By BEN SIMASEK — In the latest twist in the case, the Prince George’s County District Council voted unanimously to send Werrlein Properties’ Magruder Pointe development proposal back to the Planning Board. The written order of remand was officially approved at the Jan. 28 council meeting. Per county law, the Planning Board must hold a second hearing within 60 days following the remand.
Equal time was allotted for oral arguments opposing and supporting the proposal at the Jan. 15 council meeting.
Greg Smith and Daniel Muth spoke on behalf of Save our Sustainable (SOS) Hyattsville, an advocacy group that has collected over 590 signatures opposing the Magruder Pointe development. Both Smith and Muth reiterated their group’s concerns about the proposal to demolish the long-vacant WSSC building and build townhomes in that location and in the lower parcel, currently a parking lot adjacent to Magruder Park. The plan would require the county to approve a zoning change, since the lower lot is currently designated “Open Space (O-S),” and significant stormwater mitigation, given the area is currently on a 100-year floodplain.
Jim Chandler, assistant city administrator, stated the City of Hyattsville’s position that the lower lot should retain its current O-S zoning and that Werrlein should submit a new application if they intend to proceed with the project, since the site plan the city reviewed this summer requested a different “mixed-use” zoning than the residential designation currently on the table.
Several Hyattsville residents spoke out in support of the proposal, emphasizing that the status quo has been an enduring blight to the neighborhood. In response to concerns about the floodplain, it was noted that the development would include regrading and stormwater mitigation, which would be an improvement over the current parking lot. Supporters pointed out that the lower lot was initially zoned as residential prior to the land being sold, so it would not change the character of the neighborhood in their opinion. “(Rezoning) is a necessary step to finally resolving this dilemma for our town. We don’t have any other solutions on the table,” said Nicholas Harris, who has lived near the WSSC building for 17 years.
Muth and Smith also underscored their frustration with legal and procedural errors, which, according to Muth, “have denied citizens, the city of Hyattsville, and the District Council the right to have an open and informed record upon which to make a cogent decision.”
The issues raised included the failure of the Planning Board to post the technical staff report for public review the required two weeks prior to the July 26, 2018, hearing, the applicant’s initial failure to file proper business ethics affidavits prior to the council’s scheduled review in the fall, and the Planning Board’s unilateral decision to change the zoning designation in the application without revising the technical staff report and without receiving a written request from the applicant as required.
Stan Brown, People’s Zoning Counsel, cited these issues as the basis for recommending a second hearing. Brown also pointed out that the Planning Board should have reviewed whether the zoning change would substantially impair the implementation of any master plan for the Development District Overlay zone, per CB-026-2018, adopted by the County Council two days before the July 26 Planning Board hearing.
On Oct. 30, Werrlein sent a letter to the Planning Board requesting a second hearing in order to address complaints about insufficient time for public review of the technical staff report prior to the first hearing. However, the Planning Board determined in November that it no longer had jurisdiction to grant Werrlein’s request, given the case required mandatory review by the District Council at that point.
Norman Rivera, attorney for Werrlein, acknowledged both the public support and concerns they have received from Hyattsville citizens throughout the process and affirmed their commitment to move forward with the proposal. “We have strived to be open and transparent in our efforts as Hyattsville continues to evolve,” said Rivera.
SOS Hyattsville’s leaders said they are encouraged by the opportunity for a second hearing. “This is a significant victory for our community and the environment, and significant setback for the project,” said Muth. He vowed to take advantage of the chance to reopen the public record on the project in order to continue organizing and expanding the group’s efforts.
The new hearing date for Magruder Pointe has not yet been scheduled, but it will likely be on the Planning Board’s agenda in late February or early March, given the 45-day window recommended by Council Chair Todd Turner at the Jan. 15 meeting.