The West Hyattsville Enigma

West Hyattsville Metro

Less than one mile from the District of Columbia stands acres of vacant land. Wildflowers and grasses have gone to seed on a long-abandoned playing field (above). Weeds sprout in a dry, sun-drenched lot (below). An abandoned warehouse sits on land abutting picturesque parkland. Although large lots of undeveloped land inside the beltway are rare enough, these photos are even more remarkable if one considers the land is surrounding a Metro station.

West Hyattsville Metro

This curious phenomenon is not due to inadequate zoning or neighborhood resistance. The area has been zoned for transit oriented development since the 1990s, and the Prince George’s County Planning Department recently published a special transit district plan for the area, that would accommodate thousands of housing units, a million square feet of office and retail space, and a system of public parks and open space.



West Hyattsville Vision

There are a myriad of causes for the lack of development. The suburban jurisdictions most successful at cultivating transit oriented development, Montgomery County and Arlington County, revised their zoning codes early after the advent of Metro and even there it has taken decades to realize transit oriented developments. (Despite decades zoned for high density development, almost all of the buildings near the Ballston Metro Station were built in the last ten years.) Prince George’s County has taken a more piecemeal approach, creating small transit districts instead of revising the entire county’s plans. A recent Washington Post story suggests political leaders and Metro itself may share part of the blame. Furthermore, this area has significantly lower incomes than Arlington or Montgomery, and the county as a whole hasn’t seen the same amount of investment as elsewhere in the region.

Regardless of the precise causes, our region has already spent billions constructing a transit system and suffers some of the worst traffic and sprawl of any city in America. We have a mandate to realize development at sites as well-situated as the West Hyattsville Station.

West Hyattsville Metro

Author: Rob Goodspeed


  1. So who owns property around the Metro stop? Is it a Mexican stand-off type situation where nobody wants to be the first to sell/build since the higher markups come when things are already well under way? Are the majority landowners interested in selling nearby property at all?

    (Devil’s Advocate) I think I found an argument to support the typical corrupt scheme of giving political insiders details on the ultimate location of a new transit development so they can buy up the land before the plan goes public. You concentrate the land into a few hands who are eager to flip and make a quick buck. When the roads/rails are built, they work hard to make things happen. When the corrupt “pre sale” doesn’t happen, perhaps you’re more likely to get the “first mover” problem because ownership is more fragmented and with diverse interests?

  2. Hey Scott, good question. I wasn’t able to check until today because the Prince George’s County GIS website only works with Internet Explorer on Windows machines!

    It looks like the two fields are owned by WMATA, and the large abandoned warehouse sits on 18 acres sold to this company in 1997 for $1.2 million:

    SPRINGFIELD, VA 22153-2815

    It turns out that WMATA had announced an agreement with the owner for a development at this station in 2004, but nothing has happened since.

    Although it’s easy to focus on WMATA, there are a number of other properties in the area falling under the new zoning that could take advantage of the proximity to transit.

  3. There was an article in the Oakland Tribune about the 35th anniversary of BART. One of the statements that was made in the article was how BART was supposed to end sprawl by creating transit neighborhoods around the stations, that didn’t happen until the last 5 years or so. In part because people seemed to think that this was just going to magically happen with no intervention by BART or by the counties and cities whose land this was near. I think other cities are starting to pay attention, though. As a Chicagoan, I may attention to development news there — and Metra has expanded recently, but as part of those new stations there has been an amount of preplanning to prepare county and township plans to rezone the adjacent land for more compact development, and PUDs. All of this has to be in the planning stages when new stations and lines are introduced.

  4. I used to live in West Hyattsville, and walked or biked to this station every weekday. What is not viewable on the images above is just how pedestrian un-friendly the area around the station is. The roads surrounding the station to the north and east (Ager, Hamilton, Queens Chapel) have fast-moving traffice and only intermittent sidewalks. The streets are primarily commercial, with parking lots and drive-throughs fronting onto the roads. To the south and west, the station is cut off from residential and commercial areas by the Northwest Branch of the Anacostia river, and another unwalkable 4-lane road (Chillum) . The station itself is very car-centric; instead of putting the station entrance near the main pedestrian crossing, it is set far back fromthe street and pedestrians must traverse a large parking lot.

  5. Well said MKN.
    I continue to walk to the W Hyattsville Metro and it is almost as if the West Hyattsville station was designed to frustrate pedestrians.
    Also, the commercial development nearby is decidely down-market.Used Car dealers, a run down bar, nail and pawn shops etc.
    The designs for TOD are encouraging but seem to be stalled. Mr. Jack Johnson has also been cited as a major obstacle. I don’t know how true this is but my guess would be that he is looking for a way that he or his cronies can line their pockets on the deal.

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  7. How is this an enigma? Does the metro connect to anyplace the people living nearby would want to go? The article mentions the area is disproportionately poor. Connecting office jobs to service workers is hardly effective.

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