Now listed for sale, the former home of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission could be renovated for apartments and condos or even used for office space. But almost any use would require a zoning change — and possibly a political fight.
The latest issue of the Hyattsville Life & Times has the details:
A new owner would be under no obligation to preserve the historic shell and may petition for demolition permits and a zoning change from R-55, detached single-family housing — which is what was on the site before 1939. Because WSSC is considered a government entity, it is not bound by zoning requirements. But unless the next owner is in the same category, the development will have to either abide by R-55 conditions or seek rezoning.
Here’s what that means in layman’s terms: The WSSC tore down a bunch of historic bungalows way back when to build its headquarters but never changed the zoning, so the building it left behind is basically not correct for its location.
That means there are a few possible endings here: 1) The city turns the building into a community center, as Mayor Marc Tartaro proposes. 2) A private developer tears down the building and puts up a bunch of smaller homes under the current zoning. 3) A developer rezones the land and converts the building into apartments or condos, plus maybe some other use. 4) A developer rezones the land, tears down the building and puts up new apartments or condos. 5) A fight over rezoning prevents redevelopment and the building stays empty.
Each of these options has drawbacks. A taxpayer-funded community center would be a heavy lift politically. There may not be a private developer willing to take on this big of a project just to put up single-family homes. Preserving the building’s exterior is expensive and limits the number of developers who might be interested, while starting from scratch means losing some of the architectural integrity of the Historic District.
But really the worst option of all would be to leave the building empty for several more years. That runs the risk of further decay that would permanently rule out hope for preserving the exterior.