I am writing to express my strong opposition to the Magruder Pointe Development proposal by Werrlein Properties. I am deeply dismayed by the proposed demolition of the existing WSSC building, as well as the loss of potential open space for our community. While I realize that it can be difficult for many people to get beyond the "run down" nature of a vacant building, I would like to provide my professional opinion as a preservation architect, that this building offers great potential for adaptive reuse. Unfortunately, Werrlein has dismissed this possibility outright.
It has been proven over and over again that people appreciate historic architecture as being essential to the identity and unique character of their communities. Hyattsville is a historic neighborhood - people are attracted to Hyattsville precisely because of its historic building stock and, even more so, as the recent wave of adaptive reuse projects have created lively community spaces like Pyramid Atlantic, Vigilante Coffee and Pizzeria Paradiso. I would argue that it is exactly these types of adaptive reuse projects that are the reason Hyattsville is now in demand as a desirable place to live. The preservation of buildings that are part and parcel of our community’s history is essential to cultural, social, economic and environmental sustainability.
I don’t want Hyattsville to succumb to the kind of increasingly fast-paced, anonymous and “placeless” form of urban development that has drastically changed similar neighborhoods in the metro area. The individual character of Hyattsville is a precious commodity that we should not just throw away to the highest bidder. It is the unique identity of Hyattsville as a product of incremental development over time, that helps create a sense of stability and community spirit.
More specifically the WSSC building offers many qualities that would be lost forever if it is demolished, including:
A richness of design that spans three distinct architectural styles and time periods.
Solid construction and a high degree of craftsmanship and quality materials.
A thoughtful and considerate site design that utilizes the change in grade to negotiate the building’s relationship to both the residential character of Hamilton Street and the existing open character of Gallatin Street.
A tangible connection to our city’s history as the headquarters of a major public utility.
It is very convenient for developers to say that it isn’t financially feasible to rehab an old building when they have no interest or intention of preservation. It is my professional opinion that the WSSC building is a viable candidate for adaptive reuse and is in considerably better shape than many buildings I have seen brought back from neglect and vacancy to a vibrant new use.
In terms of the parking lot on which Werrlein is proposing to build town homes, I would much prefer to see this portion of the property remain open space. Its location directly adjacent to the entrance of our largest city park is a golden opportunity that our city should simply NOT pass up. Once this parcel is developed, the opportunity to add additional public green space and recreational opportunities is lost. I would encourage our city leadership to find a creative solution that would add this parcel to our existing park.
Development pressures are one of the biggest challenges to adding and maintaining green space in cities - it takes the will of the governing bodies to see the value of access to public open space/parks and prioritize that over development. The required zoning change for this proposal provides the city with considerable leverage in negotiating the future use of this portion of the site - why give that away with no benefit to the larger community? Is it because we are worried about getting “a reputation as a community as being anti-development?” (As we know, this is a concern for Councilmember Warner, whom I am quoting). As a resident I am much more concerned about getting a reputation as a city that doesn’t fight for its community values. I can guarantee that the desire for more open space and maintaining historic neighborhood character are routinely listed among the top values that residents site in Hyattsville.
We can all lament the fact that the city didn’t take earlier opportunities to acquire this property or that previous plans for adaptive reuse fell through or that the building is listed as a contributing structure to the Hyattsville Historic District but which affords no legal protections for preservation, but the fact is we are where we are. I am asking our mayor and council to be the people that stand up for our community values despite development pressure. Why not be the city that sends developers packing when it is not in the best interest of our community?
I would be happy to elaborate more on my specific criticisms of the proposed site plan (especially the town homes located on the lower lot which are poorly sited and not in keeping with our neighborhood, or even regional, character. Why are we plunking down Savannah in the middle of Hyattsville again?) but my real hope is that the mayor and city council will reject this proposal and will stand up for our collective best interest.