved the revised plan, with conditions, July 16 meeting. The city council seems poised to do the same.

“I liked what I saw and I’d like to move forward with it,” said Councilmember Tim Hunt (Ward 3), whose ward includes the shopping center.

Mayor Marc Tartaro agrees. “I think it’s going to be a wonderful opportunity for UTC and the city,” he said. “There’s a vacant lot now, and [this plan] will create a front door off East-West into UTC. This will jump-start that whole area.”

This official support contrasts with that received by Whole Foods’ proposed opening in Riverdale Park as the centerpiece of a Cafritz mixed-use project.  In May, after months of lengthy and sometimes contentious public hearings, the Prince George’s County Planning Board unanimously approved the site plan for the 37-acre Cafritz property. The plan calls for nearly 1,000 residences and about 187,000 square feet of commercial space on what is now a largely forested tract.

But three appeals were filed, including two from nearby municipalities. Acting as the District Council, The Prince George’s County Council will consider the appeals on September 9. County Councilmember Eric Olson (District 3), who represents the Cafritz property’s district, has been unwavering in his opposition to the development.  Olson and others oppose the project both because of environmental and traffic impact.

The University Town Center project is in District 2, and has the support of its representative, County Councilmember Will Campos.

“I’m sure the community would appreciate a project that would help revitalize UTC,” said Campos.

 Local resident Cynthia Finley is one such community member.

“Between a new Safeway and Whole Foods, I may actually start grocery shopping again, rather than just sending my husband to Target three times a week,” she said.



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