If you’re curious what I’m thinking, as a member of the decision-making body, I don't yet know if I will support this proposed plan for redevelopment of the former WSSC building site. This is an important decision that involves weighing a number of considerations and I'm still evaluating this. I’m not an advocate for one side or the other, but I’m trying to come to a decision in the best interests of the community. Here are some factors I'm considering that I shared yesterday on the neighborhood listserv:
• Considerable public interest in preserving the former WSSC building.
• Uncertainty about the condition of the building and if its preservation is even possible (without incurring expenses more prohibitive than anyone would realistically be willing to pay). 17 years is a long time for a property to stand empty. I don’t think anyone has spoken knowledgeably about the condition and salvageability of the building.
• Ecological/flood concerns about building in the lower parking lot.
• Neighbors in the immediate impact zone who have had to live next to an abandoned and decaying building for many years who are in favor of the plan. As it stands, I have heard complaints monthly, if not weekly, from immediate neighbors about this property since I’ve been on the Council (7 years). The current condition is not a pressing issue if you live even two blocks away, but it's a daily nuisance for its closest neighbors and I'm particularly interested in hearing from them. I’ve heard from two households who live in what I consider to be the immediate impact zone who have weighed in against this development (primarily for school, preservation reasons). I’ve heard from considerably more close neighbors who are in favor of some modified version of this proposal who have indicated that they don’t feel comfortable speaking up publicly for fear of the negative reaction from vocal opposition.
• Werrlein's demonstrated effort in reaching out to neighbors and community groups. The developer seems to have put a lot of thought and energy into community outreach. Those who have worked with them have good things to say about the company. They’ve built in a lot of consideration for neighbors into their construction plans.
• I’m just going to say it, I think this looks pretty good. Yeah, it’s more dense than I’d prefer, but it’s attractive and, to my mind, aesthetically preferable to much of the other recent and upcoming development (which the City has very little power over) within our boundaries. It’s a better plan and more considerate of neighbors than the other proposals I’ve seen for this site over the years (none of which have progressed very far).
• This development would reduce the amount of impervious surface area.
• The planned development is awfully dense and it will impact traffic and parking in negative ways in that area.
• "Loss" of the City's use of the parking lot. It's not our land. We are graciously allowed the use of the lot by the current owner. I don't think it's fair to act as if this is something we're entitled to, but it’s a significant interest of the community as a whole and an optimal solution would include parking for better use of Magruder Park. I think this is a tricky thing to factor, though, since opposing the current development plan might result in a more adversarial relationship with the property’s owner (which may be familiar to those who know the history), which could have repercussions on our ability to use the lot at all.
• The city can't afford to buy this or to develop this site, I’m frankly relieved that we don’t own this, given that our experience owning buildings has been fraught.
• If we oppose this do we get a reputation as a community as being anti-development? There are a lot of Route 1 communities who would love to lure projects away from Hyattsville.
• Additional overburdening of existing public school capacity if built. All new development triggers this concern and there’s a great deal of development in the works in this area. I think this is an important factor, but the fact is that our need for additional school space in Hyattsville will be critical either way, whether this gets built or not.
• This would be good location for public school right next to our biggest park.
• I have no realistic expectation that the County will prioritize purchasing this site or investing in the construction of a new school in Hyattsville. Yes, I know that's the optimal outcome that many are hoping for, and it would, in fact, be great, but I've heard no indication from any County level people that this may be something that could happen in the foreseeable future. I’m even more skeptical that this is likely to happen in a timeframe that would work with the currently planned renovations to Hyattsville Elementary School.
• If this site were to be used for a school, though, there would still be negative externalities from the increased traffic. Schools typically involve a lot more traffic than just standard drop off and pick up hours, as schools are often used in the evenings and weekends for various purposes.
• Also there's the possibility that any future school use might realistically be predicated on tearing down the existing building (unacceptable to the preservation folks) or building in the parking lot area (unacceptable to the environmental impact folks).
• There's the additional issue that relocating the elementary school might put some of the households in the current in school boundary outside of walkable range (this comes secondhand to me from a PGCPS official), which means school buses or redrawn boundaries, which may split up our neighborhood more than it currently is. [T. Carter Ross has responded that this is a non-issue, that this location is more central to the existing boundaries than the current location. He’s one of the most knowledgeable people in the neighborhood about such things and if he says this isn’t a concern I believe him.]
• This is dividing the community. One of the things I care most about is the effect the development would have on relationships between neighbors.
Factors I don't care about particularly, not to say they're unimportant, just that they aren't ones that resonate to me and don't carry as much weight as they seem to do for others:
• The fact that this is a bigger project than Werrlein has tackled before. Werrlein seems to be putting a lot of resources into this.
• Criminal history of one of the people involved. I care deeply about integrity and past actions and I think it’s fine to take note of such information, but I think that employers should institute fair hiring practices and allow those who have paid their debt to society to pursue their skilled professions. I would vote to “ban the box” in a second.
• Increased tax revenue to the city.
My gut take at the moment is that this choice isn't between choosing the Werrlein proposal or choosing a new elementary school on the site, but, rather, choosing between a modified Werrlein plan in the short term and preserving the potential for a different outcome – one that will almost certainly prompt its own opposition – with the probable short to medium term result that the building will remain abandoned and deteriorate further.
It's clear where many of our neighbors come out on this, but I would like more information, including input from our Planning Committee and City Staff. I appreciate everyone who has shared their thoughts about this and I'm happy to continue this conversation in person.
Council Member, Ward 2