BY PAULA MINAERT — The city of Hyattsville puts a lot of work into repairing and improving its streets. But sometimes people don’t want their streets improved in the way the city proposes. A preliminary feasibility report for the University Hills neighborhood has met with vocal opposition and petitions against it from some of its residents.
The report contains plans for road repairs, traffic calming and various stormwater management efforts. But the main sticking point for its opponents is sidewalks. There are few sidewalks in University Hills and the proposed design calls for installing them, following the city’s 2007 policy that all streets have them.
“The city has policies to do with accessibility and safe routes for kids to school. No child should get hit or a disabled person or a senior who has trouble walking…they have the right to be able to move through our community in a safe manner,” said Mayor Marc Tartaro.
But University Hills resident (and treasurer of the neighborhood’s civic association) Jim Menasian said, “I’ve heard this myth, that if they build sidewalks it’ll encourage people to walk. No. Our community has no place to walk to. Where would I walk? Many of us do walk, but we walk on our own streets in what we think is a rural setting. That’s why we like walking: there are no sidewalks and we enjoy that.”
University Hills has about 350 households, according its councilmember, Tim Hunt (Ward 3). About 80 people turned out for a November 3 public meeting at St. Mark’s Church. Most public meetings draw about 20 people, said city spokesperson Abby Sandel.
Almost all the people at the meeting spoke strongly against the proposed roadwork. Many shared the sentiments of Gary Orndorff, who said, “It has worked this way since 1950. Repair the streets and leave it alone!”
But Ron Pedone, president of the University Hills Area Civic Association, pointed out that the meeting may have just brought out vocal opponents.
“The impression was that everyone’s opposed. It’s a false assumption. I’m sure a lot of people support introducing sidewalks.” He said he has no position yet.
All the neighborhood’s residents were asked to provide more detailed feedback to the city in a survey. About 45 households did so and most of them also had complaints about the plan.
Many people wanted to keep the rural feel of the neighborhood, which they said sidewalks would ruin. Others said most of the streets are not through streets and don’t have many pedestrians, so they don’t need sidewalks.
One common complaint was that installing sidewalks would narrow the streets, which would make driving on them dangerous and would eliminate needed on-street parking. Some people worried about removing trees; others did not want the responsibility of shoveling snow from the sidewalks.
Several people said that each block should be able to decide for itself. To that end, residents of five blocks [as of press time] have submitted petitions signed by a majority of the homeowners to stop sidewalk installation on their streets.
Hunt said, “There are a whole lot of what-ifs in this plan. What’s important to me is that people who live here take the ball and run with it and tell the city what they want.”
Pedone is pleased with the way the city has been managing the process. “The city has bent over backwards to listen to residents. They’ve been wonderful to us here. I think they thought they were providing us with a dynamite long-range plan to improve the neighborhood and move all of Hyattsville to a sustainable green environment.”
Menasian expressed a more cautious viewpoint. “We’ll very clearly and loudly make our feelings heard. After we make our feelings heard, we can tell you if the city’s responsive. I hope it is. I feel fine with this [report] as a first proposal. Residents don’t want a generic decision made for University Hills.”
Resident Tom Slezak believes the city has done a great job in seeking input from everyone and is impressed with the report, saying that it just needs some modifications here and there to satisfy residents. He pointed out that everyone he has talked with agrees the streets are in bad shape and wants them repaired.
And he isn’t against all sidewalks; in fact, he’d like one on his own street, Stanford.
“It’s a pedestrian safety issue for me, ” he said. “Stanford can be very busy.”
He added that as part of Hyattsville’s 2006 annexation of University Hills, residents were told “that we were going to get new streets here. Street repairs and now sidewalks is sort of like going out for your usual beer and the bartender surprises you with a martini. Either you’re pleased or you’re not.”