HYATTSVILLE – As the old Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) building between Hamilton and Gallatin streets stood vacant for decades, Hyattsville residents dreamed of the possibilities.
During community meetings, residents would talk about adaptive reuses to turn the building into a community center, a day care, or a school. Now a developer is hoping to move forward on his dream for the property – to raze the building and build homes.
John Werrlein with Werrlein Properties, as well as several members of his development team, held a community meeting at Vigilante Coffee on Nov. 8 to present the team’s idea for the redevelopment of the WSSC building lot and its parking lot across the street.
“We will present our plan to the city in the near future, but for now, tonight is just about us presenting and you guys telling us what you think,” Werrlein said. “Some of you guys know me, some of you don’t, but we do care and that’s why we’re here tonight.”
The proposal includes 85 single-family, attached and detached homes on the two plots of land, said Mike Snyder with Dewberry Land Engineers, who developed the site layout. Generally the idea is to have detached units along Hamilton and 41st streets within in “the character of what is there now.”
“The other units that are in the area are, as you know, four, five-story apartment buildings, this is where the attached single-family building will be,” he said.
Detached houses will be designed by David Robbins and Architecture Collaborative and will pull from themes from throughout the neighborhood. Robbins said the goal is create homes where no two look alike. Each of the single-family houses are planned to have a different façade.
“Each one of them would look like a different house and each be different and we’d pick up some of the themes and ideas that are throughout Magruder Park right now,” Robbins said. “One of the things about (this area) is there is a wide arrange of styles and we’d like to continue with that effort throughout the area.”
Designs for the townhouses include brick and masonry facades, with continued material around the sides of the houses. The units are designed as rear-loading buildings with double insulated walls to reduce energy consumption.
The detached homes are estimated to begin in the high $600,000s range for costs, whereas the townhomes, or attached homes, would likely start in the mid-600 range. The development team did not mention any affordable or subsidized housing.
Each unit would have approximately 4.5 parking spaces in addition to a garage – far more than required – and will include several new trees and a bio-retention area.
Matthew Nelson, with DelMarva Site Development, said the site would be in much better shape after the revitalization is completed.
“It’s going to be a great project for the community. I think that at the end of the day it’s going to be a much more aesthetically pleasing property,” he said.
Residents are extremely passionate about the old WSSC building and that was apparent by the size of the crowd the meeting drew. The Hyattsville community packed Vigilante Coffee to brim and filled in all the standing room.
They came armed with questions, information and opinions, willing to hear the proposal, but ready to defend their dreams for the property. Several questioned whether the building was historical.
Rivera started the meeting by debunking the thought that the building was a protected historical site and a member of the historical society was present to reaffirm the building is a contributor in a historic district, but is not itself historic.
Residents vocally disagreed.
A large amount of residents voiced displeasure with the idea of tearing down the building, saying its design and facade added to the community. They asked why the developer could not renovate the building, but still build homes on its parking lot across the street.
“The building is 140,000 square feet as it sits today. The average renovation cost (is) $100 to $200 per square foot. So if you do the math – that’s like $20 million,” Rivera said. “So there is an extreme amount of cost that we’ll endure to keep the building here, renovate and put a user in, whoever that user is. “
Costs could also increase depending on the tenant of the building. Government offices would require by-right uses or schools would require cafeterias and gyms.
Others questioned the affordability of the possible future houses, whether there would be any parking left for Magruder Park visitors during events, how rats in the vacant building would handled, and what, if any, benefit the development would bring to the city.
One resident also asked for a walking path south of the property to connect the neighborhood to Magruder Park. Werrlein said that was something the project team could definitely add.
While many residents remained critical of the plan, others said they were glad to see any plan to revitalize the property. One of those particularly excited to see a plan for moving forward was County Council District 2 representative Deni Taveras.
“This project would really be able to put a building that’s been unoccupied for a really long time into use and so I would like to see something happen eventually,” she said. “But at the end of the day I would like to see some activity happening in that particular corner, but again I’ll defer to you all, since you live in this area and you have vested interests in this area.”
Taveras said this time, before the developer puts in an official application, is crucial for her to hear feedback from the community and work with the developer toward solutions.