Despite opposition, County approves townhouses on forested land west of University Hills
On a Hyattsville email group with nearly 1,700 members (HOPE@groups.io), city residents recently questioned the Prince George’s County Council’s Oct. 25 approval of a plan to develop 137 townhouses on 12 acres of wooded land about a mile north of the Mall at Prince George’s and just west of the University Hills neighborhood.
The county council, sitting as the district council, unanimously approved changing the zoning to permit construction of townhouses rather than the single family homes that the original zoning allowed. The council also approved a conceptual site plan for the property, known as the Clay Property, that a developer submitted to the county planning board in April 2021.
In doing so, the county council followed the recommendation of County Councilmember Deni Taveras (District 2), whose district includes Hyattsville.
The county council decision stands in opposition to the June 7 recommendation by the City of Hyattsville and a July recommendation by county planning staff. The county council also overrode the county planning board’s July disapproval of the rezoning and the conceptual site plan, a disapproval supported by the University Hills Area Civic Association.
Taveras defended her vote and the decision of the county council on the HOPE email group and in a phone interview with the Hyattsville Life & Times.
She said higher density development would support the commercial center near the Prince George’s Plaza Metro stop.
According to Taveras, city councilmembers failed to negotiate with the developer, on behalf of their constituents, two years ago. Taveras explained that she lets developers know whether she supports a plan before they submit conceptual site plans to the planning board, because of the high costs of submitting a plan.
Hyattsville City Councilmember Ben Simasek (Ward 3), who joined the council in spring 2019, vigorously opposed the Clay Property conceptual site plan in June 2021, when the city council voted not to support it.
On the HOPE email group on Nov. 2, Simasek circulated an alternative vision for the development which preserved more large trees and parkland, and included both single family homes and townhouses. In a phone interview, Simask said that vision was based on recommendations made by the city council when they gave feedback on the conceptual site plan.
Simasek also emphasized the need for developments to support overarching plans collaboratively formulated by residents, expert consultants and elected officials. Simasek cited the 2016 Transit District Development Plan for the Prince George’s Plaza Metro area, which maintained single-family zoning where the Clay Property is located. He also pointed to city priorities and plans concerning affordable housing and environmental protection, which were also developed with resident participation.
Simasek noted that Prince George’s County is unusual in that elected county councilmembers can override decisions of the county planning board, which is charged with applying existing zoning and planning rules. “I have concerns about the integrity of the process,” he said.
Simasek said the city has found the developer and owner of the Clay Property to be good faith partners, and hopes that, through discussions in city council meetings and the advisory city planning committee, elements of his proposal will be incorporated into the next phases of planning for the project. Those next steps will be, first, the preliminary plan of subdivision, and second, the detailed site plan, both of which will be submitted to the county planning board.
Taveras also said she supported the goals of Simasek’s proposal, and believes there is room for compromise, noting in particular active negotiations taking place concerning parkland.