BY CAROLINE SELLE — Updated Sept. 10 at 3:45 p.m. On Aug. 7, local officials, members of the Anacostia Watershed Society (AWS), and representatives from the First United Methodist Church of Hyattsville (FUMCHY) gathered in the church’s parking lot to break ground on a new stormwater treatment project.
The church uses the parking lot frequently said Martha Schrader, a FUMCHY representative for the project. “ … a lot of community members park there, and we have our weekly flea markets back there. … It’s a busy area for pedestrian access.”
The project — the first of its kind and one of more than 4,000 acres of planned stormwater retrofit projects in Prince George’s County — included a redesign of the three acre parking lot. Today, the site is lined with a series of rain gardens planted with native species. Permeable pavement is installed throughout, and a section of the site is devoted to conservation landscaping and is planted with species that can tolerate fluctuations in water, AWS said. That section, known as the BayScape, also includes a labyrinth which will function as “a meditation space for the church,” AWS said in a press release.
“The long and short of it is, it was a relationship between the church and Prince George’s County and AWS to allow this to happen,” said Mary Abe, Chief Architect of Restoration and Sustainability Programs at AWS.
Maryland Delegate and Hyattsville resident Anne Healey (D-22), Prince George’s County Council Member Deni Taveras (D-2), Adam Ortiz, director for the Department of the Environment for Prince George’s County, and Mark Belton, secretary of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources were all present. Officials made brief statements to the gathered crowd before helping AWS staff plant a tree and black-eyed susans, the Maryland state flower. Rev. Dr. Yvonne Wallace-Penn, the church’s pastor, and Jim Foster, the president of AWS, also spoke briefly before participating in the groundbreaking.
“… once it’s all said and done, and the construction is cleared out and the trees are in, the difference in that parking lot is going to be phenomenal,” said Abe.
“We’re pretty excited about the project, and we’re thrilled that we’re getting close to the end and we’re really seeing great results now,” Schrader said.
Because the church was built in the 1960’s, before much stormwater legislation was passed, it was not a particularly environmentally friendly, or pedestrian-friendly, parking lot. “One of the first issues of the parking lot is that it was a vast wide open space that anyone could cut through. … one of the main premises of design of the project was to actually create parking lot bays that slowed the traffic down as well as catch the water,” Abe said. “… Many times in a project like this you say, ‘why don’t you just tear out all the asphalt and start over?’ … AWS is not in the business of putting more asphalt down.”
“ …It’s nice to have a more inviting space than what it was, which was just an expanse of asphalt,” said Schrader.
The project “…just about brings the church into [stormwater] compliance for that site,” Abe said, according to the updated laws. The retrofitted parking lot will also be ADA accessible, she said. And, the site is designed to be pleasant to walk through. There are five different types of shade trees, and about 20 different native species will be used in the BayScape around the bioretention “to create a little bit of a pollinator’s oasis,” Abe said.
Additionally, Abe said, AWS hopes to make the site interactive. “We’re actually fabricating a sign right now,” she said. “…we’ll have a QR code on it that will lead to our blog and website so we can talk more about the site. It’s my hope that we’ll have additional signs throughout the site that will identify plant material with a QR code.”
“We’re hoping that our child enrichment center will be able to use it for some educational purposes,” Schrader said. “Not only do we have the younger kids, we also have a before and after school program for school aged program.” She said she hopes the interactive space will help with “… getting them to understand where that water goes and why it’s important to slow it down, cool it down, treat it on site rather than just letting it go downstream.”
“We’re hoping also to get a group together to start doing some maintenance of the site, too,” Schrader said, calling it “kind of a garden ministry.”
The approximately $500,000 project was funded by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the Chesapeake Bay Trust Fund, the Nature Conservancy, and AWS supporters, AWS said. The retrofit is expected to treat around 2 million gallons of stormwater per year and the final installations are expected to be completed by Sept. 18.