By JONATHAN WERRLEIN — Several months ago, I was approached by numerous Hyattsville residents who asked me to consider the idea of taking the old, wasting WSSC building/site and developing a plan to do something that would end the decades of unattractive urban blight within the Hyattsville community. I assembled a team of professionals to examine the possibility of a renovation and re-use of the entire building; renovation and re-use of part of the old building; and a complete demolition of the old building and development of the entire site. Numerous discussions were held with folks who had previously attempted to either re-use the building and/or cleanly develop the site. We were able to determine that there is no real economically viable alternative to the re-use of all or any part of the building. Moreover, a re-use of a building that size would have a significant impact on the closest residences, informally known as the “Impact Zone.” Most everyone in the impact zone was against any full re-use of the old building. If it could have worked, that would have been our preference.
Once we got past that, plans were initiated to develop a residential development that, as one of the most important elements, provides for a sustainable and symbiotic relationship to Magruder Park for the enjoyment of ALL Hyattsville residents. Our most important asset was the diverse input that we received from all corners of the community. Since the original introductory meeting held this past November at Vigilante Coffee, we have gathered an abundance of ideas and suggestions welcoming both the pros and the cons of the proposal. Many of these ideas and suggestions have already been incorporated into our proposal and we anticipate continued adaptations as we progress further.
All proposed developments are subject to speculation and inaccurate information that increases the unease of the community. This proposal is no exception. With that said, I would like to address a few of the major concerns.
1) Why can’t the site be used as a replacement for the Hyattsville Elementary School (HES)?
The upper lot of the WSSC site is approximately three acres, of which only about two acres are usable due to topography concerns. The bottom lot is of a similar size but replaces the topography concerns with a required floodplain mitigation system that must be built. Either case offers only approximately two acres. The Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) and Board of Education (BOE) standards require a 10-acre parcel for new elementary schools.
In addition, the cost associated with site purchase, building demolition, development and subsequent construction are extremely high and out of reach for the BOEs’ Capital Improvement Program. Both agencies are aware that this site has been sitting idle for the past 20 years and have passed on any effort to bring this to fruition. A new school will not happen at this location.
2) A portion of the lower lot is currently identified as being in the flood plain. Will the homes in that area be developed to ensure that they are not in the flood plain and that there will be no impacts to the overall volume of the flood plain?
Yes, some portion of the lower lot is in the flood plain. This area has been identified and surveyed. The affected area will be regraded and raised above the level of the flood plain. A commensurate amount of volume that was otherwise available for potential flood waters will be created to provide for, and ensure that, adequate storage will remain in the flood plain. Once this technique, called compensatory storage, is completed the flood plain map will be updated to reflect that no building will be constructed within the flood plain. This is a common practice and subject to review and approval by the county and FEMA. The compensatory storage area will be in the southwest corner of the site.
3) How will stormwater be managed on the site and what technology will be used to support a green initiative?
Currently, neither the upper lot nor the lower lot provides for any stormwater management. We will engineer both lots to ensure that the most current stormwater standards and techniques are applied to both lots. Bio-retention areas, rain gardens and rain barrel catches will be part of the stormwater plan. This will significantly improve the stormwater runoff.
We all know that the clear majority of both lots are covered with impervious concrete or asphalt. Once this development is completed, it will enjoy upwards of a 30 percent reduction in impervious area. We will further provide more than 450 new trees and shrubs throughout the development in accordance with the county’s landscape manual.
Additionally, our architectural team is exploring avenues to incorporate an electronic vehicle charging station and certify these new homes in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).
4) How will this development impact the bog/wetlands adjacent to Magruder Park and what care will be given to prevent damage and/or disruption to the wildlife and ecosystem that exists there?
This development will have no impact on the bog/wetland area as there is no change to the volume of the flood plain. During construction, there will be a strict “Limits of Disturbance” enforced to ensure that no operation is conducted in that area. We will work with officials from the City of Hyattsville and the M-NCPPC to provide for an acceptable barrier to this area once the construction is completed.
5) Will Werrlein Properties work with the city to enhance Magruder Park?
We are currently in discussions with officials from the City of Hyattsville and M-NCPPC to determine the best methods to create accessibility and interaction with the park. Current discussions include the possibility of amending our plan to provide additional land to Magruder Park.
It is also our intention to ensure that all new homes will have a membership in the “soon to be” Capital Bikeshare stop at Magruder Park. We feel that the proximity to the National Capital Bike Trails and Metro stops will lend itself to an attractive biking experience.
As part of our proposal, we will improve route stops for “The Bus” within the county’s bus system which are located on 40th Place adjacent to the lower lot. With approval from the city and county officials, we are planning to provide a sheltered facility for both stops.
6) What considerations will be given to minimize potential disruptions to those in the impact zone as well as surrounding neighbors once construction begins?
The demolition will take place within the confines of the property with little disruption. The building debris will be taken across Gallatin Street to be crushed on the lower lot. All the asphalt and concrete will be recycled and re-used in the project and have no need to be trucked off-site. This will reduce truck traffic. Only the steel from the old structure will be hauled away. Appropriate dust control measures will be utilized during the demolition. Although we anticipate very little disruption, the residents in the area may experience some minor inconvenience.
During construction, we will prohibit our contractors or delivery trucks from parking on any of the neighborhood streets as we will provide for ample parking on the site. We believe that no road work is necessary on Hamilton Street or 41st Avenue. Some road work will be required on Gallatin Street and 40th Place to relocate and/or install utilities. It is our intention to install these utilities as quickly as possible to minimize disruption.
7) Does Werrlein Properties have the necessary depth to pull off a project of this magnitude?
I have put together a team of seasoned professionals who are at the top of their respected fields. Dewberry Engineering is handling the site engineering and land planning. DelMarva Site Development is doing the demolition and overall site development and the Law Office of Norman Rivera is coordinating all the submissions to the city and county agencies.
Once each home site is readied for actual building construction, Werrlein Properties will take over. We build approximately 15-20 new homes each year as well as 15-20 complete renovations of existing homes per year. These 30-40 annual projects are located throughout the Washington/Baltimore area. Because the Magruder Pointe development is centrally located in one area and is an anticipated build of 20-25 homes per year, this project will be somewhat of an easier undertaking for me and my team.
8) Tell us a little about the architectural inspiration for this project.
The architectural goal for the project is to build homes that are in harmony with the existing historic neighborhood. Ideally, 40 years from now you will think these houses were an original part of the neighborhood, same as the older homes in Hyattsville. As such, the starting point for the project was to absorb the richness of the architectural character as it exists today. All the proposed single-family homes and the townhomes above Gallatin Street will be Hardi-plank siding and trim, with a variety of gabled fronts, double hung windows, and front porches.
The setbacks, scale, and massing of these houses will be very similar to the existing homes nearby. All the townhomes on the lower site will be either regular or painted brick and will all have large front porches. This more urban type is inspired by much-loved, historic townhouses in places like Alexandria, Georgetown, and Charleston. Aside from fun living spaces, these porches also help protect from the sun and are vital in creating a positive social dynamic between the house and the adjacent sidewalk.
We have created a development with the pedestrian in mind. Within the lower site, pathways have been designed to create rational, comfortable pedestrian connections from the existing neighborhood to Magruder Park. Instead of turning their back on the community and Magruder Park, the townhomes face Gallatin Street / 40th Place and look out onto Magruder Park and to the proposed green at the southern corner of the site. In summary, these new homes and this development intend to be good neighbors to the existing neighborhood — in architecture, scale, and layout.
We at Werrlein Properties are acutely aware that this proposal has unlocked many emotions both in support of and in opposition to this development. My commitment to the community is to continue to listen to all viewpoints and evolve our proposal that best fits with the vision of the community. I invite and encourage you to keep up with our progress by visiting us at www.werrleinproperties.com.
Jonathan Werrlein is managing partner of Werrlein Properties. The opinions expressed are his own.