The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Instead of ‘ghosts,’ residents want housing at this former tuberculosis sanatorium

A bill approved by the Maryland General Assemby may aid redevelopment efforts for the vacant Glenn Dale Hospital, seen in 2010. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

It opened in 1934 as a tuberculosis sanatorium for patients who could not be treated in the District’s crowded hospitals. It next became a nursing home for the chronically ill, which closed in 1981. Since then, Glenn Dale Hospital in Prince George’s County has been vacant — the 210 acres in suburban Maryland the subject of ghost stories and a target for trespassers.

A bill approved by the Maryland General Assembly this legislative session, which ended April 8, could reinvigorate long-standing efforts to develop the sprawling site, residents and preservationists say.

The measure removes a state requirement that the hospital be used as a continuing-care retirement community, which officials say made the property unattractive to developers.

The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission will be allowed to sell or lease 60 acres where the main hospital buildings are located and will retain control of 150 acres that must remain open space.

The bill, passed unanimously by both the House of Delegates and the Senate, now goes to Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who can sign it, veto it or let it become law without his signature.

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“Everyone is on the same page on this,” said Del. Alonzo Washington (D-Prince George’s), who sponsored the bill after being approached by constituents eager for something to happen to the long-vacant site. “We’re optimistic that we can finally get something done here.”

Glenn Dale was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2011, which local leaders hoped w ould spur development. But builders expressed little interest in the site, which is just outside the Capital Beltway, nine miles from the D.C. line.

Its 23 buildings, many of which are Georgian Revival in style and were built between 1933 and 1959, have deteriorated. Some are full of lead and asbestos.

Residents of Glenn Dale, an unincorporated community of 13,500, say the vacant space attracts trespassers, especially around Halloween.

It was declared the fourth “most haunted” place in Maryland on the Haunted Rooms website, which tracks such things. Ghost stories about the property abound.

A spokeswoman for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, which owns the site, declined a reporter’s request to visit, saying no one is allowed on the property. She did not respond to follow-up questions about the conditions of the site and how much its upkeep costs the agency.

Nicholas Redding, executive director of Preservation Maryland, which worked closely with local lawmakers and residents to pass the legislation, said Glenn Dale is at a “critical point.”

“Either we’re going to move forward, or if we don’t, then the condition is going to continue to slide and things are going to fall further apart,” Redding said.

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Prince George’s County hired the Wisconsin-based Alexander Co. to conduct a study on the Glenn Dale site, which concluded last year that the continuing-care requirement needed to be lifted to make development feasible. That study led residents to propose the legislation sponsored by Washington.

“We’re tired of having an eyesore,” said Henry Wixon, president of the Glenn Dale Citizens’ Association. “Unlike in a lot of redevelopment cases, there is broad community support for this.”

Wixon, who has lived in Glenn Dale since 1984, said he could envision a number of uses for the site, including housing for teachers or seniors, retail space for something such as a brewpub, or office space.

He said he would be happy to have more jobs in the area, which has largely become a bedroom community.

The Alexander Co., which specializes in historical preservation and adaptive reuse, might be interested in developing the Glenn Dale site, company officials said.

The firm has turned the former D.C. prison complex in Lorton, Va., into a multiuse space with apartments, single-family homes, a swimming pool, and retail and commercial properties. It also built townhouses, apartments and condominiums where the National Park Seminary once stood in Silver Spring, Md., while preserving many of its historical structures.

Dave Vos, a development project manger for Alexander, described Glenn Dale as a “beautiful site” that would be ideal for a housing-centric project, like those in Lorton and Silver Spring.

“We’re definitely interested,” Vos said. “And we’re going to make sure the historic character of the site is not jeopardized.”

He said the company would seek to make the project a public-private partnership, with “a good amount of investment” from the government to help offset the cost of creating infrastructure and restoring the historically protected but badly deteriorated buildings.

John Erzen, a spokesman for County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D), said the legislation is “very helpful” for the site’s future. He said Alsobrooks is waiting for a plan being drafted by the Prince George’s Redevelopment Authority to determine how best to move forward.

Prince George’s County Council Chair Todd Turner (D-District 4), whose district includes part of the facility, said there are still conversations to be had about the “substantial cost” that will come with redevelopment.

“But let me put it this way,” he said. “We are farther along in this process than we have ever been.”

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