Historic designation provides hope that old Glenn Dale Hospital site could be fixed up


The former Glenn Dale Hospital sits on 210 acres in Glenn Dale, Md., that haven’t been developed since the hospital closed more than 30 years ago. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

Nearly every time Krista Williams passes by the remains of the old Glenn Dale Tuberculosis Hospital in Prince George’s County, all she can do is shake her head in disappointment. The former hospital sits on 210 acres that haven’t been developed since the hospital closed more than 30 years ago, and, like many nearby residents and local politicians, she says the prime real estate is going to waste.

“We want open space and park land for our children,” said Williams, the president of a nearby civic association.

But getting any kind of development on the swath of land just outside the Capital Beltway has proven elusive for years. The old hospital, a collection of 23 buildings, is laden with lead and asbestos, and local officials have never been able to entice a developer to take a chance on the sprawling campus, with its meadows, grassy knolls and rolling hills.

In addition, state law requires that the hospital campus be used as a continuing care retirement community and that the remaining 150 acres be dedicated for parks and recreation. Those restrictions have limited interest in the property, which often is a destination for amateur movie makers, vandals and graffiti artists. The once-pastoral landscape is now filled with weeds; windows are covered with wooden boards and thorny vines.

Now, there is some hope. The property — which includes a five-story adult hospital, a three-story children’s hospital and a number of smaller buildings — was recently included on the National Register of Historic Places, a distinction that public officials say will preserve the facility and inject new life into the site, which is owned by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. The designation should help the property receive federal and state tax credits for rehabilitation work, which residents hope will attract a potential buyer.

The old hospital site often is a destination for vandals and graffiti artists. “Every night kids get arrested for trespassing,” said Henry Wixon, president of the Glenn Dale Citizens Association. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

“Every night kids get arrested for trespassing,” said Henry Wixon, president of the Glenn Dale Citizens Association. “This is one of the reasons why we are asking park and planning to secure these buildings.”

With its proximity to the Beltway in the middle of Prince George’s, some developers said they were surprised the site hasn’t attracted real estate investors over the years, especially during the building boom in the early 2000s.

Gary Michael, managing director for the Michael Cos. and one of the county’s major developers, said: “You think someone would be jumping on it. It is [an] extremely well-located property other than the impediments, and it definitely has potential to be developed.”

The designation is welcome news to Del. James W. Hubbard (D-Prince George’s), who in 1993 sponsored the bill that established the site as a place reserved for open space and a retirement community. He said there were once grandiose plans for the site: luxury homes, a golf course and other tony amenities.

But the problem has been, he said, that no one entity has been able to raise the $7 million necessary to clean up the site. It’s an expense that has chased interested parties away. He hopes the new designation will help raise the money for the cleanup.

“I have been fighting for about 18 years,” Hubbard said. “A lot of people promise a lot of things, but the only promise that I made was for most of the land to remain open space.”

The site has been a thorn in the side of many Prince George’s politicians. Located on Glenn Dale Road north of Annapolis Road, the hospital opened in 1934 as a sanatorium for children with tuberculosis. By 1960, it was being used by D.C. residents with chronic illnesses. It was shut down in the early 1980s, and the commission bought the property from the city in 1995. Then for years, no progress.

The land was recently included on the National Register of Historic Places, which many say will inject life into the site owned by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

In 2010, officials thought that they had found two bids for the sale of the property. But the pair of offers did not meet their requirements.

County Council member Ingrid Turner (D-Bowie), who represents Glenn Dale, said the recent recession also kept bidders away. “With the slow economy, it has been difficult finding a developer to commit to the project,” she wrote in an e-mail. “As the economy recovers . . . I am confident this site, too, will be something great for Prince George’s County.”

But even though the new designation has given residents hope, Williams continues to wait. She grew up nearby and hopes she and her family can enjoy the bucolic land like she did when she was a child.

“I remember going over to Glenn Dale Hospital because I went to school with many students whose parents worked at the hospital, and the campus was always beautiful,” she said.

Hamil Harris is currently a multi-platform reporter on the Local Desk of The Washington Post.

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