I think this development is not the best idea for this site. Adaptive reuse of the current building should be part of the development, and it should include some type of community use. I have lived in Hyattsville since 1987 and have watched this building close down, be considered as a school, be considered for tear-down, and more. If our community has a focus on sustainability, tearing this building down is not the way to go. I would like to see a different kind of development in this area--some housing (single-family, rowhouse, etc.) but not such a high number of dwellings that will wreak havoc on our local schools. Let's not "settle" for something that is not an excellent solution. We are a desirable community so let's do some things that are going to be good for all of us.
I appreciate Werrlein Properties (WP) leading tours through the building a few weeks ago. I live directly across the street, and had no idea of the beautifully aged interior and fantastic design details from three distinct periods in the 20th century (early industrial era, 50's modernism, and 70's funk). My immediate thought was "Whoa! Why has this place not been used for film, TV, and photography shoots this whole time?!" It seems a huge loss of built-in capital that could only be possible through the "deterioration" over time. I imagine many creatives and producers would pay top dollar for using the site. Not to mention the rampant instagrammers that have been hitting Green Owl's murals along Route 1--they'd probably pay an easy 5 bucks to be allowed in the WSSC building with their iphones. So, while I was involved in the difficult conversations around the building's historic value and the residential potential WP sees in it, this thought remained in the back of my mind. Then this past weekend, I became acquainted with the amazing Heather Roymans (Partner & Executive Director of IFDC) through her participation in the Her Story panel at Pyramid Atlantic. It is lucky for us that such an experienced producer lives in the neighborhood. This gave enough legs to my left field idea that I'm sharing now: What if WP used their capital to purchase and stabilize the building enough so that it could be used as an income-generating site for film and photo shoots? What if Roymans advised, with her expertise and background? WP could own, maintain and profit from production uses; the building’s “deterioration” becomes an aesthetic asset, rather than a blight, and the multi-use parking lot remains available for community uses while also being a staging area for production companies. This idea has not gone away for months, which signals to me that it’s worth sharing. And perhaps, if all parties are willing, at least it’s worth a meeting between city council, WP, and Roymans. I am an art historian by trade, and am willing to offer whatever advice I can, though I can’t speak to the actual financial feasibility of this idea. But again, we seem stuck between a rock and a hard place as a community, and I am compelled to share my out-of-the-box idea. –Josh T. Franco
I don't follow the argument that we have to agree to this proposal or risk being branded as anti-development. In the six years I've lived in Hyattsville the pace of new development has been off the charts (most of it welcome), so it seems clear that our community is desirable and will remain so regardless of what happens with this one project.
As Maureen writes in her post (you should read it), a chief reason Hyattsville is so desireable for new development and new residents is that there is such a strong sense of place here. That's the civic asset we should be most concerned with protecting.
I am sympathetic to the neighbors of the current building who are sick of it, but there's clearly a lot of potential for this piece of land to elevate the city, rather than simply get turned into a row of townhouses.
PS - If this project does go through, we should insist they drop the "e" from "Pointe". That's just not neighborly.
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.
I do not think this is the right development for the site, especially because of the impacts it would have on Magruder Park. The current lower parking lot should be part of an expanded Magruder park or school (provided the floodplain issue can be dealt with). Converting this lot to single family homes would alter the character of the park for the worse and the park is one of the gems of the city.
I wouldn't be against a smaller scope development for the WSSC building site only, though I would also like the city/county to seriously consider options for the site for a school or community center, or even limited mixed use and take into consideration the historical significance of parts of the building. On the whole, I would rather see the building reused as much as possible. It is better to wait and make the right decision.
While I appreciate the financial windfall Werrlein Properties, LLC would make turning what was once and office building and parking lot into a couple of acres of high density housing I fail to see what benefit that has to the community. New housing will not match with the existing neighborhood, many of which are 100 year old homes. The minimal facilities that are the playground and pool would become overrun with hundreds of new residents and those residents already in the neighborhood would have little to gain from this development. The ideal would be reusing the existing structure for some sort of community center but that may not be a fiscally viable option. I understand that Werrlein is in the business of turning a profit but if the development had any sort of mixed use component to it (gym, shops, restaurants, anything for the community) with residential above or beside that would be more of a win/win for the company and the community. If the only option the city is pursuing is dumping a couple hundred families into the bottom of the neighborhood in new housing my preference would be to keep the empty office building and parking lot which while not ideal doesn't create any strain on the community.