At Monday’s City Council Meeting, I submitted the following for public comment:
Tonight you will hear from Chief Towers on the Police Department’s survey on compensation for officers. As a member of the city’s Police and Public Safety Citizens Advisory Committee and as a Hyattsville resident, I urge you to grant the chief’s request to allocate additional American Rescue Act Funds to HCPD bonuses and salaries in order to retain and recruit officers to the city’s police department. The current staffing levels are putting an unfair strain on our officer’s well-being and undermines their ability to consistently perform at the high level we demand of our city’s officers. Compensation, as well as recruitment and retention efforts should be a priority of this council in order to avoid a public safety crisis. Our officers are doing great work out and about in Hyattsville, and they are currently very much needed in our schools, as demonstrated by their swift action and good work this past week. At this point, I can think of little else that would outweigh the focus we should be putting on this project and ensuring the safety of Hyattsville’s residents and visitors, and continuing to grow our police department into one that demonstrates the values and vision that Hyattsville represents.
The council needs to take decisive action to start working toward retention and recruitment strategies before our police department’s staffing levels fall dangerously low. As it stands, our current officers are working mandatory overtime, giving up precious hours they could spend resting, recharging, and reconnecting with their friends and families.
Our officers do a marvelous job interacting positively with our community. They take the time to reach out to get to know residents, not just respond to emergencies. They use the de-escalation training they have received to diffuse tense situations in order that they do not devolve into violence. That takes time and we want our officers to feel that they can take the time to get residents the help they need, rather than running from call to call.
When our officers have to cover more shifts, they can be working well over 12 hours a day or through what would otherwise be their time off. We know that when people are tired, they make mistakes. We cannot afford as a city to take that risk. We want our officers at their best because they respond to the public and to very intense encounters that can become life or death.
The city’s compensation study showed that we are behind 7-14% in officer salaries, compared to other jurisdictions. The police department’s survey showed that the number one reason for job dissatisfaction is the amount of pay and amount of work. Our officers are well-trained and have no problems getting jobs in nearby jurisdictions where they will be paid more to do less work. I think the council should work diligently to look at the numbers from that study and the proposed use of the American Rescue Act Funds to quickly move to compensate our current officers as a recruitment strategy, as well as offer signing bonuses to recruit trained, talented officers.
We expect a lot from our officers and our department has become a model of 21st Century Policing for the region. Nearby municipality rely on our excellent response and training offerings. Our residents and the entire region would suffer if we cannot maintain and grow upon that track-record of excellence.
At this juncture, police and public safety should be the number one priority for staff and council. We need to bring to bear our financial and expert resources to ensure that Hyattsville remains a safe place to live, work, and visit, or the state of other issues such as food insecurity, development, social justice, and the economy will deteriorate.
As the candidate with the most experience in policy on policing and public safety, I assert that I am the best choice for ward 2 and to navigate what will prove to be the most pressing council priority this coming year and probably for the rest of this term.
Affordable Housing is a hot topic in the metro area, especially since housing prices have skyrocketed. Hyattsville needs smart development and redevelopment to ensure a variety of price-points. That means preserving the feel of neighborhoods, but also utilizing areas of greater density in appropriate places. Our diversity is a part of what makes Hyattsville what it is, and lopsided development will have a lasting effect on the character of the neighborhood. Careful planning would ensure that we develop cohesive neighborhoods without stark socio-economic divisions.
A barrier to realizing this goal is lack of planning authority at the municipal level. I believe the city should research a path forward to secure this authority for Hyattsville. This will require permission from the state, so Hyattsville councilmembers will have to get county and state representatives on board with any plan. It will be difficult and a years-long process, but the result will afford Hyattsville the ability to plan for and realize a vision for the future when it comes to development.
Additionally, Hyattsville should expand on the state and county property tax credits. Homeowners can take advantage of the Homestead tax credit, which caps property tax assessment increases to 10% or less per year. Residents on fixed incomes can also apply for the Homeowners tax credit, and Hyattsville will offer an additional credit for those that qualify. In order to allow our seniors to age in place, there should be a much higher cap on savings for those over 65, as for many property taxes significantly draw on the savings that they will depend on for the rest of their lives, and inflation and price increases are currently far outpacing interest rates on those savings.
However, given the current issues in recruiting police and teachers, I believe the city can do more to offer affordability to those important public servants. Tax credits for police officers and teachers would allow the city’s police department to incentivize officers to live in Hyattsville or recruit from Hyattsville residents, which should help with retention and the overall character of our police force. Credits for public school teachers will help keep local, gifted educators in schools that serve Hyattsville students.
What do you think? How would a city tax credit change your ability to stay in Hyattsville? What kinds of credits make the most sense to you?
The biggest topics in the news right now come down to economics. Practically speaking, though, people don’t worry about “the economy,” they worry about how they’re going to feed their family, how they are going to house their family, and how they are going to provide for the future. I would argue that safe-guarding these 3 things should be a primary goal of Hyattsville’s city council in the next few years. If elected to the council, these issues would be my primary focus, although how to tackle them takes layers of work.
The first issue is food security. In Prince George’s County, about 15% of residents are food insecure. According to the 2020 census, 10% of Hyattsville Residents are living in poverty. During the pandemic, Hyattsville area food banks and cafes saw a sudden rise in need. Our local churches that provide meals to the homeless and hungry have mobilized volunteers to try to meet this need. The City of Hyattsville has also expanded its partnerships with area business and on a regular basis distributes groceries and diapers with the help of city volunteers.
In the next few years as the economy gradually gets back on track, the city needs to make sure this effort does not wane. The city should continue to strengthen those partnerships and put an emphasis on communicating these resources to those in need. Council members need to ensure that their residents are making use of those resources, they need to identify those who are in need and make sure that communications about the available resources are effective at reaching those in need.
While I would make city-backed programs a budget priority, as a council member I will equally put in the work to support the community organizations that have been working for those in need. That means staying in contact with program leaders and asking them how the city can support their missions. I will reach out to my friends and neighbors to make sure these programs have volunteers. Leveraging the strength of our community programs is essential to tackling this enormous problem.
Very little is more important than fortifying the groundwork to make sure that the residents of Hyattsville are fed.
2022 UPDATE: In the intervening 3 years since I first wrote this, a lot has happened. The building was demolished, to the joy of some and trepidation of others. The lot with debris sat unimproved for a long time. There are now some completed houses on the upper parcel, but the construction of many more are ongoing.
The lower parcel adjacent to the lot has been tied up in litigation and while the asphalt has gone, this summer especially, the rain has come. And oh my, how has it come.
Undoubtedly, there are many factors at work here, but this remains true- the storm water management of the site has been mismanaged, dumping water and sediment into Gallatin Street and forcing its closure during many evening thunderstorms. Surely, the delays of the project completion have not helped. While Werrlein says it wants to fix the issue, the problem currently remains. Werrlein says there are issues with getting the permits for the necessary work and every storm demonstrates the need to mitigate the amount of water entering the lower parcel and the street by Driskell Park. There are really only two options – Werrlein fixes the issue and develops the parcel, or litigation stops the development and the city is most likely the entity responsible for dealing with the flooding. It’s not clear to me that there is a plan for either outcome and the fact remains that with our current system the city has little say over the situation.
The central issue for the city is that it has little power to correct Werrlein’s inaction, incompetence, or non-compliance. Because the city has no direct control over zoning or the planning of the project, we wait for the county- and county officials have much different goals when it comes to developers; namely that developers can contribute to their campaigns, while city councilmembers can receive no money from businesses and can only accept up to $500 from individuals. Nevertheless, despite the challenges, I think the path forward is to wholeheartedly explore the possibility for Hyattsville to gain some zoning or planning authority.
This proposition is not simple. Getting state approval in order to have any kind of municipal authority must come from the state, stands in opposition to the profit of the county councilmembers, and will take gaining many allies in order to pursue. It is the most direct path forward, however, to making sure that Hyattsville benefits from future development. If this happens, Hyattsville would be only the second such municipality in the county to gain such authority, as Laurel is the only current city to maintain a planning commission.
My goal is to put Hyattsville on the path to making this a reality, so that we can hold developers accountable and get the development we want to see in the city.
I am going to strive to make my position clear, with the caveat that that this is a complicated issue with a long history of divisiveness in Hyattsville. I think any progressive discourse on the topic has to come with nuance and a willingness to compromise. There have been few realistic proposals for that property, none of which have ever come to fruition, a lot of frustration about action/inaction from the city, and sense of apprehension about the future of the area from the residents closest to the property.
Those residents had to go through an ordeal this weekend that made them question if the city truly cares about their safety and well-being. Sometime this weekend, probably Saturday during the business of the carnival, someone broke into the building, weeks after a door had been reported broken and open, and hung a firefighting dummy from the ceiling, positioned so that it could be seen from the windows. They also tagged the walls with Instagram hashtags and issued a challenge for others to break in and take pictures with the dummy. Three teenagers on bikes and two women in a car saw the grotesque scene and fearing the worst, called police. Police are investigating and the fire department took down the dummy, but the real trauma of the event lingers. We have neighborhood children wondering if this building isn’t just going to be the target of vandals, but a real murder or suicide. I do not want the children who live across from this building to have to live with that kind of fear.
I share a concern for sustainability in our community. It’s not a term we should use narrowly. There have been many suggestions that the preservation and restoration of the existing vacant WSSC building would be more sustainable than the proposed homes for the site. While it’s generally true that adaptive reuse of existing buildings is less wasteful than new construction, there are several reasons why the WSSC building on the upper lot is not a viable candidate for adaptive reuse:
The argument that an existing building is more sustainable than new construction rests on the assumption that the existing building is well-designed to respond to its climate and surroundings.
The building is flat-roofed, lacking a cornice and a sufficient roof drainage system. It is inherently prone to leaks, and its limestone cladding has been permanently marred by mold because of these design flaws. It has inadequate accommodations for life safety, egress, and accessibility. After decades of vacancy and vandalism, it has been thoroughly gutted of all its finishes, fixtures, and building systems. The amount of materials needed to restore a 140,000 square foot building for occupancy and to bring it up to modern codes and standards of safety far exceeds what would be needed to build the new homes proposed for the upper lot.
Even if the building were restored, a feasible reuse for a building the size of the former WSSC headquarters would be incompatible with the upper lot’s existing R-55 zoning. The building is already a nonconforming use. If it were to become an institutional, mixed use, or multi-family residential development, the upper lot would have to undergo either a rezoning or a special exception process just like the very controversial and divisive proposal for the property’s lower lot. Previous proposals to reuse the building have been abandoned because of the opposition of neighbors, regulatory difficulties, and ultimately lack of economic feasibility. The success of other recent adaptive reuses in Hyattsville has depended on sites that are adjacent to Route 1 corridor, an advantage that the WSSC site lacks.
A high density reuse of the building would require the use of the lower parking lot, precluding any incorporation to Magruder Park.
While there have been many interesting ideas and concepts for reusing the building, none have been able to adequately address these substantial challenges. This is part of why the building has remained vacant and deteriorating for two decades. The single family homes proposed for the site while not pleasing aesthetically to everyone, are conforming for its original use and are comparable with the density in the area.
Most importantly, however, in my mind is the fact that many residents who live near the property deal with the issues of vandalism, trespassing, and general nuisance of the building. We are using our police resources to respond to calls for all of the above and there is a real feeling of lack of safety and security around this building. Knowing that any outfitting of the building would cost millions of dollars and has no guarantee of going through, and the fact that there is no alternate proposal that I am aware of, I believe that the Werrlein proposal is a good bet on getting a net positive in the upper lot.
As for the lower lot, I understand the desire to make it part of the park and also the trepidation of building 40 town homes to add relative density to the area, block views from the park, and the real possibility that flooding will damage the buildings. I don’t think that that part of the development is ideal for the city or those living in the area. Personally, I do think that there will be drawbacks to that particular part of the plan in regards to traffic.
I could go on about easements and storm water management and other issues surrounding the lower lot, but it comes down to this: much of the negotiation between the city and Werrlein was in closed session and I can’t speak to how any arrangements have come to be, but as I understand it the city does not have the money to buy the whole lot from Werrlein and I think that speaks to the financial health of the city as much as to Werrlein’s expectations on the price of the lot.
If the city has a deal to buy part of the lot from Werrlein I think it behooves the city to keep communication open with Werrlein. I find it counter-intuitive that the city would negotiate a deal and then advocate against the development happening at all. I don’t think that it is good business and does not help us in asks to future developers. The checkered past of this property in Hyattsville also does not attract other developers, and past missteps by the city have resulted in a property owner that is not willing to work with the city effectively. Having a middle-man in this property negotiation goes a long way to making the lower lot being part of the park a reality.
If procuring the parking lot is of the utmost importance to the city, I think that efforts need to be made to negotiate that possibility and money needs to be set aside in order to do that. I have not seen any evidence of that on behalf of the city, save perhaps for a fraction of the proposed community sustainability fund. This begs the question of what the city’s plan is. I do not think that sitting and waiting around for the perfect opportunity is practical, especially when our neighbors are dealing directly from the impact of the city’s actions and inaction in this matter.
My opponents in the ward 2 council race do not seem to be taking any of this into consideration and have no realistic plans going forward from this point. Danny Schaible wants to save the building at all costs, while maintaining the open space zoning of the parking lot. The issue is, there are no adaptive reuse proposals currently and any adaptive reuse like a YMCA, private school, or low-cost apartment units as he has suggested would be necessarily high-traffic and high-density. The lower parking lot would be required to stay a parking lot and the upper lot would require rezoning to high density. He says he’s okay with this, even though neighbors have said that is exactly what they do not want. He knows that we have neighbors who want to see that blighted building dealt with, but still insists he has his “finger to the wind of the political pulse of the city.” While waiting for the perfect proposal, the building sits, using up city resources while paying very little in property tax, while new homes would add substantially more financially to our city, as well as adding new neighbors to join our community. Danny would say that his answer is to add a tax surcharge to vacant buildings, but that doesn’t garner us substantially more income, new neighbors, or provide motivation for the current owner to sell to developers that would work with the city.
Robert Poisson has suggested that we use eminent domain to acquire the parking lot to add it to Magruder Park. If it were even legally plausible, the litigation would be long and costly, and the city would have to buy the parking lot for much more than it is worth. In the long run, it would cost the city even more money to buy a parcel of land that opponents of the redevelopment say shouldn’t be built on.
In the case of this building, I think inaction is inexcusable. I don’t think we can bide our time. It’s been 25 years. Letting the building continue to deteriorate and become a center of crime is negligent. It is not worth the cost of our neighbor’s safety for the fear of career ramifications of a political misstep. I know Magruder Pointe is not a wholly ideal plan. Now that the rezoning of the lower lot is set to be heard at the district council on May 13th, I can only hope that whatever the outcome may be, that there are future avenues to correct a blight to the Hamilton Street neighborhood and possibly add to Magruder Park. In the end, no matter what happens, we are all neighbors. Let’s make sure we can set our differences aside and work to create a stronger Hyattsville.
If you’d like to talk to me more about this issue, please call me at 240-706-7607 or email me at emilystrabforhyattsville.com.
We need inclusion — not just someone pushing their own opinion. People can see that is not how you roll.
– M on Madison after viewing Ward 2 Candidate Forum
Ask yourself who you want to represent you: Someone with years of action making Hyattsville a nicer, safer, more neighborly place to live or someone who has continually drawn division among Hyattsville’s residents? Do you want to elect someone who has promised to represent our diverse neighborhood by listening to others or someone who wants to promote their own agenda, thinking that their opinions are better than others’? Do you want someone whose end goal is to serve Hyattsville or someone whose goal is higher office?
I’m not running to further my own political career. My feet are firmly planted in Hyattsville. For years now I have been serving Hyattsville by bringing my neighbors together for block parties and neighborhood meetings, helping advise the council on the direction our police department should be headed. I have been connecting neighbors to city staff to help them out or organizing groups to help neighbors with yard work or clean-up. I have been developing relationships with city staff and council members to better help the residents of Hyattsville. I’ve been reporting on the important events that happen in Hyattsville.
As a council member my goal is to represent my neighbors and have their voices heard, not my own. Ask yourself, who is the candidate who does the most listening, not the most talking? As a Hyattsville resident, my goal is to have our council meetings be civil and respectful. Who is the candidate who has spoken most calmly and clearly about all of the issues that face Hyattsville, not just the one they are most interested in?
In the end, vote for the candidate who is going to represent YOU on council and not themselves.
In the past 12 years, Hyattsville been more home to me than any other place that I have lived. While most of our family resides elsewhere, we have found new family here in Hyattsville. Our neighbors are people that we have shared fun, food, drinks… but also our joy and our grief, our love and our loss. Hyattsville people have gone above and beyond for my family and I want nothing more but to be able to do the same for them. These are people we have come to rely on to not just watch out for our kids, but also help raise them. I can’t imagine living anywhere else after what I have found in Hyattsville.
It’s true that everything changes and so must the people and places we love; some even say “you can’t go home again.” Change can be positive or negative and we have to be active if we want to see positive change. Part of that change is development in Hyattsville.
The mayor and council have taken a great first step into finding proactive solutions to the lack of affordable housing in the area- I truly believe that incentivizing the positive change we want to see is a practical and effective solution. The city’s matching grant program for facade improvement has been hugely successful. I think using a similar model for affordable development is wise, but I think we can take additional steps.
Montgomery county has a very successful Inclusionary Zoning program that has created over 10,000 unites since 1974. Now, while Hyattsville and Prince George’s county is undergoing an enormous amount of growth, is the time to work with the county to put similar programming into place.
Why is affordable housing necessary for Hyattsville? We already know change is happening, but we can make that change positive. What I do not believe would be positive change is to start pricing whole demographic groups out of our neighborhoods. Hyattsville is a vibrant place to live; it’s inter-generational, inter-ethnic, international, with a mix of socioeconomic levels. Once generational or socioeconomic groups get priced out, Hyattsville will become less diverse and lose many of the characteristics and strengths that we now associate with our great city.
Let’s continue to watch out and care for each other. But let’s be proactive and make that change now.
What does it mean to love thy neighbor? You may have seen signs around Hyattsville that say this. These signs generally refer to the humanitarian crisis our nation and others are facing all over the world. How we treat immigrants is important, no doubt, but the work starts at home.
How we treat the people who live next door or down the street matters, no matter where they are from. All of us need to reach out to the people around us, get to know them, and help them when possible.
Hyattsville, in general, is pretty good at this. The city, and especially the police department, are engaging in community outreach so that everyone in the city feels comfortable reporting problems and being part of the political process. The bulk of the burden is not on the city government, however, it’s on us as citizens. So, what is Hyattsville getting right, and how can we do more?
Hyattsville is full of neighbors serving neighbors. We have two Hy-Swaps a year, many babysitting co-ops, meal trains for new parents, cafes for the homeless, teens shoveling snow and raking leaves, people that make sure Hyattsville kids don’t go without Christmas presents and much much more.
So what more can we do? Now is the time to reach out to those neighbors we may not be friends with. Reach out to those with whom we cannot even communicate well. Why? Because there are still people in Hyattsville who are afraid. Afraid of the government, afraid of the police, or afraid of their neighbors.
Loving your neighbor doesn’t mean loving the ones you get along with or those you agree with. It means seeking out the good in them despite your differences and doing right by them no matter how they have treated you. Look them in the eye and let them know they matter.
Get someone you know who isn’t registered to vote to think about doing so. Take them to a pop-up registration, drop off a form. Or just let them know that their voice counts. Vote. Vote for someone who brings neighbors together, not someone who divides them because of dissent.
So get out there, and love on your neighbor. Hold a door, hold a baby, hold a hand. And Vote.
Last night, the city council passed a motion to have city staff research the possibility of changing the name of Magruder Park because William Magruder included language in the deed of the park that the park be used by whites only. Part of the research included if the deed to the park would revert back to the Magruder estate if the name were changed.
What do you think? Should Hyattsville change the name of the park? What should it be changed to? Comment below.
Casi 40% de residentes de Hyattsville son Latinos, y la ciudad es trabajando benvenir todos, pero esta mucho trabajo para alacnzar Estes vecinos.
Hyattsville está creciendo y cambiando. Necesitamos trabajar juntos para crear una comunidad más fuerte al garantizar viviendas asequibles, continuar haciendo que el envejecimiento sea una prioridad y proteger la infraestructura de la ciudad, incluido el dosel de los árboles.
Vivimos en una época en que la política está extremadamente dividida y llena de vitriolo. Creo que es deber de un miembro del consejo elevarse por encima de la política partidista, escuchar a todos los lados de un tema y no inclinarse a expresar juicios de aquellos con quienes no están de acuerdo.
Como capitán de la vigilancia de mi vecindario y como vicepresidente del Comité Asesor de Ciudadanos de la Policía y la Seguridad Pública, sé que todos podemos hacer nuestra parte para continuar con la disminución de la delincuencia en la ciudad. Necesitamos mejoras de iluminación, parques seguros y caminos para que los ciclistas y peatones puedan navegar con seguridad por la ciudad.
HiNecesitamos un presupuesto para continuar brindando servicios de la calidad al mismo tiempo que minimizamos la carga fiscal, especialmente para los residentes de bajos ingresos.