About etstrab

I'm a mother, music educator, and ethnomusicologist... and now blogger!

My Position on the WSSC building/Magruder Pointe Development

I am going to strive to make my position clear, with the caveat that that this is a complicated issue with a long history of divisiveness in Hyattsville. I think any progressive discourse on the topic has to come with nuance and a willingness to compromise. There have been few realistic proposals for that property, none of which have ever come to fruition, a lot of frustration about action/inaction from the city, and sense of apprehension about the future of the area from the residents closest to the property.

Those residents had to go through an ordeal this weekend that made them question if the city truly cares about their safety and well-being. Sometime this weekend, probably Saturday during the business of the carnival, someone broke into the building, weeks after a door had been reported broken and open, and hung a firefighting dummy from the ceiling, positioned so that it could be seen from the windows. They also tagged the walls with Instagram hashtags and issued a challenge for others to break in and take pictures with the dummy. Three teenagers on bikes and two women in a car saw the grotesque scene and fearing the worst, called police. Police are investigating and the fire department took down the dummy, but the real trauma of the event lingers. We have neighborhood children wondering if this building isn’t just going to be the target of vandals, but a real murder or suicide. I do not want the children who live across from this building to have to live with that kind of fear.


I share a concern for sustainability in our community. It’s not a term we should use narrowly. There have been many suggestions that the preservation and restoration of the existing vacant WSSC building would be more sustainable than the proposed homes for the site. While it’s generally true that adaptive reuse of existing buildings is less wasteful than new construction, there are several reasons why the WSSC building on the upper lot is not a viable candidate for adaptive reuse:

  • The argument that an existing building is more sustainable than new construction rests on the assumption that the existing building is well-designed to respond to its climate and surroundings. 
  • The building is flat-roofed, lacking a cornice and a sufficient roof drainage system. It is inherently prone to leaks, and its limestone cladding has been permanently marred by mold because of these design flaws. It has inadequate accommodations for life safety, egress, and accessibility. After decades of vacancy and vandalism, it has been thoroughly gutted of all its finishes, fixtures, and building systems. The amount of materials needed to restore a 140,000 square foot building for occupancy and to bring it up to modern codes and standards of safety far exceeds what would be needed to build the new homes proposed for the upper lot. 
  • Even if the building were restored, a feasible reuse for a building the size of the former WSSC headquarters would be incompatible with the upper lot’s existing R-55 zoning. The building is already a nonconforming use. If it were to become an institutional, mixed use, or multi-family residential development, the upper lot would have to undergo either a rezoning or a special exception process just like the very controversial and divisive proposal for the property’s lower lot. Previous proposals to reuse the building have been abandoned because of the opposition of neighbors, regulatory difficulties, and ultimately lack of economic feasibility. The success of other recent adaptive reuses in Hyattsville has depended on sites that are adjacent to Route 1 corridor, an advantage that the WSSC site lacks.
  • A high density reuse of the building would require the use of the lower parking lot, precluding any incorporation to Magruder Park.

While there have been many interesting ideas and concepts for reusing the building, none have been able to adequately address these substantial challenges. This is part of why the building has remained vacant and deteriorating for two decades. The single family homes proposed for the site while not pleasing aesthetically to everyone, are conforming for its original use and are comparable with the density in the area.

Most importantly, however, in my mind is the fact that many residents who live near the property deal with the issues of vandalism, trespassing, and general nuisance of the building. We are using our police resources to respond to calls for all of the above and there is a real feeling of lack of safety and security around this building. Knowing that any outfitting of the building would cost millions of dollars and has no guarantee of going through, and the fact that there is no alternate proposal that I am aware of, I believe that the Werrlein proposal is a good bet on getting a net positive in the upper lot.


As for the lower lot, I understand the desire to make it part of the park and also the trepidation of building 40 town homes to add relative density to the area, block views from the park, and the real possibility that flooding will damage the buildings. I don’t think that that part of the development is ideal for the city or those living in the area. Personally, I do think that there will be drawbacks to that particular part of the plan in regards to traffic.

I could go on about easements and storm water management and other issues surrounding the lower lot, but it comes down to this: much of the negotiation between the city and Werrlein was in closed session and I can’t speak to how any arrangements have come to be, but as I understand it the city does not have the money to buy the whole lot from Werrlein and I think that speaks to the financial health of the city as much as to Werrlein’s expectations on the price of the lot.

If the city has a deal to buy part of the lot from Werrlein I think it behooves the city to keep communication open with Werrlein. I find it counter-intuitive that the city would negotiate a deal and then advocate against the development happening at all. I don’t think that it is good business and does not help us in asks to future developers. The checkered past of this property in Hyattsville also does not attract other developers, and past missteps by the city have resulted in a property owner that is not willing to work with the city effectively. Having a middle-man in this property negotiation goes a long way to making the lower lot being part of the park a reality.

If procuring the parking lot is of the utmost importance to the city, I think that efforts need to be made to negotiate that possibility and money needs to be set aside in order to do that. I have not seen any evidence of that on behalf of the city, save perhaps for a fraction of the proposed community sustainability fund. This begs the question of what the city’s plan is. I do not think that sitting and waiting around for the perfect opportunity is practical, especially when our neighbors are dealing directly from the impact of the city’s actions and inaction in this matter.

My opponents in the ward 2 council race do not seem to be taking any of this into consideration and have no realistic plans going forward from this point. Danny Schaible wants to save the building at all costs, while maintaining the open space zoning of the parking lot. The issue is, there are no adaptive reuse proposals currently and any adaptive reuse like a YMCA, private school, or low-cost apartment units as he has suggested would be necessarily high-traffic and high-density. The lower parking lot would be required to stay a parking lot and the upper lot would require rezoning to high density. He says he’s okay with this, even though neighbors have said that is exactly what they do not want. He knows that we have neighbors who want to see that blighted building dealt with, but still insists he has his “finger to the wind of the political pulse of the city.” While waiting for the perfect proposal, the building sits, using up city resources while paying very little in property tax, while new homes would add substantially more financially to our city, as well as adding new neighbors to join our community. Danny would say that his answer is to add a tax surcharge to vacant buildings, but that doesn’t garner us substantially more income, new neighbors, or provide motivation for the current owner to sell to developers that would work with the city.

Robert Poisson has suggested that we use eminent domain to acquire the parking lot to add it to Magruder Park. If it were even legally plausible, the litigation would be long and costly, and the city would have to buy the parking lot for much more than it is worth. In the long run, it would cost the city even more money to buy a parcel of land that opponents of the redevelopment say shouldn’t be built on.

In the case of this building, I think inaction is inexcusable. I don’t think we can bide our time. It’s been 25 years. Letting the building continue to deteriorate and become a center of crime is negligent. It is not worth the cost of our neighbor’s safety for the fear of career ramifications of a political misstep. I know Magruder Pointe is not a wholly ideal plan. Now that the rezoning of the lower lot is set to be heard at the district council on May 13th, I can only hope that whatever the outcome may be, that there are future avenues to correct a blight to the Hamilton Street neighborhood and possibly add to Magruder Park. In the end, no matter what happens, we are all neighbors. Let’s make sure we can set our differences aside and work to create a stronger Hyattsville.

If you’d like to talk to me more about this issue, please call me at 240-706-7607 or email me at emilystrabforhyattsville.com.

Actions Speak Louder than Words


We need inclusion — not just someone pushing their own opinion.  People can see that is not how you roll.


– M on Madison after viewing Ward 2 Candidate Forum

Ask yourself who you want to represent you: Someone with years of action making Hyattsville a nicer, safer, more neighborly place to live or someone who has continually drawn division among Hyattsville’s residents? Do you want to elect someone who has promised to represent our diverse neighborhood by listening to others or someone who wants to promote their own agenda, thinking that their opinions are better than others’? Do you want someone whose end goal is to serve Hyattsville or someone whose goal is higher office?

I’m not running to further my own political career. My feet are firmly planted in Hyattsville. For years now I have been serving Hyattsville by bringing my neighbors together for block parties and neighborhood meetings, helping advise the council on the direction our police department should be headed. I have been connecting neighbors to city staff to help them out or organizing groups to help neighbors with yard work or clean-up. I have been developing relationships with city staff and council members to better help the residents of Hyattsville. I’ve been reporting on the important events that happen in Hyattsville.

As a council member my goal is to represent my neighbors and have their voices heard, not my own. Ask yourself, who is the candidate who does the most listening, not the most talking? As a Hyattsville resident, my goal is to have our council meetings be civil and respectful. Who is the candidate who has spoken most calmly and clearly about all of the issues that face Hyattsville, not just the one they are most interested in?

In the end, vote for the candidate who is going to represent YOU on council and not themselves.

There’s No Place Like Home (Hyattsville)

In the past 12 years, Hyattsville been more home to me than any other place that I have lived. While most of our family resides elsewhere, we have found new family here in Hyattsville. Our neighbors are people that we have shared fun, food, drinks… but also our joy and our grief, our love and our loss. Hyattsville people have gone above and beyond for my family and I want nothing more but to be able to do the same for them. These are people we have come to rely on to not just watch out for our kids, but also help raise them. I can’t imagine living anywhere else after what I have found in Hyattsville.

It’s true that everything changes and so must the people and places we love; some even say “you can’t go home again.” Change can be positive or negative and we have to be active if we want to see positive change. Part of that change is development in Hyattsville.

The mayor and council have taken a great first step into finding proactive solutions to the lack of affordable housing in the area- I truly believe that incentivizing the positive change we want to see is a practical and effective solution. The city’s matching grant program for facade improvement has been hugely successful. I think using a similar model for affordable development is wise, but I think we can take additional steps.

Montgomery county has a very successful Inclusionary Zoning program that has created over 10,000 unites since 1974. Now, while Hyattsville and Prince George’s county is undergoing an enormous amount of growth, is the time to work with the county to put similar programming into place.

Why is affordable housing necessary for Hyattsville? We already know change is happening, but we can make that change positive. What I do not believe would be positive change is to start pricing whole demographic groups out of our neighborhoods. Hyattsville is a vibrant place to live; it’s inter-generational, inter-ethnic, international, with a mix of socioeconomic levels. Once generational or socioeconomic groups get priced out, Hyattsville will become less diverse and lose many of the characteristics and strengths that we now associate with our great city.

Let’s continue to watch out and care for each other. But let’s be proactive and make that change now.

Love Thy Neighbor

I really do!

My family’s contribution to #chalkthewalks day.

What does it mean to love thy neighbor? You may have seen signs around Hyattsville that say this. These signs generally refer to the humanitarian crisis our nation and others are facing all over the world. How we treat immigrants is important, no doubt, but the work starts at home.

How we treat the people who live next door or down the street matters, no matter where they are from. All of us need to reach out to the people around us, get to know them, and help them when possible.

Hyattsville, in general, is pretty good at this. The city, and especially the police department, are engaging in community outreach so that everyone in the city feels comfortable reporting problems and being part of the political process. The bulk of the burden is not on the city government, however, it’s on us as citizens. So, what is Hyattsville getting right, and how can we do more?

Hyattsville is full of neighbors serving neighbors. We have two Hy-Swaps a year, many babysitting co-ops, meal trains for new parents, cafes for the homeless, teens shoveling snow and raking leaves, people that make sure Hyattsville kids don’t go without Christmas presents and much much more.

So what more can we do? Now is the time to reach out to those neighbors we may not be friends with. Reach out to those with whom we cannot even communicate well. Why? Because there are still people in Hyattsville who are afraid. Afraid of the government, afraid of the police, or afraid of their neighbors.

Loving your neighbor doesn’t mean loving the ones you get along with or those you agree with. It means seeking out the good in them despite your differences and doing right by them no matter how they have treated you. Look them in the eye and let them know they matter.

Get someone you know who isn’t registered to vote to think about doing so. Take them to a pop-up registration, drop off a form. Or just let them know that their voice counts. Vote. Vote for someone who brings neighbors together, not someone who divides them because of dissent.

So get out there, and love on your neighbor. Hold a door, hold a baby, hold a hand. And Vote.

What’s in a name?

Last night, the city council passed a motion to have city staff research the possibility of changing the name of Magruder Park because William Magruder included language in the deed of the park that the park be used by whites only. Part of the research included if the deed to the park would revert back to the Magruder estate if the name were changed.

What do you think? Should Hyattsville change the name of the park? What should it be changed to? Comment below.

Algunos Asuntos

Casi 40% de residentes de Hyattsville son Latinos, y la ciudad es trabajando benvenir todos, pero esta mucho trabajo para alacnzar Estes vecinos.

Desarollo Inteligente

Hyattsville está creciendo y cambiando. Necesitamos trabajar juntos para crear una comunidad más fuerte al garantizar viviendas asequibles, continuar haciendo que el envejecimiento sea una prioridad y proteger la infraestructura de la ciudad, incluido el dosel de los árboles.

Diálogo Civil

Vivimos en una época en que la política está extremadamente dividida y llena de vitriolo. Creo que es deber de un miembro del consejo elevarse por encima de la política partidista, escuchar a todos los lados de un tema y no inclinarse a expresar juicios de aquellos con quienes no están de acuerdo.

Seguridad Pública

Como capitán de la vigilancia de mi vecindario y como vicepresidente del Comité Asesor de Ciudadanos de la Policía y la Seguridad Pública, sé que todos podemos hacer nuestra parte para continuar con la disminución de la delincuencia en la ciudad. Necesitamos mejoras de iluminación, parques seguros y caminos para que los ciclistas y peatones puedan navegar con seguridad por la ciudad.

Estabilidad Financiera

HiNecesitamos un presupuesto para continuar brindando servicios de la calidad al mismo tiempo que minimizamos la carga fiscal, especialmente para los residentes de bajos ingresos.

What does it mean to support a candidate?

There are lots of ways to support a candidate. It can be something very visible, like putting out a yard sign. It can be a large commitment, like canvassing the neighborhood every weekend for six weeks. It can mean putting up with paper cuts and envelope glue for a few hours one evening.

Sometimes we can only support a candidate in a small way; chipping in a few dollars to offset the cost of campaign materials, giving the candidate a few words of encouragement, or letting our neighbors know why we feel our candidate is worth voting for. Sometimes we feel so strongly about a candidate that we devote hours and hours of our time to work toward their victory. There are so many ways to help a campaign… but only one really matters.

VOTE.

Seems pretty simple, but it is the only thing that truly matters and it takes motivation and planning to make sure that it happens. How are you going to make sure that your candidate gets your vote? You can vote early, vote by mail if necessary, give someone a ride who needs to get to the rec center to vote. At the end of May 7, no matter who has raised the most money or put up the biggest signs, the only thing will matter is that the people who want to see her in office have come out to cast a vote.

So please, support me in whatever way you can, big or small. You can email emilystrabforhyattsville@gmail.com if you’d like to volunteer or put up one of my yard signs, donate by using PayPal, but no matter what…

VOTE.

When’s a gate not just a gate?

When it’s ajar! (Get it? A JAR? I know, that’s an oldie…)

Emily Strab at the Gate at King Park

But no, really, when is a missing gate not just about the gate being gone? It’s when that gate is located at a park where preschool children play every day. It’s when that park is on a busy street that police cars race down every time there is an emergency call. It’s when the gate not being there could allow for tragedy.

That’s what several parents were concerned about this fall when school was back in session and the gate was inexplicably missing. You can read about the details of restoring the gate in this article from the Hyattsville Life & Times, but the reason I bring it up is this: sometimes solving issues takes persistence and reaching out to the right person for help. In this case, the right person wasn’t a council member, but city staff. Sometimes, as a citizen of this city, we can’t take “no” for an answer.

It’s not that I think that the city needs to bend to our will just because we are tax payers. We are all responsible for stewardship for our city. As a community, that gate is the responsibility of every single one of us because we owe it to each other and we owe it to our children.

Sometimes a small issue like a gate can mean a great deal to a community. I think part of me knew that when staring at the gap in the fence irked me every day. What I didn’t realize is just how big a deal it meant to people who had felt defeated at the word “no.” It was natural for me to work at this problem from another angle when the first result was not satisfactory and I’m glad for our community that I didn’t quit. On May 7th, 2019, please allow me to continue to be a problem solver for Ward 2 and a steward for the city of Hyattsville by electing me to the city council.

When the boom isn’t for everyone

Hyattsville has been fortunate to be in a development boom over the past few years. When we bought our house in 2006, Hyattsville looked very different than it does now, and in 2007 when the housing bubble crashed, we wondered if we had made a mistake buying a house- and not just any house- a fixer-upper. Twelve years later, Hyattsville has grown into a city that is known for its art and opportunities and while we’re still fixing up, we know for sure we made the right choice buying a house in Hyattsville. We’ve been lucky.

Nailed it!

What about those who haven’t been so fortunate? We’ve been able to do much of the work on our house on our own, but there are many retirees who do not have the means to pay for their rising property taxes and maintaining their homes. We as a community often help these neighbors; helping out by raking leaves, shoveling snow, or putting away trash barrels. What can the city do to ensure that those who choose to age in place in Hyattsville can continue to do so?

This is a question that seems to have gained no traction on the council. How do we ensure that Hyattsville isn’t just for the rich or the young? How can we maintain our culture and our history if we price diversity out of the neighborhood? A city council member dedicated to serving her community needs to do more than adopt a piece of legislation for show; she needs to be doing real work to find a solution to that problem in coordination with city staff, the county, the state, and federal granting agencies. That means putting in more time than two meetings a month requires. To ensure my neighbors, the people who make Hyattsville home, can afford to stay here- that’s work I am willing to put in.