By most measures, the small south Hyattsville neighborhood bound by Crittenden, Banner and Buchanan streets and 40th Avenue is a nice place to call home. The neighbors seem to know each other well, and the lack of through roads mean that many take to the streets for relaxing strolls amid early 20th century craft houses shaded by a dense tree canopy. Residents have easy access to Magruder Park to the west and Melrose Park to the east. To the south, lies the Northwest Branch of the Anacostia River.
But residents say the neighborhood's charm is diluted whenever raindrops fall from the sky. According to residents and city officials alike, a combination of low lying land and poor storm water management systems turns their neighborhood into a swamp for days on end after it rains. The poor drainage issues have given rise to a satirical nickname for the neighborhood: Soggy Bottom.
Then there are the streets. Cracked, broken and pockmarked by potholes, a cursory glance down some of the streets reveals paving in dire need of rehab.
"I've screamed and yelled about these roads, because these roads are bad," said 40th Avenue resident Don Watson.
Even more curious, residents say, are the results of recent sidewalk and curb construction on Buchanan Street conducted by county contractors during the middle of last year.
They point to shoddy work left behind by the county contractors ranging from roughly finished curb work at the intersection of 40th Avenue and Buchahan Street and a thin layer of asphalt which lays inches lower than the storm water drains in many places, making it impossible for rain to efficiently drain off the streets. In some areas, the curb is higher than the adjoining yards, also inhibiting storm water drainage.
Earlier this week, city officials held a public meeting to gather input on how to improve the drainage and other infrastructure issues in the neighborhood, including expanding sidewalks in the area.
Residents attending the meeting seemed skeptical, saying that previous efforts to pressure city officials to fix infrastructure issues in the neighborhood have failed to materialize.
Julia McTague, a city employee who works in the clerk's office as well as taking on extra duties relating to public works, said that there have been prior conceptual ideas for improvements in the area, but not for the drainage issues which were the focus of Monday's public meeting.
The issue of sidewalks stoked the passions of some residents, who disagreed about their benefit. Hyattsville has a public works policy mandating the installation of sidewalks when and where possible.
According to Mayor Marc Tartaro, "the plan is to push through design and construction as soon as possible," a process which could take up to 18 months.
Ward One Councilor Candace Hollingsworth said that residents want to see a more concrete plan of improvements.
"What I really think people need to see is a phase-in of exactly which part of this project is going to be done when," said Hollingsworth in an interview. "What I would hate to see is that we have either such a late start on the first phase, which is Crittenden Street and have the areas that are a concern to many of the residents who were present go unfinished for 18 to 24 months."
She also echoed the concerns expressed by many residents of the quality of the county's work on Buchanan Street.
"We really need to hold the county accountable for projects that are completed," she said. "We're cleaning up their work."