Magruder Pointe plan moves forward, awaits final county approval
By BEN SIMASEK — The Magruder Pointe development proposed by Werrlein Properties is back on the city council’s agenda.
On July 26, the Prince George’s County Planning Board voted 3-2 to approve, with conditions, Werrlein Properties’ Conceptual Site Plan (CSP) for the proposed Magruder Pointe development. The Hyattsville City Council will again discuss its response to the Planning Board’s actions on Sept. 11.
UPDATE: City council voted 7-1 to authorize city staff to present oral testimony before the District Council on Sept. 17 stating the City of Hyattsville’s opposition to a zoning change of the WSSC lower lot currently zoned as open space. This general position would include opposing a zoning change to R-55. The council also voted unanimously to authorize the mayor to send a letter to the District Council appealing the procedures. This includes the Planning Board’s failure to publish the Planning Staff’s Technical Report in the required two weeks and the city’s inability to present a position before the District Council on rezoning to R-55 orally or in writing.
Under the latest version of the CSP, the lower parcel of the site, currently a parking lot adjacent to Magruder Park, would be rezoned from O-S (open space) to R-55 (single-family housing). This designation would allow the construction of up to 41 attached townhomes in the 4.66-acre lower lot, conditional upon the developer addressing flooding and stormwater issues for the site, which is in a 100-year floodplain. Werrlein has proposed to build a mix of attached and detached homes on the 3.6-acre upper parcel (already zoned R-55), where the former WSSC headquarters has sat vacant since 1995.
The Hyattsville City Council has twice voted to oppose previous versions of the CSP submitted by Werrlein. After months of public debate, the council voted on June 4 against supporting an amendment to the Gateway Arts District Table of Uses to permit development in the lower lot. On July 16, the council rejected a revised plan that would have permitted a blend of commercial and residential development and recreational use in both the upper and lower parcels. The County Planning Board also denied this request to rezone the entire site as “mixed-use infill.”
Although the city has agreed to purchase 1.8 acres of the lower lot for public use should Werrlein’s plan be approved, the city council has not formally considered rezoning the lower lot as single-family housing. The city council decided to only provide input on the proposal before them, declining in July to speculatively consider R-55 zoning unless it was included in a revised application. This specific rezoning was proposed in the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) staff report less than a week before the July 26 hearing.
The Magruder Pointe plan has mobilized Hyattsville residents to engage their neighbors, write letters to elected officials, and speak out at public meetings on both sides of the issue. As the planning board hearing stretched into the evening, many members of the public waited for several hours to express their strong opposition or support for the proposal.
Several Hyattsville residents stepped up to the podium to speak in favor of the plan, reflecting on the problems caused by the deteriorating WSSC building and the obstacles the city has faced over the decades-long struggle to find a solution. Charles Kenney, Jr., who has lived in Hyattsville for 34 years, acknowledged, “it has been a divisive issue in the city, but … it is time to do something with this property. Werrlein Properties has done a tremendous job in building single-family homes in Riverdale Park and Hyattsville. They have demonstrated their commitment to the community and I think this is a wonderful and viable project that should go forward.”
Daniel Muth, one of many residents who has opposed Magruder Pointe, contrasted what he cited as the city’s strategic development around Hyattsville’s transit and business corridors with the Werrlein plan. “By following a deliberate process, we’ve become an example of how to do successful development in our area,” said Muth. “What we do oppose is development that is cynical in nature, that ignores the sector plan, and that diminishes the already burdened capacity of our public facilities and natural spaces. To find this project appropriate is to change the stated goals of the charter areas and to invalidate the deliberative planning phase of the past with quick-drawn amendments.”
Opponents of the plan feel frustrated by their perception that input from Hyattsville’s residents and elected officials has not been sufficiently factored in the decision-making process. The short time frame allotted for the public to understand and weigh in on the latest revisions to the CSP was cited as problematic, especially after the lengthy public debate and high community engagement leading up to the July hearing. “Even though we’re engaged citizens … [six days] simply is not enough time to review something of this nature and come back with any type of informed opinion,” said Muth.
Debra Borden, M-NCPPC Principal Counsel, clarified that county code requires the staff report to be posted online no less than two weeks prior to a public hearing. Given the lengthy agenda for the July 26 Planning Board Meeting, they were unable to meet this requirement. However, the code does not specify any consequence if the two week window is not met. The code only requires the Planning Board to grant a request to postpone a hearing if relevant new information is provided after the date the staff report is posted.
The Prince George’s District Council is scheduled to meet Sept. 17 to decide whether to uphold or reverse the Planning Board’s decision.