Will units be affordable? Walkable? What about the trees?

By: Rebecca Marx

Home prices in Hyattsville were up 16% in June compared to last year, according to Redfin, despite housing stock growth of roughly 20% since 2000. Demand is outpacing supply as buyers who are being priced out of Washington, D.C., and nearby Maryland suburbs look to Hyattsville.

Approximate locations of the Clay, Landy and Dewey properties (Conceptual site plans were referenced in the creation of this map, but the figures depicted should not be relied upon for official site boundaries.)
Photo credit: Map created by Rebecca Marx on Aug. 4 using Google Earth

Three new developments are slated for the Prince George’s Plaza Metro area, on a total of 66 largely wooded acres north of University Town Center and west of Adelphi Road. These three developments — the Dewey Property, the Landy Property and the Clay Property — would add almost 700 apartments, upwards of 150 condos and more than 500 townhouses to the area. Of the three, only the Clay Property includes plans for below-market rate housing, but this site plan has not been approved, as of press time.

All three properties are being developed by heirs or relatives of Herschel Blumberg, who bought a  140-acre tract in the area in the mid-1950s, long before the Metro station was built, in 1993. Blumberg aimed to build a mixed-use complex, and he lived to see part of that vision realized when University Town Center opened, in 2007. Though Blumberg died in 2013, his family is still involved in developing the area.

Dewey Property

Of the three developments, the 21.16-acre Dewey Property is closest to the Metro station. It will replace a large parking lot and wooded area immediately north of the University Town Center and provide 850 housing units, including both apartments and condominiums. The five-story, mixed-use building planned for the corner of Belcrest and Toledo roads will provide 1,258 square feet of retail space. It is described as high end and is a half-mile from the Metro station. The county will maintain a 6.5-acre stormwater retention pond onsite. 

The District Council approved the detailed site plan for the property in October 2020. The Hyattsville City Council supported the plan, with conditions, including a request to preserve mature trees and plant native shade trees. The Prince George’s County Planning Board did not take up that request, instead noting that the applicant, Bald Eagle Partners, would be required to do offsite woodland conservation to compensate for acres of woodlands lost.

Landy Property

The Landy Property, north of Dewey and near Northwestern High School, will have a total of 331 townhouses. Plans for 131 of the townhouses (Phase 1) were approved in 2018, and the detailed site plan for the 200 of the townhouses on the west side (Phase 2) was approved on July 29.  

As part of the plan, the City of Hyattsville agreed in 2019 to annex the western portion of the property, which had not been part of the city.

Construction has begun.  The site is one of the largest areas of tree canopy reduction marked in the city’s recent tree canopy report.

Every unit will have a garage.

The plan also includes a Capital Bikeshare site, a playground, a sledding hill and open space “just big enough for little kids to have a game and not have big kids have a soccer game that scares little kids away,” as Mark Ferguson, a senior land planner at RDA/Site Design, Inc.,  noted during a city planning committee meeting in February in which he represented the developer. 

Clay Property 

The Clay Property is the furthest north of the three, about one-and-a-quarter miles from Prince George’s Plaza Metro station near University Hills Duck Pond Park and Ash Hill historic site. Both the city of Hyattsville and the county planning board, which reports to the county council,  have recently opposed rezoning the  property. The county council will consider the developers application to rezone in September. Upzoning would allow for denser development, specifically, construction of townhouses, instead of only single-family detached housing. 

The site plan presented to the city in May included an offer from developers to moderately price 10% of the 137 sited units. Documents prepared for the county planning board in July specified that those units would be affordable to households earning between 60% to 80% of the DC Metro Area Median Income (AMI). The AMI is currently $129,000 for a family of four, or just over $90,000 for a single person. 

Developers propose a buffer of 50 feet to the east separating the development from an older, low-density neighborhood of single-family homes, and 150 feet near Ash Hill. 

The University Hills Area Civic Association (UHACA) opposes upzoning the property, arguing that a zoning modification would ignore the character of the surrounding neighborhood, one that has many single-family homes on individual lots. City Planning Committee Member Yohannes Bennehoff disagreed in a May 18 vote of whether to recommend the rezoning request to the city council, stating “it’s not ruining the neighborhood.”

Upzoning advocates believe that higher-density development can lead to lower prices, and offset the cost to developers of including affordable units. But city council member Ben Semasek pointed out in a May 17 statement to city council that, without limiting the footprint on which developers can build, upzoning can also be a means for private property developers to maximize profits by cashing in on the sale of more units.  

The current Clay Property plan specifies clear-cutting 11.1 acres of forest, even as Hyattsville’s tree canopy decreased by more than 30% between 2008 and 2018. In their May meeting, the city planning committee unanimously agreed that as many trees as possible should be maintained, noting that mature, deeply rooted trees can provide natural stormwater mitigation.

In June, the city council voted unanimously to recommend that the county council deny the upzone. Should the county decide to upzone, the council said, at least 4 acres of existing forest should be required to be conserved on the site. 

The city council further recommended that units be priced in the 60% to 80% AMI range (and preferably closer to 60%). At 60% AMI, a unit could be affordable to a single person earning $54,200 a year or a family of four earning $77,400. Approximately 47% of Hyattsville households earn less than $75,000 a year, according to 2019 household income data.

On July 15, the county planning board unanimously agreed with the city council’s upzone denial recommendation. William Doerner, commissioner to the Prince George’s County Planning Board, conceded that arguments for higher density and affordable housing development were compelling, but he “could not get past” the deliberate decision District Council previously made to not rezone the parcel when the Prince George’s Plaza Transit District Development Plan was updated in 2016.

The Clay Property rezoning case will go before the District Council in September. According to Ferguson, who was involved in the site planning, “If the District Council denies the request, any future development proposal would necessarily start over from scratch.”