City of Hyattsville. (Courtesy Photo)

SEABROOK – In a 10-1 vote, Hyattsville City Council agreed to support the proposal of a redesign of a Sunoco gas station sitting along MD 410 and Belfast Road.

The council will send its recommendations to the Prince George’s County Council to receive the permits necessary to start the project. Councilmember Danny Schaible stood alone in rejecting the proposal.

The county will determine whether or not the gas station’s redesign constitutes “new use” or “continued use,” a definition that will determine whether or not the city will continue to back the proposal.

The proposal was first introduced to the council during their Sept. 16 regular meeting. It received pushback from councilmembers over concerns of how the redesign might affect pedestrian traffic and stormwater management.

The council never voted on it, instead of returning the proposal to NPR Properties, which owns the gas station, to further consult with the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission for a better compromise between the council’s concerns and the owners’ ambitions.

The Nov. 4 meeting saw the return of the proposal, with the city administrator’s staff’s recommendation that the gas station’s redesign only proceed if it followed the 2016 Prince George’s Plaza Transit District Development Plan (TDDP) standards.

“It is the city and county’s view – and community’s view— that this is a site that supports transit,” Jim Chandler, the assistant city administrator, said.

The city, however, has struggled with whether the redesign will constitute “new use,” which would be subject to a new set of conditions that do not align with TDDP standards, which has prohibited any new gas station to be built within the Transit District Overlay Zone (TDOZ) that the TDDP governs.

The city deliberated over whether the fact that the gas station will seek to demolish its current building and build an entirely new one for reconfiguration and installation of a convenience store constitutes “new use” or “continued use,” given that it will remain a gas station.

The TDDP, initially developed for the Prince George’s Plaza’s Transit District in 1998, was designed to promote county use of public transportation and improve the district’s walkability and cyclability. NPR Properties would be expected, under the plan’s conditions, to accommodate pedestrian traffic with a sidewalk from the gas station’s convenience store to Belfast Road, mirroring an existing sidewalk to MD 410 and avoiding any vehicle-pedestrian interaction within site.

It would also be expected to restrict the square footage of the retail structure to just a 15% increase in its current building. It includes a rejection of the owners’ proposed standalone ATM, and a commitment that the mural or any other artistic element fall within the square footage of the convenience store.

All additions and restrictions the city recommends would seek to support transit in the area. However, TDDP standards were developed to phase out the gas station over time. Schaible put forward to Dan Lynch, who spoke on behalf of NSR Properties at the meeting, his concerns that the redesign was a “significant investment” into the property against the interests of the TDDP and its future use by the city.

“You’re probably looking 10 to 15 years before this site is available (for other use),” Chandler said.

He explained that the gas station has little competition as a business given that it is “well-positioned,” and therefore, it will see growth from the increased traffic along MD 410, even without the redesign.

In comparison, the market for office space has only dwindled, while it would be extremely unlikely for anyone with the means to see the area as viable for residential use.

“I would be very surprised that in the next five, maybe 10 years, that someone would look to purchase this site…that this very profitable business would decide to close,” he said. “It’s unlikely in the near future.”

Besides TDDP standards, the city also recommended that NPR Properties reduce their proposal’s number of fueling stations from eight service bays to six. The city also suggested that the gas station support an electric charge parking space, should they decide to include a charger in the project. Neither recommendation from the city, however, would be required for it to approve the redesign.

The recommendation for an electric charge parking space was not seen in the revised proposal put in front of the council. Lynch could not say what the owners’ position on the parking space was and noted that it was “something they may consider” despite the fact that the TDDP does not require it.

“I’m a little upset I don’t see accommodations to electric vehicles,” Schaible said.

Councilmember Joseph Solomon, meanwhile, had wanted the proposal to include a bike repair station to address his own concerns that the site’s redesign does not speak to the “spirit” of the TDOZ or its cyclability.

“I would like to, as a part of this project, that (NPR Properties does) include features that start to at least reach out to the community that would like to start to use this area,” Solomon said. “If we’re going to have bike lanes along the East-West Highway, I think we should have amenities for bikers as they travel along East-West Highway.”

Lynch agreed to look into the idea, prompting Solomon to add his request for the repair station’s consideration in an amendment to the site plan proposal. It was approved 10-1, with Councilmember Robert Croslin, the only councilmember to reject the amendment.

“It’s something we’re going to look into,” Lynch said. “I’ve never done it before.”

The amended proposal was immediately put to the vote, which Shaible voted not to support.

In council dialogue, he spoke to how his role as a liaison to the Hyattsville Environment Committee was relevant to his feelings of “upsizing the gas station.” In the meeting, he’d asked where the “line in the sand” was years down the line, when the gas station would seek to grow despite the TDDP’s intentions.

Chandler re-emphasized that the city will not support the redesign if the county determines it constitutes a “new use” of the site.

“That is the line in the sand,” he said.

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