BY DANIEL MUTH — Any successful town intermeshed with a large metropolitan area displays a range of development, hopefully enacted in the spirit of serving the community. Development pursued in this manner is not something to be feared, and developers who endeavor to work towards engineering public value are essential in creating an environment rich with services and treasured community spaces.
But when development results in a net loss to the community, there needs to be some pushback. Such is the case with the former WSSC building and adjacent parking lot now under contract with Werrlein Properties. Their plan calls for demolishing the existing historic infrastructure and erecting detached residences and townhomes on the site.
I fail to see how a development of this scale, and at this location, is in the public interest.
Hyattsville Elementary School is currently near the top of the county’s list for renovation or rebuild, an ignominious ranking based on the outdated and failing mechanical systems, excessive overutilization and general disrepair. The parking lot adjacent to Magruder Park offers the perfect solution to this problem. It would deliver a synergistic public space that can join seamlessly with the park, offering a venue perfect for a neighborhood school, while accommodating the overflow parking desired for public events and servicing the many other needs of the town’s residents.
But the lot is zoned as flood plain. And the county has indicated that it is not being considered as a site to move the school. So if the county deems this site as unusable for our children desperately in need of a new school, how is it that they would entertain a waiver to allow the erection of dozens of town homes? As stated in the guidelines, “All areas within the County floodplain shall be dedicated to public use or for use as a park, or as a floodplain or conservation easement.” It isn’t intended for townhomes. And shouldn’t be.
This is not an indictment of Werrlein or any of the other developers that have helped make Hyattsville a more vibrant and serviceable community. They are simply the inheritors of city and county-level incompetencies that have allowed this public land to slip from our hands in the first place.
Magruder Park is the heart of the community. The destination for parties, races, fireworks, tree lightings and soccer games. A welcome and peaceful natural space in the heart of a sea of concrete. Boxing it in and altering its hydrology disturbs that function irreparably.
Add the historic nature of the WSSC building itself along with the other pressing needs of the community that could be serviced with this space, and the liabilities of this project render its benefits miniscule. Benchmarks of crime, health, education and integration can all be pegged to the amount of green, public and historic spaces in a community.
It would seem unwise for us to go about squandering ours. And I would encourage those who agree to start contacting their elected officials in short order.
Daniel Muth is a believer in the grand dream of Hyattsville.