County Council to Consider Luxury Development in Hyattsville
By Arelis Hernandez
Monday, Dec. 10, 2007
HYATTSVILLE, Md. - The proposed construction of two luxury apartment buildings behind the Mall at Prince George's has raised concerns from residents and county officials about the effect the development could have on local schools and transit.
Officials are working with developers to iron out issues with the planned 17-acre Landy project before a final proposal is brought before the Prince George’s County Council for a vote, said Brad Frome, legislative aide to County Council member Will Campos.
The Landy development is just one of a half dozen or so projects planned in and around the University of Maryland College Park, including several along the Route 1 corridor and within the city of Hyattsville, said Frome.
“For a long time we didn't have commercial activity in our area,” Frome said, adding that the council will not permit unbridled development in the area. “You can’t just approve every development project without taking care of the impact and planning ahead to make sure resources are available.”
If approved, the property, located at the intersection of Belcrest and Toledo roads in Hyattsville, would include 1,216 dwelling units, a small amount of commercial space, parking facilities, and amenities like swimming pools for residents, according to a detailed site plan from the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.
The buildings would be 16 stories tall.
The Towers at the University Town Center, a student housing unit on Belcrest Road, is the only other building in the area of comparable height, said Jim Chandler, community development manager for the city of Hyattsville.
“Scale, as far as the neighborhood is concerned, is a component that needs to be considered when making this type of assessment,” Chandler said. “We are not a downtown metropolis, but it might be more attractive [for residents of the area] to offer those types of units.”
Marvin Blumberg, who has owned the property for close to 50 years, said the project is an upgrade from a design site plan approved by the M-NCPPC in 2001.
“This plan is bigger and better,” Blumberg said. “It will bring lots of benefits to the county; it’s smart development.”
The project could take three to five years to build depending on housing market trends, said Chip Reed, Blumberg’s lawyer. The proposed buildings are designed to include rental apartments and condominiums within walking distance of the Prince George’s Plaza Metro station.
Earlier this year, the park and planning commission approved the project with conditions after the Hyattsville City Council raised concerns, Chandler said.
“The council still has serious concerns regarding the development and recently voted to oppose the project as presented,” wrote Hyattsville Mayor Bill Gardiner in a July 16 letter to the M-NCPPC.
“The scale was one of the major concerns,” Chandler said, who added that the proposed 16-story buildings made some residents nervous about the environmental and structural impact.
In the letter, Gardiner listed a set of conditions for the project, including the completion of an assessment by the county Board of Education that would evaluate the project’s impact on schools. The board also asked that builders comply with “green” standards outlined in the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system, as well as provide transportation to and from the Metro station.
Blumberg said the site plan leaves plenty of green space, according to county regulations.
But local residents have worried that the project could change the character of their surrounding residential neighborhoods.
University Hills resident Jim Menasian has lived in the area since 1994 and said he was attracted by the area’s good schools, “quiet, low-traffic neighborhoods” and mix of blue-collar and professional neighbors. He worried about changes the project could bring.
“While our neighborhood schools are already overcrowded, there is no available undeveloped land for any new schools,” Menasian said in an e-mail. “And just what will the project offer us, the current individual house owners in University Hills? Nothing.”
Menasian also said the project will “will bring years of horrible traffic, noise and dust during construction.”
Large construction projects typically pay “impact taxes” to the county to help cover extraneous costs to the community, Chandler said. Blumberg said the impact taxes for his project will come close to $9 million, which he said would cover the cost of a new elementary school.
“High-rise buildings do not typically have children, so the impact would be small,” Blumberg said. “But the dollar amount would be large.”
The Prince George's County School Board is planning to build an additional elementary school to accommodate growth in the Hyattsville area, said John White, spokesman for county public school system. Though a site has not yet been acquired, the proposed school is scheduled to open in school year 2011 and will cost about $25.5 million, he said.
Neighboring residents have also complained that the 2,833 parking spaces, or two parking spaces per unit, are excessive and will choke already congested roadways.
Frome said talks with developers have yielded some compromises, including the possibility of allotting housing units for students and residents 55 and over.
Reed said he could not comment on specific details about the negotiations but did acknowledge his client’s sensitivity to community issues.
“It’s a dialogue,” Frome said, “Our office has met with the attorneys representing the developer, and we are having discussions in good faith and moving forward.”
Blumberg, who has been involved in a number of office development projects in the county, said he has accepted many of the conditions imposed by the county.
“We have made every effort to do what the county wants and needs,” he said.
“The initial proposal, design and redesign have changed significantly,” Chandler agreed. “I think that is largely based on the developer’s attempt to address some of the issues that the city had, as well as the community surrounding the potential property.”
Despite some setbacks, city and county officials said they are confident the Landy development and other construction in the area will help revitalize the community.
But no date has yet been set for the County Council, sitting as a planning body called the District Council, to hold a hearing on the Landy project.
Chandler said development will make life easier for everyone.
“If you are not expanding, you have to tax the residents. If you expand the economic base you are expanding the tax base without having to burden existing residents,” Chandler said. “There’s only one pie, and the more slices you are able to make, then the less burden there is on the counterparts.”
Frome, a Hyattsville resident himself, said he remembers when he had to travel outside the county just to watch a movie or grab a bite to eat.
“Now I can go to a movie theatre around the corner. I used to drive to Anne Arundel County,” Frome said. “There are pluses and minuses for all of this.”