Hyattsville’s 2021 election could be all vote-by-mail affair

Hyattsville City Council is considering a suite of legislation, including switching to an all vote-by-mail system, city officials hope will boost turnout in city elections. The proposal is especially topical as voters weigh their polling options amid the pandemic, which has seen several states take steps to expand access to vote-by-mail ballots. But Hyattsville’s exploration of mail-voting systems dates to late 2018. The legislation would revise the city’s charter to move the election day to the second Tuesday in May, it would shrink the timeline for election certification, and would change the process to elect the City Council President and Vice President and would switch the city’s 2021 election to a permanent vote-by-mail system. 

According to city data, from 2013 to 2019, there were an average of 10,300 registered voters in the city. In the most-recent city elections, 1,575, or roughly 15 percent, cast ballots.

Report shows how College Park has changed since 2011

A draft report from the College Park City-University Partnership lays out a 10-year-vision for the college town designed to boost the share of year-round residents in the city, increase transit usage among residents, and recruit new tech firms to College Park’s Discovery District neighborhood, among other goals.  

This is the second long-term planning document of this type to be produced by the City-University Partnership, a nonprofit created in 2011 to boost economic development in College Park and to bridge the town-gown divide by creating a forum for city and university officials to develop common policy goals. 

The report envisions a College Park that, in 2030, “is a growing, thriving, equitable and sustainable community” peppered with start-up companies, walkable neighborhoods, and high-performing local k-12 school options. To achieve this, the report identifies four policy areas for city and university officials to focus on: Housing and development, transportation and mobility, public health and safety, and education. Within each, the report identifies several goals for city and university officials to pursue. 

The full 130-page report can be found in this week’s College Park City Council worksession agenda packet. The report, while focused on setting policy goals for the next 10 years, is notable for an extensive, data-driven exploration of socio-economic changes that have played out over the past decade in College Park. 

Demographically, College Park saw population grow by 7.4 percent between 2011 and 2018, about average compared with other cities.

Opinion: Hyattsville statement on police custody death falls short of transparency

Last week, a suspected bicycle thief died after being arrested by officers from the Hyattsville police department. But the first statement issued by Hyattsville officials on the incident lacked crucial details and showed the city still lacks the candor necessary in a new era of police accountability. The statement released by Hyattsville officials was misleading, if not outright deceptive, in its omission of details on the incident. It read that the suspect, a 29-year-old Mount Rainier man named Edwin Morales, “fell” three times during a brief pursuit with Hyattsville officers. After he was caught and placed in handcuffs, the statement says Hyattsville police called an ambulance to treat Morales for “suspected unknown drug intoxication.” Afterwards, Morales went unresponsive, and the statement says “officers immediately unhandcuffed him and began CPR.”

But, thanks to journalists at WJLA, we know that’s not the entire story.

LGBTQ activists accuse New Carrollton Mayor of bigotry

During a National Coming Out Day Rally in New Carrollton this past Sunday, a small group of LGBTQ activists and Prince George’s County elected officials criticized New Carrollton’s Mayor Phelecia Nembhard, accusing her of making homophobic remarks during a recent public meeting, being dismissive of the concerns of LGBTQ residents, and threatening activists that have planned protests over the remarks. Asked to comment for this article, Nembhard said by email that the accusations of homophobia and intimidation are false. 

“There is no facts to that allegation,” said Nembhard in a brief reply to a request for an interview. 

Nembhard did not rely to a followup request for an interview. Central to this story are comments Nembhard made during a July videoconference meeting of the Four Cities Coalition, a group of elected officials from Greenbelt, College Park, Berwyn Heights and New Carrollton who advocate for common policy goals. During that meeting, a representative from the Prince George’s County Public Schools gave a presentation on the county’s implementation of the Welcoming Schools initiative, a program from the Human Rights Commission intended to prevent bullying of LGBTQ students. 

According to transcripts from the videoconference text-chat function, during that presentation, Nembhard said “I am in total opposition of the teaching of Pre-K students about what they should feel. That is something their parents, pastor or counselor should discuss with them.

Fish processing plant proposed in College Park

A D.C.-based fish wholesaler wants to open a fish processing plant, fish market, brewery and aquaculture facility in northern College Park’s Branchville neighborhood that would employ more than 350 workers. But the company has hurdles to overcome, including potential opposition to industrial development from residential neighbors, a lack of financing, and the fact that it does not own the land nor has not reached an agreement with the property owners. The site in question is the former Stone Industrial property near the intersection of 51st Avenue and Branchville Road. Bordering a suburban neighborhood, the Stone Industrial property once housed a plastic-tubing manufacturer. In 2018, the business closed and the property was sold to Finmarc for $6.2 million, which is still actively pursuing a plan to redevelop the site into a mix of townhomes and apartments.

College Park to tweak animal laws; redesign city seal

College Park City Council will redesign the city seal to make it more legible, and to remove an anachronistic cross depicted on the seal’s rendition of the University of Maryland chapel. 

According to City Manager Scott Somers, the city seal redesign was proposed by the architects and designers involved in the construction of a new College Park City Hall, which will feature a large city seal behind the council dais. The designers noted the existing city seal’s hand-drawn design does not translate well into a large format, with irregular lines becoming pronounced. They proposed a new design that straightens the lines on the finer details within the seal. During discussions about this, it was noted that the chapel on the seal has a cross, while the chapel – which has always been non-denominational – does not have a cross. 

“The City Council on numerous occasions has stated its commitment to be a City that is welcoming and open to people of all faiths and backgrounds,” reads a memo from Somers about the seal redesign. “A cross on the chapel in the City Seal could be perceived as the City supporting some religions over other religions”

The matter received little discussion during City Council’s Oct.

Hyattsville Council sets affordable housing policy goals

In its effort to develop a comprehensive set of policies around affordable housing, Hyattsville City Council will focus on four key policy goals: increasing the number of units affordable for low income households, reducing property tax burdens, closing the racial homeownership gap, and to change regulations where possible to promote affordable housing production. 

This is the result of an hour-and-a-half discussion that came during a special worksession of Hyattsville City Council during its Oct. 5, 2020 meeting. The worksession and discussion was led by staff from Enterprise Community Partners, the consulting firm hired by Hyattsville to develop its affordable housing policy strategy. The resulting discussion gave insight into how the City Council, as a whole, was approaching this task. 

“It’s incredibly helpful for the public to not just see the work prudct of the consultancy that’s engaged, but it’s good for the public to see the way we grapple with important issues,” said Hyattsville Mayor Candace Hollingsworth as the discussion concluded. The purpose of the discussion was to identify and agree on four housing policy goals that the city will focus on over the next 10 years.

Trolley Trail gap construction delayed

The last time we heard about efforts to close the Rhode Island Avenue Trolley Trail gap in Hyattsville, we were told construction could start by Fall of 2020. Well, that’s been pushed back, city officials say. According to Hyattsville City Administrator Tracey Douglas, complications with the design have pushed construction back at least to December. 

The project, undertaken by Maryland’s State Highway Administration, would close a 2,500-ish foot gap that separates the current southern terminus of the Trolley Trail from the Anacostia Trail System near Charles Armentrout Drive and Rhode Island Avenue. You can see the planning documents here. 

As originally proposed, the 10-foot-wide trail would hug the eastern border of Rhode Island Avenue between Farragut Street and Charles Armentrout Drive. Near the intersection of Charles Armentrout, SHA officials plan to install a redesigned pedestrian and cyclist crosswalk regime and motor-vehicle light cycle designed to separate each mode of user from each other. Designs for the project dating to 2019 planned to acquire property from CSX rail road to build portions of the trail connection.

Hyattsville to upgrade park toilets with $240,000 buy

Hyattsville will be spending a little bit of money to buy new, permanent public restrooms for two city parks. At its Sept. 21, 2020 City Council meeting, Hyattsville officials unanimously approved a measure allocating $240,000 to buy and install the toilets. 

The toilets are “Portland Loos,” a single-occupancy public lavatory designed by municipal workers at the City of Portland to be installed at parks, plazas and public areas around the city. Since then, the city has licensed the design to other manufacturers, and copies can be found in several cities across the U.S. The ADA-compliant stainless-steel units look like heavy-duty art-deco porta-johns. They feature an outside hand-washing station, LED and sky-lighting, and can be solar powered if wanted. 

In recent years, public policymakers have taken a renewed interest in public toilet infrastructure, which are seen as a way to reduce instances of public defecation and urination and as a way to attract visitors to parks and downtown areas.

College Park Metro Marriott approved by Planning Board

Prince George’s County Planning Board approved detailed site plans for a new hotel near the College Park Metro station. The action took place at its Sept. 24, 2020, meeting. 

The plans were approved by a vote of three-to-one, with Planning Board Chair Elizabeth Hewlett voting against. Hewlett said she voted against approval because she wanted three additional parallel parking spots recommended by county planning staff to be included in the plans. The measure approved by the Planning Board omitted those three spots, with Commissioner William Doerner saying the transit-accessible destination did not need additional parking.