A proposed overhaul of the University Hills streetscape in Northern Hyattsville has elicited loud protests from some residents who oppose the installation of sidewalks along their property.
Nowhere was this opposition more apparent than at a series of community meetings held earlier this year to discuss progress on the design phase of the University Hills Street Improvement Project. Over two nights, Mayor Marc Tartaro, city officials and contracted civil engineers butted heads with groups of University Hills residents over the necessity of sidewalks in their neighborhood.
But does this vocal opposition represent the true will of the neighborhood? Mayor Marc Tartaro–who has touted the saftey benefits of sidewalks–doesn't think so, and he intends to test his theory by mailing a survey to every household in University Hills asking for feedback on the project.
"To date, input about one aspect of the project - sidewalks - has been largely negative," reads a letter to residents from Tartaro to be included in the survey mailer. "However, I believe that we have only heard from about 15 percent of neighborhood homeowners. I need to know if those who have spoken thus far represent the majority view of the community."
This week, residents in University Hills will begin receiving the mailer containing the letter from the Mayor, answers to frequently asked questions about the project, a copy of the municipal sidewalk policy, and copies of slideshows and handouts presented at previous community meetings about the project, and a series of maps depicting the project on a neighborhood and block scales.
The mailer also includes the survey and response form to be filled out and sent back to the city with an included stamped and addressed envelope. Responses must be sent back by Dec. 15, 2012.
Hyattsville Community Services Director Abby Sandel, who handles communications for the city, had never heard of a municipality going to such lengths to solicit resident feedback over an infrastructure project.
"We want to get it as right as possible," said Sandel in an interview last week. "I do think it's extraordinarily unusual for a government to go to these lengths, but I think we sincerely want to know what people think."
This is not the first time new sidewalks have sparked heated debate in Hyattsville.
Back in 2006, the city adopted a sidewalk policy which mandates that handicap-accessible pedestrian facilities be installed on all city streets where they can be feasibly installed. Residents can petition against the installation of sidewalks on their street, but a majority of the city council needs to approve the petition for it to have force of law.