HYATTSVILLE

WSSC Building Controversy

The nearly vacant building on Hamilton Street owned by the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission may be transformed into low- to moderate-income senior residences, according to a commission official.

But not everyone in the community thinks that is such a good idea.

A plan for the 100,000-square-foot building has sparked controversy after WSSC officials said recently that they were considering a bid from the Annapolis-based Osprey Property Group to turn the structure into senior housing. Residents and city officials said they thought that the building could be put to better use.

"There's nothing wrong with a senior center per se," said Lonni Moffet, a Hyattsville resident who opposes the Osprey Property Group's plan. David R. Lewis is the Osprey president.

"We just feel this has been publicly utilized by the WSSC for its entire life, and there's an opportunity to have it contribute to the neighborhood in a different way rather than accepting the first offer that comes down the pike," Moffet said.

City Council member Christopher R. Currie, who was appointed to serve as an ex officio member of the city's committee to explore uses for the property, agrees.

"There's a lot of interest in the community over this building," he said. "It's centrally located, in a residential part of the city. And it's an impressive structure, and it would meet a lot of different needs, so you can understand how people are concerned that we don't throw it to the first person that comes along.

"People are concerned there should be a significant public-use component associated with the building. I believe we should look at other options."

Currie said other suggestions from the community include creating an arts incubator, where resident artists would rent living and studio space, establishing a community center and possibly converting the building into a new city hall.

"We are in the process of trying to sell the building, which is our bottom line," said Marjorie Johnson, spokeswoman for the WSSC. "We are occupying a small portion of the building, and we are very aware it sits in the middle of Hyattsville in a residential area. But it has responsibilities: It has ample parking, and it is in a situation to be converted to some other use," she said. "We are sellers. We have a building for sale. We will not get into the midst of town desires and into their discussions. It is our responsibility to our customers to recoup as much out of that building as possible."

Johnson said the building was appraised at $2.5 million.

Despite the opposition from some members of the community, other officials in Hyattsville think the proposal to create senior housing has merit.

"I think the Osprey group's plan is a very good plan, personally," Hyattsville Mayor Robert W. Armentrout said. "There's a need for senior citizen housing in Hyattsville. And no one else showed an interest in buying it that I'm aware of."

Officials from the Osprey group as well as the WSSC would not comment on current negotiations about the building.

"Our intention is to study the building for the use for a home of senior residence," said Ron Eichner, president of Eichner Group, in Chevy Chase, which is working with the Osprey Property Group on the bid. "We're just looking to getting a contract with WSSC to study this thing."

According to the city attorney, the city cannot mandate the building's use, but it does have the power to approve zoning changes to the property.

Under federal law, real estate development organizations can receive tax credit for building low- to moderate-income senior housing. The Osprey group has built more than 100,000 such units, company officials said, including a development along St. Barnabas Road.

There is no deadline for the approval of the bid by the WSSC.

ROUTE 1 CORRIDOR

Reinvigorating Commercial Areas

The effort to revitalize Prince George's County inside the Capital Beltway got a boost last week when federal, state and local officials presented members of the Anacostia Trails Heritage Area communities with $1.5 million to reinvigorate commercial areas along Route 1.

The federal funds for revitalization will be matched by state, local and private-sector resources, officials said.

Long called the Gateway to the Nation's Capital, the heritage area encompasses 14 municipalities, unincorporated areas of the county, nonprofit organizations and businesses.

Officials with the Prince George's County Economic Development Corp. and the Route 1 Partnership program will decide how to use the money.

"Members of the partnership made such a great presentation on the plans for the Route 1 corridor, that I redoubled my efforts to get funding for this project," said U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md).

"We made a promise in July, and I am pleased to be able to return and deliver more good news for this project."

The federal funds give "the opportunity to bring change to the tawdry spine that runs though our communities, Route 1," said Patricia Hayes Parker, executive director of the Anacostia Trails Heritage Area.

Officials say they hope to begin to use the funds shortly. Businesses can apply to use the money through the county's Economic Development Corp.

If you have an item about your community in Prince George's County, please let us know. Fax to 301-952-1397, e-mail to pgextra@washpost.com, write to Prince George's Extra, The Washington Post, 14402 Old Mill Rd., Suite 201, Upper Marlboro, Md. 20772, or call 301-952-1391.

CAPTION: The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission is considering selling its building at 4017 Hamilton St. to a company that wants to develop senior housing.