Monday, March 24, 2008

Use for Property at Hillmead Park

This week the Washington Post details the ongoing controversy about the potential use of an existing house on the County’s newly acquired parkland in the Hillmead neighborhood. While the County proposes placing a 14-member homeless family in the house or using it as special needs housing, neighbors argue that such plans represent an inappropriate use of County resources. At this time, we don’t know the cost of making the house habitable. You can learn more by visiting the links to the right. “Post: Hillmead Property” chronicles the history of the controversy while “HOC Strategic Plan” provides details of affordable housing needs and strategies in the County.

Folks may not be aware that currently Montgomery County has over 21,000 families on waiting lists for housing help of one sort or another. With the foreclosure crisis, this number will no doubt grow. While affordable housing issues have been studied every which way for many years, we really have not made tremendous progress in addressing the basic needs--increasing the supply of new affordable housing and protecting existing affordable housing. But one thing all the various reports and studies have recommended is that the government use public land to support the effort.

The proposal to save the existing home on the property that the County has just acquired for an extension of Hillmead Park is a small step in that direction. Certainly, there are a lot of variables to work through. But, the need for more housing that is affordable (or at least a stop-gap solution for families and individuals in crisis) is huge. The Hillmead solution could be a win/win--saving a lovely piece of green space in perpetuity for public use and using a small part of it to serve folks who need a hand.

What do you think? Here are examples of the emails I’ve been receiving on this issue:

Excerpt 1: “I am writing to you to express my support for the joint DHCA and DHHS proposal to use the recently purchased Hillmead House to provide a home for a family exiting homelessness. As you know it is extremely difficult to find suitable housing for large families; in many cases their homelessness is prolonged for this reason alone. It seems like a perfect solution to put a family in such a wonderful neighborhood, utilizing a home already owned by the county. I know that you have traditionally supported inclusive communities throughout the county and hope you will do so in this case as well.”

Excerpt 2: “Since when is the county in the business of buying and developing some of the most expensive real estate in the country for housing homeless at the expense of taxpayer money when those funds can be more effectively used to provide services for a greater number of needy families? The house on Hillmead could generate revenue of about $10,000 a month. That is enough to cover the rental of FIVE to SIX single family homes for homeless families--a far more effective use of taxpayer money. What is next? Do we start housing homeless families at the Four Seasons, when there are more affordable options out there that will serve more needy families with the same funds?"


Anonymous said...

While housing homeless families is a priority, I think it is important to point out that at one entrance to the Hillmead neighborhood is the NCCF Greentree Shelter, the LARGEST homeless shelter in the county (66 beds). The house being proposed to house a large homeless family is at the other entrance to the neighborhood. Hillmead would have an over-concentration of homeless in a very small area. One study states that the current ratio of neighbors to homeless is 9:1. Is it fair that one small neighborhood shoulder so much of the county's homeless burden?

Additionally, neighbors do not oppose helping needy families. The neighborhood fully supports the Greentree shelter, through volunteering, as well as donations. What the neighborhood does oppose is spending $2.5 million on a purchase that never should have been made in the first place, regardless of the intended use (green space included). This purchase was fiscally irresponsible. The county council believes the expanded portion of the park will still be usable to the neighborhood if a family lives in the house, but it won't be. The only flat land is that on which the house sits. So in the end, the county will have spent $2.5 million to house one needy family. That money could help many more families if is was spent appropriately.

Anonymous said...

In addition to the above well-stated comments by anonymous, it is also important to note that the county took advantage of ALARF funds which may only be used to purchase land to serve as parkland, while all the while planning on converting it over to housing. The council never once sought community opinion or support for this different use. They have only responded when the community began questioning them. In the end, it was a classic case of "bait and switch". The council has done much to engender significant distrust in them and their decision-making process.

Given the lack of trust that the community now has for the Council's process, who can vouch for what will happen to this house once the current members of the Council have long left office? Who can ensure how this house will be used once the 14-member family departs this 5 bedroom, 4 bath house, a house which is significantly larger than the bulk of houses in surrounding neighborhood?

Anonymous said...

I think it is also important to point out that the home was purchased in order to be was not until the day before the contract was due to expire that the council decided to remove the language that would have paid for the demolition.

Now our community is being vilified because we resent being bypassed in this process.

We've been told that that several parks in the county have homes on them that serve the special-needs community. Rubbish!

None of the homes at those parks are anything like the home and the park in Hillmead.

You should not have agreed to the purchase if you weren't comfortable with its planned use -- as 100% park expansion.

You have totally disregarded this entire community for the sake of one family. If that family is still in a hotel, I suggest you rent a house big enough to house them. Then, when a home becomes available to purchase, I suggest you buy it. Be up front and honest, and you'll have more supporters!

Anonymous said...

What a waste of county funds. I cannot believe that our elected officials spent this much money for such little gain. If you were truly intersted in helping the disadvantaged, then use our money more efficiently. Personally, I fault you and the other Councilmembers for this gross misuse of funds and our high taxes. Thank you Nancy Floreen!

Anonymous said...

Speaking of honesty...How is it that Rick Nelson can tell the community at our recent meeting with him that there is no particular family picked out for this house, and when one is chosen they will have to go through an intense screening process, but the Washington Post article gives the background of a family already chosen to live in the house? Did a family go through an "intense" screening process in that short time, or have we been fed another mistruth?

The number of misstatements coming from the council (Trachtenberg's letter) and other county officials (Nelson included) is mind boggling. Does the right hand know what the left hand is doing?

Anonymous said...

If the County made a mistake in purchasing this property to expand a park when homelessness is a larger problem, that mistake should not be made worse by adding an institutional facility in the middle of a neighborhood park and surrounded by 15 residential homes. The County Council should review DHCA's evalulation very, very carefully to make sure that it considers ALL of the relevant factors and take into consideration that DHCA's goal is to find places for the homeless to live. While I support that goal, it must be handled in a fiscally responsible and rationale manner. To date, nothing about this process has satisfied either criteria. The Council can fix this problem and help the homeless by selling the propery and using the proceeds to help the homeless in a location that makes sense.

Anonymous said...

I am not a resident of the Hillmead neighborhood park but I frequently play tennis there and when my children were younger, we used the playground and tennis courts. As a lifelong resident of Montgomery County, I have witnessed unbelievable growth and a corresponding reduction in green spaces. It seems like the County was doing the right thing by expanding the park but now the proposal to put a special needs home in the park seems inconsistent with the goal of expanding green space. Green space is so important in our over-developed county, especially in the Bethesda area and the Hillmead Park, in particular, is a rare and special place - a little gem in a special neighborhood. I think the county should stick by its orginal plan and expand the park. Thanks for allowing me to express my opinion.

Anonymous said...

Please understand that the county’s proposal for the use of the house at Hillmead Park is not and cannot ever be a “win-win” situation. The reason is that the house is located in the middle of the land which is being considered as a potential addition to the park. Essentially, the land is the front yard and the back yard of the house. It is completely unrealistic to think that people are going to feel comfortable taking their kids to play in front of someone else’s house or in someone else’s back yard!!!! The only way that the land could truly be used as a park is if the house is demolished. The neighborhood offered to pay for the price of the demolition of the house so it would be free for the county and then the community would have a park that would benefit hundreds and hundreds of county residents for generations to come, whereas keeping the house would only benefit ONE family to the detriment of every one else and would cost a lot of money to the county since the house has lead and asbestos and major work needs to be done in the house before any one can actually live in it (the estimated cost for this is at least $100,000!!!). What you have the nerve to call a potential “win-win” situation is a “win” situation only for ONE family and a big loss for HUNDREDS of families in the county that really need and want a park: it is GROSSLY UNFAIR and, given the cost to make the house habitable, it is a HUGE WASTE OF TAXPAYER money. I urge you to please take into account the desire of the vast majority of taxpayers and voters in the county to have a real park without any house on it. Thank you for your time.

Anonymous said...

Councilmember Floreen -

I could not agree with you more that homelessness is a problem in Montgomery County that must be addressed but this is not the right way to do it. I am very familiar with this home and it will need a tremendous amount of work to become livable and updated - likely several hundred thousand dollars. That expense coupled with the expense of upkeep and any changes to make the home accessible to the elderly or handicapped as required for all public facilities and the $2.5 million that the county already has put towards this project clearly shows that this a huge fiscal mistake. Another reason that it does not make sense to have a shelter here is the lack of nearby public transportion - indeed, the bus line on nearby Bradley Blvd is being terminated b/c of the county budget crisis. All of these reasons plus those pointed out by other posters clearly show that it does not make sense to have a special needs home on this property. I agree with another poster that the property could be sold and the funds used to help the homeless elsewhere. Plus, a builder who lives in the neighborhood already has indicated he would demolish the house for $15,000 (significantly less than the $65K estimated by the County) and Hillmead residents would most likely pick up that cost if necessary. Please consider alternatives that make more sense than trying to put a square peg in a round hole. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

The county's assessment for the land while Mrs. Piotrow owned it was less than $1,000,000. This can be found in the tax records. Why on earth would the county pay $2.5 million for that land, 1.5 million above their own assessment of its value? Also, how can the county council "say" it is making the purchase as parkland in order to get the ALARF funds, while planning on using the structure as special needs housing? Something seems unethical. Ms. Floreen, I would urge you to explain these points to the neighborhood.

Anonymous said...

I am very concerned that the Council is not paying attention to the safety aspects here.

A guest of a Hillmead resident was attacked 2 years ago by a resident of the homeless shelter across the street. What kind of vetting will occur to ensure that this won't happen to one of the children playing in the park? Also, the SHRAP regulations which govern the selection of candidates for this home permit recovering drug addicts which seem the wrong sort of people to have in the middle of a kids' park.

I see this is a moderated blog to I will also send this to other Councilmembers in the hopes it will be published.

Anonymous said...

Why don't you keep your promises?
You voted to expand the park and that was passed in the affirmative.
Do what you say you are going to do. Back room deals and last minute changes after taking a vote will only reduce your chances of keeping the elected office you hold.

The Athens Project said...

As I understand real estate, almost all the value of a sale is in the land. For a property like this, where all parties admit the home needs renovation, it would follow this rule all the more.

It seems then, any complaints about the money involved have to do with securing the land itself. This doesn't seem to be the crux of any arguments here. None of the Hillmead community objects to having the land. The money used to purchase this parkland was not slated to be used for shelter, so the argument that it could house more people isn't relevant. This money was not likely to have been used for this purpose for any other land deal.

The home was slated for demolition, as far as I can tell, not because it's condemned or dangerous but because it bore no use on the parkland and the county would not perform maintenance on it if it were not going to be used.

Demolition isn't free and if this homeless family is not placed here it must be placed somewhere else. Would we rather the county spend tax money on both the demolition of the Hillmead home AND securing a new location no more suitable than the one received as part of the land sale.

The final thought is that its use as a shelter SHOULD remain as a home for a single family only. The Hillmead community raises a fine point that it isn't NIMBYism if they already have a homeless shelter in their "back yard". It becomes more a matter of taking advantage of people's good nature.

The key problem I've heard with such facilities are the potential behavior issues involved with residents. This is a far greater problem in a facility of multiple families which is already in place. If a problem were to arise at the property now in question, only a single family can be implicated and measures are easily taken. No need to establish fault will be needed.

Assurances to the community that the property will be used exclusively for this purpose is the least that should be done and clear communication about the expectations of the residents might make this plan workable.

I'd be curious whether the community would have been as eager to pursue the extra parkland if this were a condition of the sale. Since the property would have been replaced instead by multiple homes and the destruction of an attractive forest surrounding an attractive home, I'm unsure the neighborhood would have clamored against the deal.

A limited time span for its use in this way may be a good compromise as well since the maintenance costs of the building should be factored in to the decision. When maintenance costs are no longer competitive with relocation of families to alternate facilities, the house may be closed and demolished.

Anonymous said...

Ms. Floreen,

In your February 2008 newsletter, you advised constituents that “we must do the hard work of balancing the FY09 Operating Budget” due to the “$400 million shortfall in Fiscal Year 2009.” ( You also refer to the vast bus cancellations necessary throughout Montgomery County, which based on the County’s own admission, will result in a savings of $200,800 in Fiscal Year 2008. You fail to reconcile these comments with your desire to spend $2.5 million on acquiring the house, an additional unknown amount to renovate the house (by your own admission, “we don’t know the cost of making the house habitable”) and a recurring amount to maintain the property (very expensive utilities, upkeep of the vast grounds). Making a statement on your blog that sounds more like a recommendation of the plan rather than withholding any judgment until we find exact numbers that detail the amount necessary to renovate the house is irresponsible. We expect more from you, and we as voters will hold you accountable for your lack of fiscal responsibility. During a time when county voters are tightening their “financial belts,” you seem to be endorsing the expenditure of untold sums of money (“we don’t know the cost of making the house habitable”) without adequate research.

Anonymous said...

I hope the council can agree with the original assessment by parks and planning that the purchase of this land would be difficult to justify with all the other needs abounding in the lower county area. As a nearby resident I actually would like to see the land sold and developed. I understand that it was approved for four single-family lots. Without getting into a lot of math the new units would provide a much needed permanent boost in tax revenue to support public services such as the schools, police, transportation, etc. Not to mention the $2.5 million recouped in any sale.

James W. Brosnan said...

I fully support your efforts to provide additional affordable housing in the county.

Deborah Vergara said...

2 for/14 against...Does that tell you something.

house the homeless! said...

Ms. Vergara, it tells me that at least 14 people in Hillmead feel strongly enough about this issue to post their views on a blog. So what?

Count this voter as strongly IN FAVOR of using the house for needy people.

Anonymous said...

The Council has repeatedly recognized that the County must do more to house the homeless. In November 2007, the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission purchased a 1.3 acre parcel next to the Hillmead Neighborhood Park in Bethesda. The parcel contains a 3,300 square foot house. The Department of Housing and Community Affairs,
with the Department of Health and Human Services, concluded that this house is best suited to a large family exiting homelessness. The Justice and Advocacy Council of Montgomery County, speaking on behalf of the Archdiocese of Washington, urges you to follow through on this plan and ensure that this property is used to give a homeless family a home.
> The most recent point-in-time survey found 1232 homeless in the County – including some 150 families, and 300 children. These 150 families live in homeless shelters or County-funded motel rooms, which are both costly and a difficult environment for children. Finding suitable homes for large families exiting the homeless system is a real challenge. This house provides a unique opportunity to house a large family in a stable manner – a family that might otherwise have remained homeless for months. The house sits in a single family house neighborhood. Using the house to shelter a family in need simply changes the residents - not the integrity of the neighborhood as one of single family homes. We understand that the County will screen the potential candidate families to ensure that the family selected is able to live independently.
> Housing the homeless in scattered sites, like this Hillmead house, throughout the County is not a new, untested approach. The Partnership for Permanent Housing Program operated by the Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless now provides supportive housing in apartments, townhouses, and single family homes throughout the County for over 100 formerly-homeless households. Every one of these houses or apartments is in someone’s neighborhood. Our County and its citizens have the responsibility to find homes for the County’s homeless, and we have to do so with the resources at hand. We urge you to make sure this house is used to provide a home for a family that needs it badly.
> Thank you for your consideration.
> Fred J. Marinucci
> Chair, Housing Committee

Anonymous said...

Councilmember Floreen: Rick Nelson's report on the environemtnal studies does not recommend investing the hundreds of thousands of dollars it will take to make this building livable. I urge you to review his report carefully and to read your constituent emails on this topic. The best thing for the local community, Montgomery County, and the planet would be to raze the house and follow the original plan of annexing the property to Hillmead Park as a green space. Please vote accordingly.

Dina Gold
Hillmead resident and voter

Councilmember Nancy Floreen said...

Two resolutions will be introduced at the Council meeting on Tuesday, April 29th – one to demolish the house and one to renovate it. The Council President is scheduling the worksession (which is where the in-depth discussion will occur) on this issue on June 10th.

Anonymous said...

In advance of the scheduled vote on the use of the property, I would like to urge you to vote against the proposal to use the property as public needs housing. I am strongly opposed to such use for the following reasons, among others:

1.The county should choose to demolish the property as that option is nearly $200,000 less expensive than any other alternative. It is estimated that it will cost up to $187,000 (single family use) or $217,000 (multi-family use) to update the house located at 6221 Bradley. (See Letter from Richard Nelson to Mary Bradford dated April 11, 2008.) The county has already spent over 2 million dollars to purchase the property, which is already an unreasonable amount of money, and I feel that the county should not spend any more money than was already spent. There is a builder in our community who has offered to demolish the property for $15,000 and community members have offered to split the cost among themselves so that it would be absolutely free for the taxpayers of this county to demolish the house and the land could then be used as an extension of the park, which would benefit many residents and non-residents of the county for generations to come. At a time when the county's budget is tight (as cited by various council members in periodic newsletters and as evidenced by the recent cuts on several bus routes), I strongly believe that the county, when given two options, should choose the least expensive one, which is to demolish the property.

2. I do not understand why extraordinary amounts of money should be spent on housing one "large homeless family" when a park would benefit many more families.

3.The property located at 6221 Bradley was described in the acquisition documents as a property to be used as parkland. The county has dramatically changed its plans without proper involvement of community members. I think the process used by the county was non-transparent and a violation of due process.

4.I believe that the county should take into consideration that the property located at 6221 Bradley is right next door to a playground for small children and less than a mile away from a school (Landon School) and therefore using the property as a shelter for the homeless may present dangers that need to be investigated further.

Thank you.

Jon and Jennifer Frankel said...

Today a Petition from Hillmead should have been delivered to you. Over the last 4 days, various Hillmead residents knocked on every door in the community with a Petition supporting the demolition of the property. 90% of those persons who were home signed the Petition in support of demolition. Specifically, 139 out of 154 homes that were visited with someone home signed in support of demolition. Please listen to your constitutents and vote to demolish the property and expand the park.

And, if there was any question on how others feel about this matter -the Director of DHCA did not request to use the property with his April 11 evaluation and the Chairman of M-NCPPC, the current owner of the property, recommends demolition.

Please listen to your constituents, the head of the County's affordable housing program and the owner of the property and vote to demolish.

Thank you for this opportunity to post to your Blog.

Jon Frankel
Hillmead Resident

Anonymous said...

How do you explain the fact that the Department of Housing and Community Affairs has not even requested to lease the property?

They are no longer interested. They have done the math, they have assessed the home's condition and have decided it's a money-pit.

The previous owner knew it. Her homeowners insurance company knew it. No one was interested in that house except builders -- to knock it down!

I think its time to face the facts...use the county's financial resources in an effective way...this has been absurd from the beginning!

This is only a moral debate if you don't know the facts!

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