For more than 42 years, Carl Landi has lived in University Hills, a peaceful neighborhood of winding tree-lined streets and tidy red-brick homes just outside Hyattsville's northern border.
But Landi and some of his neighbors say a plan by Hyattsville officials to annex their unincorporated neighborhood will burden them with additional taxes and not offer them much in return.
"Everything Hyattsville could give us I already get from the county," Landi said. "I have no problems with county trash removal, snow removal or crime. Most people on my block are basically against it."
University Hills, which is near the southwest corner of the University of Maryland campus, is a 641-household neighborhood of post-World War 11 ranch houses and colonials, as well as a few apartment complexes. It is made up of an estimated 1,467 residents. Homes there have sold recently for as much as $350,000.
Some residents say the mostly middle-class suburb has been hit by noise, crowded rentals, illegally parked cars and other problems. They think Hyattsville, which has its own police department close by and keeps a close watch on rentals, could do a better job than the county protecting the neighborhood from nuisances. That's why they believe annexation is a good idea.
Maryland law lets a municipality annex adjoining property if 25 percent of its qualified voters and property owners holding at least 25 percent of the entire area's assessed value request it. Last year, a group of University Hills residents launched a pro-annexation petition drive and collected enough signatures to call for a vote by the Hyattsville City Council, which last month gave preliminary approval to annexing University Hills.
Even if the City Council approves annexation after a scheduled July 1 public hearing, however, opponents can request a formal neighborhood vote -- and they already have begun gathering signatures to force a referendum. Such a move would require the signatures of 20 percent of all registered voters in the neighborhood.
"It seems like the community is being railroaded into annexation," said one of those opponents, University Hills resident Garrett McWilliams, who attended the meeting and said he had never been asked to sign the original pro-annexation petition.
"My taxes would probably go up by $1,000," said Landi, who recently signed the anti-annexation petition.
Currently, residents in unincorporated county areas such as University Hills pay $.96 per $100 of assessed property value for county services such as trash pickup, snow removal and code enforcement. If the community is annexed by Hyattsville, homeowners in University Hills would pay $1.38 per $100 -- 80 cents to the county and 58 cents to the city. The county tax would be reduced because certain services would no longer be provided.
The issue has been divisive. At a recent informational meeting at St. Mark's Catholic Church, where Hyattsville officials touted the benefits of annexation to about 100 people, Mayor Bill Gardiner was continually interrupted by skeptics, and a fight nearly broke out.
"What you are seeing over here in University Hills is a continuous decline," said annexation supporter Rose Dunphy after the hearing. She believes Hyattsville would do a better job enforcing laws against street noise, illegal parking and overcrowded rental houses than Prince George's County -- to whom she currently pays taxes for such services.
Jim Keary, a spokesman for County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D), said county officials were working to allay concerns in University Hills and nearby Lewisdale. "We've been responsive," he said. He said the county had stepped up its code enforcement and increased the police presence.
Due in part to its proximity to the University of Maryland, the neighborhood is about 25 percent rental housing.
"We are trying to preserve the integrity of the single-family neighborhood," said University Hills resident Tom Slezak, a leader of the petition drive, who believes his subdivision would benefit from annexation.
Whether an annexed University Hills would have its own representative on the Hyattsville City Council is an open question, Gardiner said.
Hyattsville currently has five wards with two council members each. It is not certain that University Hills could become its own ward or would be absorbed into an existing ward, Gardiner told residents.
Hyattsville officials also described the kinds of city services -- including trash removal, policing, road repair, code enforcement and recreational opportunities -- the city could offer University Hills residents.
The costs of such services, compared to the tax revenue annexation would bring to Hyattsville, would make annexation "basically a break-even for us, financially," Gardiner said after the meeting. But he said advantages to the city would be that it expands its population, giving it an opportunity to better "protect our borders" from criminal activities and gain more control over possible development of a 16-acre tract of land within the annexed area. The land, known as the Blumberg tract, is owned by developer Marvin Blumberg.
Gardiner said the Hyattsville City Council will vote on annexation immediately after the July 1 public hearing.
If the council approves it, annexation would go forward. Opponents would then have 45 days to collect enough signaturesto force a University Hills referendum.