City to review sidewalk policy as construction begins in University Hills
BY REBECCA BENNETT — On Sept. 16, the City of Hyattsville held a community meeting about the University Hills street and sidewalk improvement project, which began construction earlier in the month on Stanford and Notre Dame Streets.
“We are here to reiterate the current project as approved by [the Hyattsville City Council] in 2013,” City Administrator Tracey Nicholson said to a room of approximately 40 residents and various city and county officials.
Both the sidewalk policy and the University Hills annexation took place in 2006. “I know there’s concern about when that policy was adopted and when [University Hills] was annexed in,” Mayor Candace Hollingsworth said.
According to Department of Public Works (DPW) Director Lesley Riddle, a design firm came up with an initial plan in 2009, but there was pushback from the community. The city council approved the ‘Tim Hunt Plan’ in 2013, which reduced the amount of sidewalks, she said, but proposed sidewalk is still throughout the neighborhood.
“I’ve been here since 1988 and no one has ever said ‘Hey, Judy, do you want a sidewalk?’” A Rosemary Terrace resident said.
Riddle said that while she cannot speak to where the project originated from, she believes it was in good faith.“There was an understanding behind it to provide a better aesthetic for the neighborhood,” she said. “Residents are extremely satisfied with the roadwork and street repairs, and we hear positive feedback when we are at the construction sites.”
Nicholson said the city was concerned about delaying phase 1 to include more suggestions from the community, because it could have pushed the start of construction back another year. Phase 1 should be completed in late fall or early winter 2015, according to Riddle.
“I know you guys were anxious to get it started,” Riddle said. “I know the roadways need repair.”
“The original entire project scope which included new sidewalks on several streets was approved in 2013 but has evoked recent and considerable emotion, concern, and objection from some members of the community,” a city handout said. “Staff is prepared to review [the sidewalk] policy, community feedback, and previous considerations in an effort to prepare an updated recommendation to the council, if desired.”
“My job is to support what council mandates for staff,” Riddle said. “We’re concerned with the approved plan for a few reasons. That is why the mayor has asked us to review it.”
“The city is beholden to this plan,” Councilmember Tom Wright (Ward 3) said. “Unless legislative action is taken, we are going to be subject to whatever that plan has.”
More than a dozen attendees said they wanted to modify the 2013 plan. Wright said for the city to consider modifying the plan, they would have to find out what that modification might look like.
“We know that some want the sidewalks to improve safety and travel connectivity, while others don’t want sidewalks because they believe it will change the historic character of the neighborhood,” Riddle said.
Revising phase 2 or 3 should not cause a significant delay to the project, according to the meeting handout. Riddle said the engineering design for those phases should be completed by March 2016.
According to Riddle, new DPW employee Howe Metzler, a civil engineer, made several recommendations, including reviewing the rather broad sidewalk policy. “To have it … where we’re able to work within the policy, and it’s clear to you where we would have sidewalks, where we might not have sidewalks, and how to petition that,” she said.
In a handout to meeting attendees (page 3), the city said the sidewalk policy needs to recognize and uphold several principles, including “the existing character of each neighborhood and the practicality and desirability of mandatory sidewalk construction.”
“To the best of our ability, we want to adhere to a policy that makes sense,” Hollingsworth said. The city, she said, recognizes that clarifying the sidewalk policy is desirable for everyone.
University Hills resident Carol Martin alleged that the sidewalk policy is in conflict with the city charter, and that according to Section C12-4, all city regulations in conflict with the charter when it becomes effective are automatically repealed to the extent of the conflict.
“The charter section in question refers to street and sidewalk improvements that are made using a special funding mechanism/tax assessment provided by only neighboring homes,” Riddle said. “However, the work that is underway and under consideration is not funded in this way.”
Hollingsworth said one of the city’s priorities is a proactive review of city code and the charter to find areas of inconsistency.
Wright said the city wanted to hear residents’ opinions about the 2013 plan.
City officials said that next staff will make a recommendation, and the executive committee of the city council will make a decision as to whether or not the item should be brought before the whole council.
“We want to fix your streets, but we have to work through this together,” Riddle said.