Eastern Branch April 9 Meeting Recap

April 11, 2014

On April 9, ANC 6B’s Hill East Task Force held the first of two community meetings to discuss plans by the DC Department of General Services (DGS) to issue a Request for Offers (RFO)  for the Eastern Branch Building, the vacant, city-owned former home of a Boys and Girls Club. A second community meeting will be held on Wed., April 30. The goal of the meetings is to get community feedback on the RFO and what the neighborhood would like to see in the building.

Here is a brief recap:

  • I opened the meeting with a brief summary of the task force’s Feb. 18 meeting with DGS. I noted that DGS had agreed to push back its original timeline for feedback and is allowing the community and ANC 6B to submit formal comments on the RFO by mid-May.
  • Before discussing what attendees would like to see in the building, the task force took some time to consider the current state of the building and constraints on uses at the site. Chuck Burger, who chaired Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells’s Eastern Branch Task Force, distributed a packet of background information (pdf) that greatly informed the conversation. The following issues were identified:
    • Zoning for the lot is R-4 with an exemption for social service uses, so commercial uses are prohibited. The building is not in a historic district nor is it classified as a historic landmark.
    • Roof needs to be replaced.
    • Electrical systems need to be replaced. Plumbing condition unknown but likely needs significant repair or replacement.
    • No air conditioning. Heat plant operable.
    • Pool has significant damage and has not been in usable condition for the past 15 years.
    • No parking on the site.
    • No ADA features such as an elevator or ramps.
    • DGS wants to lease the building/site, not sell it.
  • Funding was another constraint discussed. During the Feb. 18 task force meeting, DGS representatives said that the building was classified as surplus property and the city had no plans to use the building to house city offices/services. And DGS made it clear that there would be no funding for the building in the Mayor’s proposed FY15 budget. Given that DGS plans to use the RFO process to identify developers or development teams interested in developing the site and the lack of public funding, attendees focused on potential uses that could be financially viable for a developer and at the same time meet a community need.
  • After discussing the state of the building and constraints, the task force and attendees identified existing uses in the neighborhood using a map (pdf) provided by the Mayor’s office. The map shows the current location of schools, recreation centers, playgrounds and primary care centers within a half mile radius of the Eastern Branch building. The task force and attendees added other existing services/conditions to the map, including the Board of Childcare daycare facility at 308 15th Street SE and the commercial zoning on 15th Street SE and at Reservation 13.
  • There was some discussion around whether the building should remain a recreation center or have a recreation component. A number of attendees felt it would make more sense for the city to invest in and support recreational activities at nearby Payne and Eastern High schools, facilities which have more actual and potential indoor and outdoor recreation space than the Eastern Branch building (though the key is the city investing in these “wrap-around” activities at the schools). Others thought that a recreational use should still be considered for the building given the lack of recreational space in the neighborhood.
  • After outlining the current state of the building, constraints and existing uses in the surrounding neighborhood, the task force and attendees were assigned to three breakout groups to discuss 1) whether the group felt the city should be open to RFO responses that require partial or full demolition of the building and 2) what potential uses should be priorities in the RFO.
  • On Question 1, all three groups agreed that the city should be willing to consider RFO responses that involve full or partial demolition of the building. Many attendees thought that the site would attract more interest if development teams had the flexibility to construct a new building to fit the new use. One group hoped that if demolition was considered, the development team and city would work to recognize the site’s recreational history in the new building (preserve the “autograph” wall, reuse materials from the building, etc.).
  • On Question 2, some areas of consensus on uses emerged, including:
    • Housing – all three groups were open to private residential use on a portion the site. A development team is only going to bid on the site if they can make it work financially and, in the absence of city funding, attendees felt that housing is probably the use that will make the project viable and attractive to both developers and the neighborhood.  There was particular interest in senior housing, housing for families and affordable housing.
    • Community space – all groups wanted some community space, or flex space included in the building/project. This space, which could be on the first floor below the private residential area, could be used for community meetings, daycare or elder care, nonprofit offices, vocational training, dance classes, etc. One idea was to have a community space attached to a commercial kitchen.
    • Inter-generational use – there was a general consensus that the neighborhood would prefer community uses that would serve all generations of residents, from young children to senior citizens.
  • Other interesting ideas included selling the building and using the proceeds to fund the construction of recreational fields on the RFK parking lots, seeking a college or university public policy program or DC internship program to operate out of the building and finding a use related to urban agriculture for a portion of the building.
  • In preparation for the April 30 meeting, the task force will prepare a document that summarizes the feedback received during the April 9 meeting. Attendees at the April 30 meeting will have an opportunity to weigh in on the document and suggest additional ideas/uses with the goal of moving further towards consensus. The task force will also continue to update and refine the map of existing neighborhood uses/services in close proximity to the Eastern Branch Building.

Thanks to all who attended the meeting. We made a lot of progress.  If you were at the meeting, please post your thoughts or anything I missed below. And if you missed the meeting and want to weigh in, please plan to attend the next community meeting on Wed., April 30, 6:30 pm – 8:00 pm at Payne Elementary School (1445 C Street SE).


Friday Updates: Playtime Project, Vote, Eastern Branch, Barney Circle, 17th & 19th

March 28, 2014
  • As Metropolitan Police Department and FBI continue their search for missing 8-year old Relisha Rudd and her apparent abductor, you can help the other homeless children at DC General by supporting The Homeless Children’s Playtime Project. Relisha is one of the many children living at DC General that benefit from the activities of the Playtime Project, a wonderful nonprofit organization that works to brighten the lives of homeless kids. Consider a donation or purchase a gift off their Amazon wishlist.
  • Next Tuesday, April 1 is primary day in the District of Columbia. If you have a party affiliation, make sure you get out and vote either on April 1 or today and tomorrow at one of the 13 early voting centers. Polls will be open from 7 am to 8 pm on April 1. I’m supporting Tommy Wells for Mayor and Charles Allen for Ward 6 Councilmember in the Democratic primary.
  • ANC 6B’s Hill East Task Force will be holding two community meetings to discuss plans by the DC Department of General Services to issue a Request for Offers for the Eastern Branch Building (261 17th Street SE). The meetings will take place on:
    • Wed., April 9, 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm, St. Coletta of Greater Washington (1901 Independence Avenue SE)
    • Wed., April 30, 6:30 pm – 8:00 pm, Payne Elementary School (1445 C Street SE)
  • The owners of New York Pizza, located at 1401 Pennsylvania Avenue SE, plan to expand their business into the vacant commercial space across the street at 1400 Pennsylvania Avenue SE. To do so, they will need a “fast food” special exception from the Board of Zoning Adjustment. ANC 6B will likely consider the special exception request in May.
  • On Monday, March 31, ANC 6B’s Transportation Committee will discuss the DC Office of Planning’s rapid response planning effort on DDOT’s Barney Circle-Southeast Boulevard Project. The goal of the 3-4 month effort is to take a holistic view of potential uses within and surrounding the proposed Southeast Boulevard right of way. The meeting is from 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm at the Hill Center (921 Pennsylvania Ave SE).
  • Speaking of DDOT, I have some good news to share on the delayed 17th & 19th Streets Safety Improvement Project. According to the agency, construction on both streets will take place this year beginning with 19th Street in May. DDOT expects construction on the 17th Street portion of the project to begin in September.

Meetings Scheduled to Discuss Eastern Branch Building RFO

March 27, 2014

Following up on its Feb. 18 meeting, ANC 6B’s Hill East Task Force will hold two additional community meetings to discuss plans by the DC Department of General Services (DGS) to issue a Request for Offers for the Eastern Branch Building (261 17th Street SE). The goal is to get community feedback on the RFO process itself and what uses should be prioritized. Here are the meeting times and dates:

  • Wed., April 9, 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm at St. Coletta of Greater Washington (1901 Independence Avenue SE)
  • Wed., April 30, 6:30 pm – 8:00 pm at Payne Elementary School (1445 C Street SE)

Feedback from these two community meetings will be used to draft formal ANC 6B comments to DGS. These comments will be considered by ANC 6B’s Planning and Zoning Committee on Tues., May 6 and the full commission on Tues., May 13.

Read my recap of the Feb. 18 meeting for additional information about the building and the planned RFO.  Hope to see you at one or both of the meetings!

 

 

 


ANC 6B March Meeting Recap

March 17, 2014

Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6B held its March meeting on Tuesday, March 11 at the Hill Center. Amazingly, the commission voted unanimously (9-0) on every item put to a vote (note that one commissioner was unable to attend). Here are the highlights:

  • The commission voted unanimously to send a letter (pdf) to DC Department of General Services Director Brian Hanlon encouraging his department to delay issuing a Request for Offers for the Eastern Branch Building (261 17th Street SE) until they receive formal comments from ANC 6B. The commission plans to hold two additional Hill East Task Force meetings on future uses of the building in April and hopes to have formal comments finalized by mid-May.
  • The commission voted 9-0 to support the public space permit application for Goldstar Group’s proposed 41-unit residential building at 1500 Pennsylvania Avenue SE.
  • I provided an update on efforts to convince the District Department of Transportation to approve the original angled driveway entrance for NOVO Development’s proposed 77-unit residential building at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue SE. During the Board of Zoning Adjustment’s review of the project last May, DDOT required the developer to change the angled driveway entrance since it would be partially located on the sidewalk (public space). Neighbors and I are concerned that the revised driveway configuration (pdf) will allow vehicles traveling south on the extremely narrow Freedom Way alley to enter the garage. The final plans should encourage vehicles to enter and exit the garage via Kentucky Avenue SE. Prior to the commission  meeting, neighbors and I met with the developer and DDOT to discuss the issue. Given DDOT’s continued opposition to the angled driveway design, I plan to continue working with the developer and neighbors to find solutions to the problem using the revised configuration.
  • Sharon Cooke and Richard Jackson of the District Department of the Environment and Timothy Fields of MDB, Inc. provided a brief presentation on DDOE’s Anacostia River Sediment Project. The department plans to begin an assessment of contaminants in the Anacostia River and will propose remedies to cleanup the river. Throughout the project, DDOE will follow a community involvement plan that includes reaching out to environmental groups, affected ANCs and other community stakeholders to get input and feedback. After hearing the presentation, the commission voted unanimously to send a letter(pdf) to DDOE with comments on the project’s community involvement plan.
  • ANC 6B approved two resolutions and a letter (pdf) outlining projects the commission supports for DDOT’s Performance Parking Zone Community Benefits Program. DDOT is seeking project ideas that provide or accelerate non-automobile transportation investments in the city’s Performance Parking Zones. In addition to submitting our own list of projects, the commission is supporting a number of the project ideas submitted by Barracks Row Main Street and the Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District. The proposed projects must be within or adjacent to Performance Parking Zones (ANC 6B’s current PPZ is located between South Capitol Street, I-395, 9th Street SE and Independence Ave SE).
  • The commission voted 9-0 to send a letter (pdf) to Mayor Gray that includes ANC 6B’s comments on the Virginia Avenue Tunnel Reconstruction Draft Environmental Impact Statement and adds concerns about the environmental aspects of the proposed reconstruction project.
  • ANC 6B’s April meeting will be on Tuesday, April 8, 7 pm at the Hill Center.

Testimony on DC General at Human Services Oversight Hearing

February 27, 2014

On Feb. 26, I testified on behalf of ANC 6B at the DC Council’s Committee on Human Services oversight hearing for the Department of Human Services. In the testimony, ANC 6B urges the Mayor, DHS and the Council to develop a plan to close the DC General Family Shelter. Here is ANC 6B’s full written testimony:

Good morning Chairman Graham and members of the Committee on Human Services. My name is Brian Flahaven, and I serve as chair of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6B. My single member district, 6B09, lies in Hill East and is located immediately west of the Hill East Waterfront, also known as Reservation 13. My district also includes Barney Circle, the Historic Congressional Cemetery, and the Eastern Branch Boys & Girls Club Building.

I’m here today to testify about the status of the DC General family shelter and to urge the Mayor, DHS and this committee to make the investments necessary to begin the process of closing DC General. I’m testifying on behalf of ANC 6B, which approved my testimony 8-0 during its February 11 Commission meeting.

Unfortunately, not much has changed at DC General since I testified before your committee last year. The shelter remains at capacity – recent reports suggest almost 1,000 individuals, including 600 children are currently at the shelter – and while the Department of Human Services may have a goal to move families out of DC General, the department appears to not be making much progress in achieving that goal.

ANC 6B views housing so many incredibly needy families in such deplorable conditions, including a large number of families with children, as an outrage and embarrassment to our city and as completely counterproductive to the ultimate goal of ending homelessness. The lack of a humane and holistic plan to housing homeless individuals in this city concerns us greatly, and developing such a plan should be a top priority of the Mayor, DHS and the Council.

When the city started housing homeless families at DC General in 2007, it was announced as a temporary measure. Soon after the shelter opened, the city began housing more and more families at the old hospital, particularly as shelters were closed in other parts of the city. Instead of working to find suitable housing and shelter options within existing neighborhoods, city leaders chose the politically convenient approach of housing more and more families and individuals in a deteriorating, depressing building totally separated from the surrounding neighborhood and city.

In addition to the shelter, the city opened and expanded clinics at the site, including a methadone clinic. So, in addition to an over concentration of people, the site has an over concentration of services.

While all this was happening, ANC 6B and surrounding neighbors continued to push the city to implement the Reservation 13 master plan. The plan, approved by the Council in 2003 and created with substantial community input, envisions mixed-use development that will finally connect surrounding neighborhoods to the Anacostia River waterfront. The plan recognizes the site’s many advantages – waterfront location, access to Metro and close proximity to two wards – and it envisions bringing housing (including 30 percent affordable housing), retail and office space to an area of the city in desperate need of all three.

Unfortunately, the city’s expansion and now indecision on DC General is stalling mixed-use development plans for Reservation 13, with real consequences to the city and neighborhood. While the city is moving forward with developing two parcels on the site – the two parcels closest to the Stadium-Armory Metro plaza, the rest of the site is on hold until the city comes up with a plan for DC General.

DC General should not be our city’s answer to addressing homelessness. ANC 6B strongly believes that the city’s goal should be closing DC General and transitioning homeless families and individuals to better housing options. Many of these new housing options, including a smaller scale shelter, could be a part of the Hill East Development. But we fear that the full vision of development plans for the Hill East Waterfront will remain stalled until the city provides a clear timeline for closing DC General.

To help us get a sense of where the city is on this issue, we urge the committee to ask DHS the following questions:

1)    What is the status of DHS’s plan for reducing the number of families and individuals living in DC General and eventually closing the building? It appears from recent media reports that progress in reducing the number of residents at DC General has taken a step back.

2)    Has the Mayor or DHS considered announcing a date for closure of DC General? Setting such a date would have the combined effect of pushing the Council to provide the funding necessary to provide better alternatives to homeless families while sending a signal to the development community that the city is serious about developing the site.

3)    Will the Mayor’s FY15 capital budget include significant investments in permanent supportive housing and/or funds to build new smaller scale shelters?

4)    Has DHS discussed its plans for DC General with the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development? Given the city’s plans to develop the site, it seems appropriate that DHS should be coordinating closely with DMPED.

ANC 6B stands ready to work with the Mayor, DHS and this committee to support efforts to end homelessness and eliminate the need for shelters like DC General. And we also strongly urge the Mayor, DHS and the Council to make closing DC General a top priority, and to begin funding the programs and making the capital investments necessary in the FY15 budget.

Thank you for your time, and I’d be happy to answer any questions.


Testimony in Opposition to B20-563, RFK Stadium Study Bill

February 25, 2014

This morning, I testified on behalf of ANC 6B in opposition to B20-563, the District of Columbia Sports and Entertainment Complex Feasibility Study Act of 2013 in front of the DC Council’s Committee on Economic Development. Here is ANC 6B’s written testimony:

Good morning Madam Chair and members of the Committee on Economic Development. My name is Brian Flahaven, and I serve as chair of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6B. My single member district, 6B09, lies in Hill East and is located immediately west of the Hill East Waterfront, also known as Reservation 13. My district also includes Barney Circle, the Historic Congressional Cemetery, and the Eastern Branch Building.

I’m here today to express ANC 6B’s strong opposition to Bill 20-563, the District of Columbia Sports and Entertainment Complex Feasibility Study Act of 2013. I’m testifying on behalf of ANC 6B, which approved my testimony 8-0 during its February 11, 2014 meeting with a quorum present.

As you know, B20-563 requires the Mayor to conduct a study to determine the “economic feasibility, economic impact and costs” of developing a new 100,000 seat superdome, indoor waterpark, soundstage, PGA-level golf course and hotel zone at the RFK Stadium, DC Armory and Langston Golf Course sites. If enacted, the bill requires the study to be completed by Feb. 15, 2015.

While we oppose this bill for a number of reasons, let me start with a point on which we and the bill’s co-sponsors do agree: there should be a comprehensive study on future uses for the RFK Stadium site, 190-acres that encompass RFK Stadium, the DC Armory, the Maloof Skate Park and surface parking lots.

However, ANC 6B believes that the best approach to determining future uses at the RFK Stadium site is a community planning process that begins with a blank slate. This is the strategy used by the city and community to develop the master plan for Reservation 13, the 67-acre parcel of land that lies immediately to the south of the RFK site.

As you may know, when Mayor Gray announced plans to move DC United to a new stadium in Southwest, he also directed Events DC, the city’s convention and stadium authority, to oversee a study on future uses of the site. While we are concerned that Events DC will only consider uses for the site that involve a new stadium, at least they are starting with a relatively blank slate and plan to engage the community.

Unfortunately, instead of starting with a blank slate, the 6 co-introducers of B20-563 have begun with the conventional wisdom that a new stadium is the best future use for the site – and then proceeded to surround the new stadium with random pet projects that will add little to no value to our neighborhood and the city as a whole.  Our commission and community were not asked by the councilmembers to weigh in on the bill, nor were we engaged by them prior to the its introduction. This is but one of ANC6B’s many objections to B20-563 – seven in total – that I am here to share with this committee.

As I’ve noted, our number one concern is the lack of community engagement in both the drafting of the bill and that envisioned during the period of the feasibility study.

Number two – the bill is duplicative. As I mentioned, Mayor Gray has already asked Events DC to conduct a study of future uses for the site. Why should DC’s hardworking taxpayers foot the bill for a second study before the first has even begun?

Number three – the proposed complex envisioned in the bill does not appear to be well-planned. Why would we build more than 1,000 new hotel rooms for a stadium that would be primarily used for 10 football games a year? If the idea is to hold more than sporting events at the complex, aren’t we competing with our own taxpayer-funded convention center which is still struggling to attract events? What happens to the DC National Guard when the Armory is turned into a soundstage? Where would the hotels, housing and retail be built since most of the RFK Stadium site sits on a floodplain and, under federal lease terms, must be used for stadium or recreational use? Why prioritize national, corporate restaurant chains and businesses over local, independent DC-owned businesses? These are just a few of a long list of questions that suggest a lack of planning in drafting the bill.

Number four – the city does not need to fund a study to determine that this plan is not feasible. The proposed complex would cost billions in taxpayer dollars with little return to the city. At most, the proposed superdome would host 10-15 events annually. You can’t host the Final Four and Superbowl every year – and a new football stadium is not going to attract the hotels and retail envisioned in the plan.

Number five – the complex lacks neighborhood-serving uses. ANC 6B believes that the RFK site should include uses that serve both visitors and residents. The sponsors in the bill seem more interested in meeting the needs of professional athletes and tourists with their proposed complex.

Number six — the Anacostia waterfront appears to be an afterthought in the plan. Any development on the site should work to connect the surrounding neighborhood to the waterfront, not act as a barrier.

And finally – we are concerned that the real purpose of the bill and study is to delay any positive development on the RFK site. For example, we are eager to see the wasteful RFK surface parking lots turned into something useful, like recreational fields. If this study moves forward, city officials working to preserve the parking lots for a future stadium will use it as an excuse to block any meaningful development in the short term.

For these reasons, we ask the committee to oppose B20-563. Let’s work together on a real, feasible study for the RFK site – one that involves the community and begins with a blank slate.

Thank you and I’d be happy to answer any questions.


*UPDATED* Weigh In Today on Absurd RFK Stadium Study Bill

February 24, 2014

On Tuesday, Feb. 25, the DC Council’s Committee on Economic Development will hold a hearing on Bill 20-563, the District of Columbia Sports and Entertainment Complex Feasibility Study Act of 2013.  If enacted, this bill would require the Mayor to conduct a study to determine the “economic feasibility, economic impact and costs” of developing a new 100,000 seat superdome, indoor waterpark, soundstage, PGA-level golf course and hotel zone at the RFK Stadium, DC Armory and Langston Golf Course sites. If enacted, the bill requires the study to be completed by Feb. 15, 2015.

As I’ve detailed in a previous post, this is a really bad bill. Instead of outlining a thoughtful, open planning process that involves the community in determining future uses for the RFK Stadium site, B20-563 begins with the conventional wisdom (a new stadium to replace the old one) and surrounds it with a random grab bag of pet projects that will do little for the neighborhood and city.

Unfortunately, six Councilmembers (Alexander, Barry, Bonds, Evans, Graham and Orange) co-introduced the bill, including three of the five members who currently sit on the Committee on Economic Development. The co-introducers need only one additional vote to get a majority on the full Council. We need to make it clear that this bill did not involve community input and lacks support in the neighborhood.

Please take a moment today to e-mail to the members of the Committee on Economic Development and urge them to oppose B20-563. Be sure to copy Robert Hawkins who staffs the committee for Chairperson Bowser. And make sure you ask that your statement be submitted for the record.

Here are the e-mails:

You can also contact Councilmember offices by phone.

Finally, you can watch the hearing (and all Council hearings) by visiting the DC Council website. The hearing will be at 10 am in Room 120. I plan to testify in opposition on behalf of ANC 6B.

Thanks for your help!

Updated 2/24/14:  If you need additional background information on the bill, I outlined my concerns about the bill in a Dec. 19, 2013 post. And here is a link to the actual bill (pdf). 


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