BY PAULA MINAERT — Hyattsville’s population has grown almost 20 percent in the last decade, according to 2010 census data. It had 17,557 residents on April 1, 2010; on that date in 2000, it had 14,733.
This and other information was presented at a sparsely attended public hearing on January 30. David Rain, chair of the city’s redistricting committee, led the meeting, which was held to get residents’ input on the process.
Last month, the city council appointed Rain, Christine Hinojosa and Ana Pineda to the committee. Its job is to evaluate ward boundaries in light of the new census data and propose needed adjustments to them. This task is required by law, to ensure the city’s compliance with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Rain attributed the growth to new construction and annexation, pointing to EYA on Route 1, University Town Center on East-West Highway and the addition of University Hills.
“What these numbers mean,” he added, “is that each of the city’s five wards needs to have about 3,500 people.” He explained that federal law requires there be no more than a 10 percent difference between the populations of the largest and the smallest wards.
As it stands, Wards 1 and 2 have fewer than 3,000 residents each and 3 and 4 have more than 4,000 each.
In addition to population size, the law also mandates that the wards be fairly compact. Rain said that many of the current wards are not compact and have jagged boundaries.
“Ward 1 has kind of a boomerang shape; it’s not compact. Ward 2 is more compact but has a bite taken out of it. Ward 3 is very elongated. Four is fairly compact, but 5 has a butterfly shape.”
He added that Ward 3 would have to get smaller and its southern boundary would have to be moved north. And he mentioned that Queens Chapel Road would make a natural dividing line between wards.
Richard Colaresi, the city attorney, said the committee has to look at the ward boundaries strictly in light of the “one person, one vote” principle.
One significant finding, Rain pointed out: not only is Hyattsville very diverse, but “all the different groups are spread out through the city. There are no enclaves, and this is a good thing.”
He explained that the committee tried, in keeping with federal guidelines, to make one ward “majority minority,” with a minority population of about 60 percent. “But we couldn’t get more than 50 percent in one ward.”
Instead, the committee will have as a goal to have one ward be a “minority opportunity” ward, with a minority population of around 50 percent.
The committee is scheduled to present three possible scenarios to the city council during its February 21 meeting One would favor compactness and would probably mean Ward 1 would change significantly. The second would strive for compactness but would also respect the residences of council members. The third would lean more toward the status quo but would smooth out some of the jagged edges and irregular shapes.
Hinojosa, another committee member, said, “We’ll try not to disrupt things too much, but aim to make the wards more contiguous.”