News blues: Prince George’s Sentinel newspaper closes, leaving big hole in local coverage

The Prince George’s Sentinel newspaper is gone. The Sentinel, which had covered the county for nearly 90 years, joined its Montgomery County sister paper and published their final editions Thursday. The move was announced earlier in January by publisher Lynn Kapiloff, who said the twin papers had not been profitable for more than a decade. 

Now, suddenly, vast swaths of Prince George’s County have become a true news desert, with no reliable source of professional reporting on public affairs. While the quality and consistency of the Prince George’s Sentinel’s reporting left something to be desired, the Seabrook-based paper reliably dispatched journalists to all corners of the county in search of news. In the last two weeks alone, its journalists filed stories eminating from Greenbelt, Hyattsville, Upper Marlboro, Temple Hills, Oxon Hill, College Park, Bowie, New Carrolton, and Lanham.

College Park changes trash laws

After hours of debate, College Park City Council approved twin measures that will bring sweeping changes to the city’s “special” and “bulk” trash pickup policies and fee structure. But because of a last-minute amendment put forth by Councilor Robert Day, City Council approved changes to the fee schedule with a phase-in period where no penalties or fees would be assessed for those violating the new rules. At the end of the phase-in period, Council would have an opportunity to revisit the ordinance and consider changes. The amendment caused two council members, John Rigg and P.J. Brennan, to withdraw their support the measure, with Rigg saying it had been gutted and kicked down the road. 

“We’ll be debating this again in a year,” said Rigg after the votes were counted. What happened

City Council passed two measures dealing with non-standard trash issues.

College Park Marriott gets preliminary approval

Prince George’s County Planning Board unanimously approved preliminary plans for a new hotel near the College Park Metro station. The action took place at its Jan. 23, 2020, meeting, with relatively little discussion. 

The 126,000 square-foot hotel is planned for a triangular-shaped 2.1-acre parcel bound by Campus Drive, Corporal Frank Scott Drive and Lehigh Road practically across the street from the College Park-University of Maryland Metro Station. The hotelier, through Republic Properties Corp. and its holding company New Hotel LLC, plans to build a 165-unit hotel with 8,000 square feet of retail space. 

The project is sited within the College Park-Riverdale Park Transit District Development Overlay Zone, a zoning district similar to the Prince Georges Plaza Transit District Development Overlay Zone designed to encourage developers to create mixed-use, walkable, urban neighborhoods. In addition to the Metro station, construction on the New Carrolton to Bethesda Purple Line light-rail is underway literally across the street from the site of the planned hotel.

Mount Rainier library re-opens with new look, new tech

After more than year closed, Mount Rainier’s little library branch has re-opened. During a standing-room-only grand-opening ceremony held Jan. 27, 2020, city officials hailed the library – officially named the Karl A. Young Library after a longtime local fire chief who died suddenly – as an essential, beloved public space for the community. “This represents what we are striving for in Mount Rainier,” said Mayor Malinda Miles during the ceremony. “It speaks volumes to what a city and staff and mayor and council can do when they have partnerships.”

The library is unique in Prince George’s County that the building is owned and maintained by the city of Mount Rainier, which allows the library system to operate within.

Hyattsville adds closed-captions to Council webcasts

Hyattsville is testing the use of real-time closed captioning for webcasts of its City Council meetings. The move is notable in Prince George’s County, where few local governments offer closed captioning or picture-in-picture sign-language interpretation of their broadcast proceedings. Prince George’s County Council, Planning Board and Board of Education don’t offer such a service. Among Prince George’s County’s 27 municipalities, only Laurel, Greenbelt, and now Hyattsville offer closed-captioning of their proceedings. Cheverly offers picture-in-picture sign-language interpreters.

Hyattsville and backyard chickens: It’s complicated

Don’t build a chicken coop yet, Hyattsville. It looks like legalizing backyard chickens is going to be more complicated than simply amending the city’s ban on them. At its Jan 21, 2020, Hyattsville City Council meeting, several city officials had issues with the proposal, sponsored by Councilor Daniel Schaible, highlighting in particular that Prince George’s County law still bans backyard domestic fowl. During discussion, concerns were raised about how Hyattsville would govern backyard chickens if municipal prohibitions on them were removed. The long answer, made short, from city officials: it’d be in the hands of County officials to deal with.

Mount Rainier says pit bull ban is ‘lowest law-enforcement priority’

Mount Rainier City Council approved a measure declaring county laws banning pit bulls to be the ‘lowest law-enforcement priority’ for its city police officers. The measure, approved by a vote of four-to-one at Mount Rainier’s Jan. 14, 2020, meeting, instructs the police department to “deprioritize, to the greatest extent possible” enforcement of the pit bull ban. The measure is the brainchild of freshman City Councilor Scott Cecil, who introduced the resolution in late 2019. He said the measure does not prohibit city police from taking action against an individual harboring a pit bull if a situation warranted such a citation.

Hyattsville won’t share video from fatal police shooting

Hyattsville officials now say they cannot yet share with Mount Rainier officials body camera footage its officers recorded during the events that led to the fatal 2019 police shooting of Leonard Shand. 

In a statement read during Hyattsville’s Jan. 21, 2020, City Council meeting, City Administrator Tracey Douglas said she had been advised against releasing additional information on the incident until after Prince George’s County police completed its investigation into the shooting. Douglas’ statement was a response to a Jan. 6, 2020, request from Mount Rainier City Councilor Scott Cecil to see video from Hyattsville police officers on the scene of Shand’s death. Shand, 49, died after 11 officers, including six from Hyattsville, opened fire him at the end of a half-hour early-morning walking standoff that started Sept.

A large suburban strip mall is seen from above, at an angle. A sidewalk of street-facing retail, including a Shoe Show store, can be seen across a small two-lane circulator roadway.

Redeveloping Beltway Plaza axes townhomes from plans

Several members of Greenbelt’s City Council appear uneasy with major changes to plans for a proposed redevelopment of Beltway Plaza into a mixed-use town center. Conceptual plans already approved by the County originally called for the construction of between 850 and 2,500 apartment units and up to 250 townhomes. Now, those townhomes are gone. As recently as October, when developers submitted preliminary design plans for approval, those townhomes were still in the plans. But in late December 2019, the mall’s owners, Bethesda-based Quantum Cos., submitted revised plans to county officials that removed the townhomes and went all in on the 2,500 multi-family residential units.

Hyattsville might legalize backyard chickens

Hyattsville officials will consider repealing city laws prohibiting residents from raising chickens. At its Jan. 21, 2020, meeting, Hyattsville City Council will consider the aptly-named “Backyard Chicken Act,” which would strike “domestic fowl” and “poultry and game birds” from the list of animals prohibited in the city. 

Roosters, however, will remain banned. 

“Chicken raising is an enjoyable recreational activity that provides a healthy food source, high-quality fertilizer, fosters community building, and, with proper regulations, does not result in unsanitary or noisy conditions,” reads a summary of the legislation, introduced by freshman City Councilor Danny Schaible. But backyard chickens are also outlawed at the County level. Hyattsville’s Backyard Chicken Act, if passed, would not change that.