Hyattsville trash goes electric

Hyattsville will be buying a new garbage truck. Normally. that’s not really Route 1 Reporter newsworthy. But this garbage truck is electrically powered, making Hyattsville something of a pioneer in the still-burgeoning field of electric utility vehicles. 

At its Aug. 10, 2020, City Council meeting, Hyattsville elected officials approved a proposal to spend $380,000 on a new BYD Motors 6R Electric Refuse Truck. 

“It’s slightly smaller than our normal trucks.

Mount Rainier launches COVID rent, food assistance programs

The city of Mount Rainier has launched its own emergency assistance fund to help residents affected by the coronavirus pandemic and its economic disruptions to buy groceries and pay rent and utility bills, at least while supplies last. The programs were unveiled at Mount Rainier’s Aug. 19, 2020, City Council meeting by City Manager Latasha Gatling. Under the program, approved residents can receive a one-time payment of up to $1,000 to help pay off overdue rent or utility payments, paid directly to the landlord or utility company. Applicants must prove they reside in the city of Mount Rainier and must show evidence of need, and must demonstrate that the need for assistance was related to the coronavirus pandemic.  Further, applicants must provide copies of bills or late-notices for rent or mortgage delinquencies.

College Park’s [whiter, older homeowner] residents say there’s too much development

At a special Aug. 19, 2020, meeting, College Park City Council received a briefing on a community feedback effort designed to help guide city policymakers develop a five-year  strategic plan for the city. 

Many of the findings are either not-surprising or noncontroversial: respondents liked College Park’s green spaces, they liked the local transit options, and they liked the city’s diversity. Some of the findings caught some members of City Council by surprise: fears of over-development were a repeated theme of the report, as well as complaints about the relationship between the city and the University of Maryland, and a desire for both local government and local businesses to cater more to “year-round” residents. 

“You see the tension between town and gown here,” said Councilor John Rigg during the meeting, who noted some respondents really liked the entertainment and restaurant options while “they also react negatively to other things that accompany having a major university in their town.”

The report was produced by Performance Breakthroughs, a Virginia-based firm that focuses on organizational and business consulting. While the firm has a roster of local and federal government clients on its resumé, the company’s marketing emphasizes its approach on more internal organizational issues such as leadership, worker relations, customer service, succession planning and project management. If the firm has experience in municipal planning – or more importantly – public opinion research at a hyperlocal scale, it doesn’t make that a central part of its sales brochure.

Hyattsville hopes to rename Prince George’s Plaza Metro Station

Hyattsville city officials want to rename the Prince George’s Plaza Metro Station to Hyattsville Crossing. The move would be the culmination of a years-long effort by city officials to develop a more cohesive identity for the neighborhood anchored by the Metro station. In a June vote, Hyattsville City Council approved a measure directing city staff to request the name be changed on official Metro maps in advance of the planned opening of Phase II of the Silver Line, which will require all Metro maps to be reprinted. The Metro station derives it name from the former Prince George’s Plaza mall, known today as the Mall at Prince George’s and branded as simply MPG by its owners REIT. Since the Metro station opened, the surrounding area has changed dramatically.

Mount Rainier might escalate request for Shand shooting video

Mount Rainier City Council appears favorably disposed to make an official request to Hyattsville city officials for body camera footage from the 2019 police shooting that killed Leonard Shand. 

During its Aug. 6, 2020, Mount Rainier City Council meeting, Councilor Scott Cecil said he was planning on making a second request for Hyattsville to provide video filmed during the incident from Hyattsville officers’ body cameras. One Mount Rainier police officer, Damien Graham, was on the scene during the incident, along with 10 other officers from Hyattsville and Prince George’s County who opened fire. In his prior request, Cecil said Mount Rainier government officials should have access to the footage to help them better understand an incident that involved on of its officers. 

“I am planning on making a second written request to Hyattsville’s mayor and Council asking them to send the body camera footage. I understand there is an investigation happening, but I don’t personally have a ton of faith in the process,” said Cecil during the meeting. 

Cecil’s first request was made without Mount Rainier City Council backing.

College Park takes side in Supreme Court case

College Park City Council officially took a side in a forthcoming Supreme Court case that asks if religious beliefs exempt organizations from civil rights laws. The case, Fulton vs. The City of Philadelphia, was brought by Catholic Social Services, a religiously-affiliated nonprofit adoption agency, and worked in contract with the city of Philadelphia to place children in foster homes. In 2018, the group lost this contract after the city learned the nonprofit refuses to place children with same-sex parents. Catholic Social Services sued, claiming its loss of the government contract was a violation of its religious freedom to, in this case, believe that marriage should only be between a man and a woman.

Hyattsville approves tax cut for affordable housing

Developers will soon be able to get tax breaks if they build affordable housing in Hyattsville. While many municipalities offer tax credits to lure developers, Hyattsville is believed to be the first of Prince George’s County’s 27 municipalities to tie these tax credits to the production of affordably-priced housing units. 

The move, approved at Hyattsville’s Aug. 10, 2020, City Council meeting, revises Hyattsville’s Revitalization Tax Credit program, which gives developers tax breaks for new construction near Prince George’s Plaza and West Hyattsville Metro stations and the Gateway Arts District along Baltimore Avenue. Previously, any project that significantly added to the city’s property tax base could apply for the tax credits. The developers behind the EYA Arts District development and the forthcoming Armory development have applied for these credits. 

The revisions add “production of affordable housing” to the list of eligible projects for the tax credits.

Hyattsville set to rename Magruder Park

Hyattsville City Council will soon launch an official effort to solicit a new name for Magruder Park, but the details still need to be hammered out. 

The park’s current namesake, prominent early 20th-century Hyattsville politician William Pinkney Magruder, has come under scrutiny partially because he donated much of the land for the park with segregationist deed clauses that prohibited people of color from the park. 

Earlier this year, the city removed signs bearing Magruder’s name from the park entrances after the signs were vandalized. City Manager Tracey Douglas outlined a proposed outreach effort to rename the park during Hyattsville City Council’s Aug. 10, 2020, meeting. Hyattsville City Council was generally supportive, but only discussed the proposal, and took no action. The measure is expected to return for discussion and possible action at the next City Council meeting. 

According to the proposal, city officials would first announce a “name selection challenge” in local news outlets, social media and the Hyattsville Green Sheet – a newsletter sent by mail to city residents. City officials plan to solicit input through Hyattsville’s website, a physical suggestion box at the park, or by email to ParkName@Hyattsville.org. 

City communications staff will collate the responses and provide reports to the Health, Wellness and Recreation Advisory Committee and the Hyattsville Race and Equity Task Force.

Prince George’s County limits free covid testing

Several Prince George’s County residents say they were recently denied free coronavirus tests from the county Department of Health because of a little-known rule limiting free tests to one-per person. 

The rule surprised County Councilor Deni Taveras, who represents Langley Park and Adelphi neighborhoods hit hard by the pandemic. Taveras said she was denied a test Aug. 5, 2020, at the Rollingcrest Community Center in Chillum because she had already received a free test. One county resident who previously received three tests through the health department, also was turned away from Rollingcrest this week for similar reasons. Another resident, a teacher in Prince George’s County Schools, 

County officials provided little additional information about the policy.

Low demand for College Park coronavirus relief

College Park set aside $1.7 million to assist residents and businesses dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. But so far, few have availed themselves of the grant program. According to city manager Scott Somers, the city has only processed 28 small-business assistance grants totaling $47,400 plus 18 family assistance program grants totaling approximately $6,200. “I was surprised at how low that was,” Somers said during College Park’s Aug. 4, 2020, City Council meeting.