Community builder receives Employee of the Year award

Mayor Candace Hollingsworth honors Katie Gerbes at the Jan. 17 city council meeting. Photo courtesy of Lesley Riddle.

BY MEAGAN MILLER — Approximately two years ago, City Administrator Tracy Nicholson and Director of Community & Economic Development Jim Chandler were looking for someone who could help the City of Hyattsville’s Community & Economic Development Department.

They wanted someone who could work well with community stakeholders, developers, city officials and local business owners. They needed someone who enjoyed wearing many different hats, from leading community meetings, to creating and managing matrices with 80-plus different action items, designing and implementing community plans, and reviewing proposals. They needed a community builder.

While attending graduate school at the University of Maryland (UMD), Katie Gerbes was a community planning intern with the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.  She worked primarily within Prince George’s County, playing an active role on the ground and interacting with several different communities. In May 2015, she received her master’s degree in community planning with a concentration in urban design from UMD — right around the time Nicholson and Chandler began their search for a community planner. They were so impressed with Gerbes that they hired her as Hyattsville’s city planner, a job she started in September 2015.

About finding and hiring Gerbes, Nicholson said, “We didn’t know we would end up recruiting someone so bright in spirit and intellect. Katie is focused on ways to engage the city and bring people together.”

During the Jan. 17 city council meeting, Gerbes was publicly honored as Employee of the Year for 2017 and received the Seth Holden Award for Exemplary Service. Seth Holden was Hyattsville’s first city clerk, appointed shortly after the city incorporated on April 7, 1886. The award bearing his name is given each year to an employee who has had an impact on the organization and demonstrates a commitment to the city’s goals. Two years after Nicholson and Chandler’s initial search, Katie received this award for the key role she played in delivering the 2017–2021 Community Sustainability Plan, which includes a city-wide transportation and road network study, a county zoning rewrite and recommendations for celebrating National Parking Day, according to Nicholson.

National Parking Day occurs on the third Friday in September, and all over the United States, cities dress up their parking spaces. In Hyattsville, Gerbes and her team arranged plants, spread AstroTurf, set up Adirondack chairs and invited local businesses to donate pastries and produce for participants. Gerbes said, “It’s about reclaiming space for the community.”

When asked about her work with the city, Gerbes talked about conceptualizing key deliverables and emphasized what it means to be a community planner in Hyattsville. “The part of being a city planner that I enjoy the most is that every day is different,” said Gerbes. “One day, I may be deliberating with a business owner about their grant via the Commercial Façade Improvement Program. The next, I am in the boardroom with developers working on one of the many multifamily projects in the city. The following day, I’m meeting with residents at a community meeting. This community is diverse, educated and involved.” Gerbes said she also wants to help Hyattsville better engage its underrepresented communities, whether this underrepresentation results from racism or sexism, ageism or classism.

Among the many projects the city is developing are four major housing developments. You may have noticed that the ground outside of the West Hyattsville Metro stop has been cleared. This is the beginning of the Riverfront at West Hyattsville Metro development, which includes a plan to extend the trail system, install an amphitheater and provide approximately 183 townhomes and 300 to 350 multifamily units. The Edition at Kiplinger on East-West Highway, between the Giant and Home Depot, is nearing the end of construction, and upon completion will offer two-over-two condominiums, town houses and multifamily units. The former WSSC headquarters sits on a triangular lot bordered by 41st Avenue and Gallatin and Hamilton Streets. Werrlein Properties has proposed a development for the lot that would feature town houses and single-family bungalow-style homes matching the vernacular of the surrounding architecture. The Landy project — north of the Mall at Prince Georges and south of Northwestern High School — is expected to surpass the EYA development on Baltimore Avenue in terms of scale, with approximately 341 town houses scheduled for construction.

In the coming years, Gerbes said that she looks forward to contributing to more controlled growth. She continued, “Hyattsville is already an up-and-coming area. I want to make Hyattsville a destination, a place you want to live, a place where you want to own your business.”

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