Update: City of Hyattsville appeals District Council’s decision to rezone former WSSC property
By HEATHER WRIGHT — Don’t call the proposed Magruder Pointe project a done deal yet. The city is appealing the May 13 District Council’s decision to rezone the former Washington Suburban Sanitation Commission (WSSC) property.
On June 28, the city filed a petition for judicial review with the Circuit Court of Prince George’s County, seeking to overturn the rezoning decision.
On May 13, the District Council voted (8-0, with one abstention) to “approve with conditions” the Werrlein Properties’ proposal to rezone a portion of the property from open space to R-55 (high density, single-family detached dwellings) and to change the table of uses to allow town houses. The current Magruder Pointe proposal involves the construction of 16 single-family detached houses and 66 town houses.
The city had 30 days from the issuing of the District Council’s notice to file an appeal. The District Council’s resolution [the actual letter drafted by the District’s Council’s lawyer detailing the rezoning decision and the conditions] was voted upon (11-0) on June 10 and issued on June 14.
When asked about the decision to appeal, city officials declined to comment at this time.
In a written statement to the Hyattsville Life & Times, Jonathan Werrlein, managing partner of Werrlein Properties, said, “I am aware of the City’s request for judicial review of the Magruder Pointe project and find it unfortunate. For the last 18 months, we have participated in over 35 meetings with the community and city officials. Many improvements have been incorporated as a result of community input.”
“For more than two decades prior to our proposal, the city has failed to offer any constructive plan to deal with a deplorable eyesore and prevent what is now rapidly become an urban decay nightmare,” Werrlein continued. “Our proposal, coupled with our agreement with the city [to reduce density and transfer a portion of the lower lot to the city], both removes the urban decay and adds land to the park. It’s a win for everyone. I don’t understand what the city’s position is now but would certainly welcome an open dialog.”
Karl Granzow, construction/project manager for Werrlein, said that they had not received any injunction against the demolition of the former WSSC building.
Before the appeal was submitted, Stuart Eisenberg, former city councilmember, said of the council’s decision, “It’s shortsighted for the District Council not to support the city’s vision. The city, as opposed to others, has worked very hard on revitalization. It’s a disappointment that the District Council felt that our plan was not supportable, that they knew better than the city and thought the city’s vision was not sufficient.” In response to the Magruder Pointe proposal, Hyattsville City Council has voted four times against rezoning the WSSC property.
Tim Davis, Hyattsville resident and National Park Service historian, agreed and said, “It was a travesty that the District Council gave no heed to the city’s explicit request to uphold existing zoning and density requirements. Mayor [Candace] Hollingsworth and the city council should be applauded for defending our right to shape the destiny of our city.”
Other residents disagreed with the city’s decision to file an appeal. Will Seath, a practicing architect who lives directly across from the former WSSC building, said in an email, “The city’s decision to appeal the rezoning is disappointing. … Ironically, Werrlein’s rezoning request had to show that Magruder Pointe would meet the very same goal of park expansion that opponents cite in the [Gateway Arts District] Sector Plan. They met that burden of proof.”
“It seems that the city will only be happy with a remote chance at the whole pie, not a guaranteed 40 percent of it (the approximate amount of the lower lot that Werrlein will sell to the city),” continued Seath. “Some of our elected officials seem willing to jeopardize much-needed new housing, expanded tax base and improvements to our built environment without offering any evidence that they’re any closer to complete city ownership of the lower lot.”
Nicholas Harris, another Hyattsville resident who lives across from the WSSC building, expressed concerns about the appeal in an emailed statement, “We had the option to either buy the parking lot, or accept the deal offered by Werrlein to expand city parkland. Instead local politicians chose to continue efforts to block at every turn the only resolution we have to the decades-long and divisive conflict over the abandoned WSSC and its parking lot. In doing so, they risk forfeiting at minimum Hyattsville’s moral right to the Werrlein offer to expand city parkland.”
Harris continued, “We will be lucky, given the city’s behavior, if Werrlein chooses to extend that offer for park expansion to the county instead. Unfortunately, what this most recent misstep by Hyattsville is likely to leave us with is another generation of a rotting hulk no one wants and an abandoned parking lot paving a flood plain.”
Although city officials would not comment about the appeal, in an email exchange following the June 10 District Council resolution vote, Director of Community & Economic Development Jim Chandler said, “The District Council (DC) voted without discussion or providing the public an opportunity [to] speak or to view the resolution in advance of the vote. The resolution was not made available in advance of the meeting, nor does it appear that the DC members reviewed the resolution prior to taking a vote.”
Several of the conditions set forth in the June 10 resolution pertained to the 100-year floodplain: The conceptual site plan should include “delineation of the existing and revised 100-year floodplain,” and the detailed site plan should “provide evidence that impact to the floodplain has been approved by the authority having jurisdiction.” The conditions also included the provision of sidewalks on both sides of all internal streets and that the detailed site plan for the entire 8.26 acres should be approved in a manner that achieves “context-sensitive, high-quality, single-family residential development” prior to the issuance of any building permit.