My Two Cents: Municipal Building demolition makes no ‘cents’

The Hyattsville Municipal Building

BY JASON CALVI  Did you know the city council will vote soon on a plan to demolish the Hyattsville Municipal Building, a structure only completed in 1990? You may ask — why? This is just one of many questions we should all be asking before we make this major change to our city center.

Where will Summer Jam be, where we traditionally gather on warm summer Fridays for music, drinks, catching up with neighbors from around the city, and watching kids burn their boundless energy? Where will events like the semi-annual kids clothing swap be held? Why replace the heart of an ideal town center — with the neighboring schools, churches, post office, growing businesses, and the new Pyramid Atlantic Art Center — with a giant apartment building or more town homes, leaving us stranded for a public place of our own.

This ideal town center could soon be decimated in ways we can’t predict if the city council approves demolishing the city building. Your taxpayer dollars, which built it, and Earth’s scarce resources, gone! While one councilmember called it a “failing building,” a detailed 2011 property report finds otherwise: “[T]he property is considered to be in average condition for a building of its age, construction type and use group.” The report recommendations included some changes to the roofing, windows, ventilation, along with widening walkways to Americans with Disabilities Act standards. If those fixes necessitate a building tear down, we wouldn’t be left with many of the city’s cherished historic homes!

More questions. How much will the city lose in selling the building for a small amount? The offers to purchase the prime Hyattsville real estate for demolition and redevelopment as either townhomes or apartments are embarrassingly low. In a town where homes are now going for half a million dollars, one developer’s initial offer for the huge property is around $500,000. Surely, our fine Hyattsville realtors could do better.

Where will the money for a new city hall come from? Half a million or a million won’t cover the cost of a new building, so it must come from other city services, and, in the end, from us, the taxpayers. That’s not the end of the waste of taxpayer money. Neither developer would pay for the demolition; they expect to receive a government grant for the destruction. Aren’t there real crumbling buildings that deserve that money?  

How bad will traffic and parking be? Do we understand how plopping down a 126-unit apartment building at this intersection will affect the already crowded rush hour traffic of Route 1?

Downtown Hyattsville matters to all of us. No matter where you live in the city, you can be proud that Hyattsville has an old-town feel. It’s our connection to our historic past, and it’s often where we make memories in the present. It’s truly “A World Within Walking Distance.” Our recent revival has been organic, and it feels right. Our future depends on making the right choices now. Why don’t we ask, how can the building be renovated for continued use as city hall? Where are other, truly blighted properties that might be better sites for development?

Here’s something to help: according to a web poll hosted by this newspaper, 68 percent of respondents said the city should renovate the municipal building, instead of selling it. The apartments got a measly 8 percent of the vote.  Please urge the mayor and your council members, especially the half up for re-election in the spring: be good stewards of our tax dollars and the earth; just say no to tearing down the relatively new Hyattsville Municipal Building.

Jason Calvi is a resident of Hyattsville.