People passing by Driskell Park on the Gallatin Street side have probably seen a raised plateau of dirt, now covered in grass — but what they may not know is that that mound of dirt is part of the plan to fill in the flood plain for more building. Werrlein Properties plans to build 41 luxury townhouses on this perch above the park and adjacent to the already stressed Trumbule Bog and Northwest Branch of the Anacostia River.

According to the Prince George’s Department of Permitting, Inspections and Enforcement (DPIE), dumping dirt fill on the flood plain is enough to protect the new townhouses from flood risk, but that doesn’t take into account the expected increased rainfall in our area from climate change. DPIE is the same agency that issued numerous stop-work orders on the first phase of building for Suffrage Point, a heavily disputed development project that includes a combination of single-family homes and townhouses still yet to be built. 

DPIE and the Prince George’s Planning Board, both of which have provided approvals for the townhouse build, failed to consider and continue to ignore the realities of climate change. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood plain maps and risk projections relied on by these agencies are in no way up to date (sometimes relying on rainfall data from before 1980). In addition, the 2022 Prince George’s County Climate Action Plan calls upon the county to “prioritize restoring and preserving natural resource areas” and to “stop the practice of permitting the reconfiguring of floodplain storage areas.” 

  So what does it mean for the 41 (yes, that many) planned townhouses? Werrlein’s stormwater management plans, its map delineating the 100-year flood plain, and its plan to mitigate the impacts of dumping acres of fill dirt in the flood plain all ignore abundant and growing evidence that climate change has been bringing and will continue to bring more severe and frequent storms. 

Even if DPIE is correct, and the folks that buy townhouses can stay high and dry with this plan amid the projected increased rainfall in our area, the surrounding area will suffer. Opponents of the project, which include the City of Hyattsville, have raised the alarm with agencies about potential harm to the parkland and local infrastructure, as well as increased pollution to the already impaired Northwest Branch. 

You don’t have to be an expert to know that water will run downhill from this project, and I worry about the health of our neighbors in Hyattsville, the surrounding communities living in low-lying areas and about a decreased quality of life for the kids that need park access.

There is a national momentum to stop this “fill and build” development practice that is sanctioned by the use of unrealistic FEMA maps, and which DPIE insists will protect the future occupants of the townhouses. An E&E News article, reprinted in a November 2023 Scientific American newsletter, reported that even a council advising FEMA spoke out against the practice, which, it said, “can create a false sense of security” for property owners and can take local communities by surprise when coping with climate impacts by “reduc[ing] the carrying capacity of the floodplain, leading to increased flood risk over time.” 

The density calculation per acre for the project intensifies the problem of building in the flood plain, and it was rightfully rejected in May 2023 by the Prince George’s County District Council. Yet, in November 2023, the county planning board again approved a materially same plan from Werrlein to pack 41 townhouses on the flood plain. Emails back from 2020, obtained by a Public Information Act request, show Werrlein’s representative working to override county planning staff when they rejected Werrlein’s density calculation allowing for 41 townhouses to be built. Somehow, three years later, after guidance from the Court of Special Appeals and remand from the District Council, the planning board stuck with Werrlein’s number of 41. The density question will again be decided upon by the District Council, likely on March 11 before this publication reaches your door.

  It has become increasingly clear that the Suffrage Point project was never going to consider the broader public benefit in a meaningful way, or as John Werrlein put it in a 2018 Life & Times op-ed, provide a “sustainable and symbiotic relationship to Magruder Park [Driskell Park’s previous name] for the enjoyment of ALL Hyattsville residents.” Instead, we are facing potential damage from the project to our waterways, to existing homes in the flood plain and, of course, to the land in Hyattsville’s most precious park.

  As a mom of one with another due in two months, I’m prone to napping and dreaming. We all know that developers tend to get their way, but in the meantime, I’ll be closing my eyes and imagining something better on that hill next to Driskell Park for our children and our community.

Allison Kole is a current member of the Board of Sustainable Hyattsville

The lower parcel Suffrage Point project application is called “DSP 21001.” Technical documents, records of environmental violations, and opposition comments with supporting documentation can be found on the District Council’s website,

The views expressed in this column belong to its author. The Life & Times reserves the right to edit “From Where I Stand” submissions for brevity and clarity.