Initial Thoughts on Mayor Bowser’s Proposed FY16 Budget

April 6, 2015

On April 2, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser released her proposed FY16 budget. As with any budget, there are a lot of proposals that I could highlight. I’ve chosen to focus on three items of particular interest to Hill East:

Replacement of DC General
The Mayor’s proposed budget includes $40 million to fund 4 smaller scale homeless shelters to replace the deteriorating DC General shelter. After years of rhetoric about the need to close DC General, it is refreshing to see some actual funding in the budget to achieve this goal. While we still need to see her closure plan, Mayor Bowser deserves credit for making the closing of DC General the budget priority it should be.

Infrastructure Funding for Reservation 13/Hill East Development
I was also happy to see $11.2 million in the Mayor’s proposed capital budget for infrastructure funding for phase I of the Res. 13/Hill East Development. The 11.2 million, which would be spent over 3 years, would be used to fund the roadway extensions (Mass Ave SE, the new 20th Street SE, etc.) surrounding the Donatelli/Blue Skye mixed-use development.

School Modernizations
While the Mayor’s FY16 capital budget includes funding for the modernization of Watkins Elementary School (30.9 million in FY16 and FY17), the budget plan further delays modernization funding for a number of other Capitol Hill schools. Long overdue modernizations at Eliot-Hine and Jefferson Academy Middle Schools are delayed until FY19. These delays are totally unacceptable, particularly in a budget document that claims to make strengthening middle schools a priority. (Councilmember David Grosso’s office has put together a nice breakdown of how the Mayor’s budget will affect school modernizations).

Look, I understand that budgeting is not easy, particularly when the city has to fill a budget gap. And DC has limited borrowing authority and must stay under a statutory debt cap. This means that Mayor Bowser and the Council have to make tough choices. I get it.

But it is hard to accept further delays to school modernizations when the same capital budget includes $106 million in new capital funding (all borrowed) for the DC United Stadium at Buzzard Point – a stadium that the DC Council’s own independent consultant estimated would provide only $40 million in benefits (and is going to eventually cost taxpayers a lot more than $106 million). So the Mayor and the Council (OK, the previous Council) have essentially prioritized a giveaway to a professional soccer team over better (and safer) school buildings. This cannot be labeled a tough choice. This can only be described as a really, really bad decision.

So while I give Mayor Bowser credit for her proposed investments in new shelters, affordable housing and Reservation 13, she also deserves criticism for supporting a soccer stadium that is taking capital dollars away from school modernizations. Hopefully, the Mayor and Council will work to restore some of this funding during consideration of the budget in April and May.

DGS Responds to ANC 6B on Eastern Branch Building Redevelopment Proposals

March 31, 2015

In a March 30 letter (pdf) to ANC 6B, Jonathan Kayne, interim director of the DC Department of General Service, stated that his agency does not plan to re-issue its Request for Proposals for the Eastern Branch Building (261 17th Street SE). The letter was sent in response to the commission’s March 12 letter (pdf) urging DGS to re-issue the RFP with longer lease terms.

DGS is currently evaluating two redevelopment proposals submitted in response to an RFP issued in Fall 2014. After concerns were raised about both proposals at a Jan. 20 community meeting, DGS asked each development team to respond to a Best and Final Offer request. A summary of the BAFO responses (pdf) provided to ANC 6B by DGS seemed to suggest that only one of the responses – the Dantes Partners/Menkiti Group proposal – complied with the BAFO (though DGS has clarified to me that both proposals still remain under consideration).

Throughout the process, ANC 6B has voiced concern about DGS’ insistence on an initial 25-year lease with a development team. We feel that the short lease length unnecessarily limited the number of proposals the agency received and has resulted in a process that has led to one proposal.

In the March 30 letter, Interim Director Kayne writes, “It is Agency policy to ensure that ground leases on projects minimize the length of time a District asset remains under a third party’s control” to explain why DGS cannot propose a longer lease term. While I can understand this point of view,it is also in the District’s best interest to ensure that the city and residents have an opportunity to review multiple proposals and potential uses for the building. A longer lease term would have likely led to more redevelopment proposals.

Kayne did not state when or if DGS would select one of the redevelopment proposals. Once and if a proposal is selected, the project will have to be reviewed and approved by the Mayor and DC Council. I’ll continue to post updates as I learn more.

Here is a link to the full letter (pdf) from DGS.

ANC 6B March Meeting Recap

March 16, 2015

Here is a recap of major actions from ANC 6B’s March 10 meeting:

  • The commission voted unanimously to urge the Department of General Services to re-issue its Request for Proposals for the Eastern Branch Building. In a letter (pdf) to DGS, the commission urges notes that both responses to the initial RFP were flawed and asks the agency to extend the allowable lease terms. The letter also includes specific comments on both the Century Associates and Dantes Partners/Menkiti Group proposals. It is unclear whether DGS will agree to re-issue the RFP or proceed with one of the proposals.
  • I was really pleased that the commission voted 10-0 to send a letter to Mayor Bowser urging her to support and fund the Capitol Riverside Youth Sports Park proposal. The proposal would convert a portion of the wasteful north parking lots at RFK Stadium into athletic fields and outdoor recreation space serving city residents.  The CRYSP proposal exemplifies the kind of creative thinking the city needs when considering the future of the RFK Stadium site.
  • The commission voted 6-1-3 to withdraw its protest of the Ugly Mug Dining Saloon’s request for a substantial change to allow expansion of its second floor capacity. ANC 6B and the applicant agreed on a settlement agreement that limits the hours that a new retractable roof can be open and prohibits the roof from being opened during live entertainment events. A big thanks to Commissioner Jim Loots (6B03), the nearby neighbors and the applicant for all the time and effort they put into reaching this agreement.
  • Brynn Barnett, a 6B10 resident, was unanimously elected chair of the ANC 6B Hill East Task Force. The vote marked the first time that ANC 6B has elected a non-commissioner to chair one of its task forces. A big thanks to Brynn for volunteering to serve in this important role.
  • The commission also approved resident members for both the Hill East and Outreach & Constituent Service Task Forces. I particularly want to thank Julianne Bythrow, Katie Donahue, Nike Opadiran, Ross Parman and Pat Taylor for agreeing to represent 6B09 on the Hill East Task Force.
  • On a 9-0-1 vote, the commission authorized testimony (pdf) at the March 11 WMATA performance oversight hearing. The testimony was delivered by Commissioner Denise Krepp (6B10) in front of the Committee on Finance and Revenue.
  • Commissioners and attendees heard a presentation from Rashee Kumar with the Neighborhood and Victim Services unit of the DC Office of the Attorney General about how the office can help with vacant and nuisance properties.
  • Note that ANC 6B’s April meeting, originally scheduled for April 14, has been moved to Monday, April 20 due to DCPS spring break. As always, the meeting will take place at 7 pm at the Hill Center.

Attend March 12 Community Meeting on Future of NY Pizza Site

March 11, 2015

Another major development project is coming to Hill East! On Thursday, March 12, developer CAS Riegler will host a community meeting to discuss their initial plans for the current NY Pizza site (1401 Pennsylvania Ave SE). The meeting will begin at 7 pm at the Hill Center (921 Pennsylvania Ave SE). Attendees will have an opportunity to share ideas and provide comments to the development team.

Note that this is a community meeting hosted by the developer. Any development plans for the site will likely come before ANC 6B later this year. You can read more about the developer and submit comments/ideas on the CAS Riegler website.

Testimony on Reservation 13/Hill East and Future of RFK Stadium Site

March 8, 2015

On Fri., March 6, I testified on behalf of ANC 6B at the Committee of the Whole’s performance oversight hearing for the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development. My testimony (below) focused on Reservation 13/Hill East Development and the future of the RFK Stadium site.

Good morning Chairman Mendelson and members of the Committee of the Whole. My name is Brian Flahaven, and I serve as vice chair of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6B. My single member district, 6B09, lies in Hill East and includes Barney Circle, the Historic Congressional Cemetery, and the Eastern Branch Building.

I’m here today to testify about the Hill East Development, also known as Reservation 13, the future of the RFK Stadium site and the Barney Circle-Southeast Boulevard Study. I’m testifying on behalf of ANC 6B, which approved my testimony 10-0 during its February 10, 2015 meeting with a quorum present.

On March 2, Mayor Bowser and Donatelli/Blue Skye signed the Land Disposition Agreement for Phase I of the Hill East Development, which consists of two mixed-use residential/retail buildings next to the Stadium-Armory Metro. The Donatelli/Blue Skye project is consistent with the community-supported Reservation 13 master plan and the Hill East District zoning on the site. We are pleased that after years of distractions, three RFPs and numerous delays, the Hill East Development is finally moving forward. We are eager to start working with the development team and ANC 7F to review plans and designs for the mixed use project.

We want to thank Mayor Bowser, former Mayor Gray, Councilmembers Allen and Alexander, former Councilmember Tommy Wells, current Deputy Mayor Brian Kenner, former interim Deputy Mayor Jeff Miller, Donatelli/Blue Skye and DMPED Hill East Director Ketan Gada for moving this initial phase forward.

Of course, Phase I is only the first step to realizing the full vision of the community and Council-supported Reservation 13 master plan. We urge Mayor Bowser and Deputy Mayor Kenner to take action immediately to prepare the remaining parcels of the Hill East site for development. Specifically, DMPED should be:

  • Working with the Department of Human Services on a plan to close the temporary homeless shelter at DC General and begin transitioning homeless families and individuals into better housing options. The current policy of housing up to 300 homeless families in a dilapidated, deteriorating old hospital building completely separated from the surrounding neighborhood is an embarrassment to the city and completely counterproductive to the ultimate goal of ending homelessness. While former Mayor Gray released a plan to replace DC General with smaller scale shelters, city officials have not funded the plan nor made it a priority.
  • Developing a plan for transitioning social services located on the site. The Reservation 13 master plan envisions, and we certainly support, continuing to provide existing services on the site at a reasonable scale in new facilities constructed on parcel L.

To ensure that DMPED is looking beyond the first phase of the Hill East Development, I urge the committee to ask Deputy Mayor Kenner and his team a few additional questions:

  1. What is the timeline for future phases of the Hill East Development?
  2. Does DMPED plan to continue developing Hill East parcel-by-parcel? Or is DMPED considering issuing one RFEI for the remainder of the site?
  3. If parcel-by-parcel, what parcels are being considered for phase II?
  4. Is DMPED working with the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services and the Department of Human Services on a plan for eventual closure of DC General?

In addition to the Hill East Development, our commission is also very interested in the future of the RFK Stadium site – another waterfront site that sits on top of a Metro station. The redevelopment of the RFK site could be a potential boon to Capitol Hill, Hill East, the Anacostia River and the entire city if city leaders are open to some creative and imaginative thinking. But it appears that some city officials have determined that a new NFL football stadium is the obvious future and best use of the site – a use that would provide minimal benefit to the city.

Last year, Mayor Gray asked Events DC to conduct a study on future uses for the RFK Stadium site. We understand that Events DC has hired the consulting firm of Brailsford and Dunlavey to conduct a study of future uses of the site. While we certainly respect Events DC, they are clearly interested in future uses for the site that meet their mission to attract and promote sporting events.

Given the tremendous potential for the site, we think that DMPED and/or the Office of Planning should be playing a role in this study to make sure that all potential uses are being examined. We encourage you to ask Deputy Mayor Kenner and Director Shaw if they are aware of the RFK study and if their agencies plan to be involved in the study moving forward.

Finally, I want to acknowledge the Office of Planning’s work on the Barney Circle-Southeast Boulevard Planning Study. At the request of former Councilmember Tommy Wells, OP was asked to bring a holistic perspective to the District Department of Transportation’s study and OP’s final recommendations are a dramatic improvement over the original DDOT concepts. Our experience suggests the city should ensure that OP is involved from the beginning on such projects in the future.
Thank you for your time, and I’d be happy to answer any questions.


FINALLY! Mayor Bowser Signs LDA for Reservation 13/Hill East Development

March 2, 2015
Mayor Bowser signs the Res. 13/Hill East LDA with Chris Donatelli of Donatelli Development (to her left) and Scottie Irving of Blue Skye Construction (to her right) while Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen and Deputy Mayor Brian Kenner look on.

Mayor Muriel Bowser signs the Res. 13/Hill East LDA with Chris Donatelli of Donatelli Development (left) and Scottie Irving of Blue Skye Construction (right) as Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen and Brian Kenner, Acting Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, look on.

After twelve long years, the city is finally moving forward on mixed use development at Reservation 13! Today, Mayor Muriel Bowser signed the Land Disposition Agreement (LDA) for Phase I of the Res. 13/Hill East Development. The agreement allows Donatelli/Blue Skye development to move forward with design, permitting and construction of their mixed-use project for Parcels F1 & G1 on the site.

Donatelli/Blue Skye plan to build two buildings surrounding the Stadium-Armory Metro Plaza. The mixed-use buildings will include 354 residential units and 40,000 square feet of retail (20,000 sf in each building). Thirty percent, or 106, of the residential units will be affordable. Michael Neibauer of the Washington Business Journal is reporting that Donatelli/Blue Skye hope to break ground in 2016 with completion slated for 2018.

Obviously, this is a big day for Hill East. I want to thank Mayor Bowser for making the Hill East LDA her first LDA signing as Mayor and for her strong support of the project. I also want to acknowledge the contributions of Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen, Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander, former Mayor Gray, former Ward 6 Councilmembers Tommy Wells and Sharon Ambrose, former ANC 6B Commissioners Francis Campbell and Ken Jarboe and the many Hill East residents who have continued to push the city to move forward on this long-stalled development. In addition, I want to thank Donatelli Development and Blue Skye Construction for pursuing development plans at Reservation 13 and our ANC 7F colleagues for their support.

Of course, this is only the first phase of the full development. The Mayor and Council need to act now to prepare the rest of the site for development. I plan on continuing to work with my colleagues on ANC 6B and ANC 7F to make sure that pursuing the entire Res. 13/Hill East Development remains a priority.

Testimony on Future of RFK Stadium Site

February 27, 2015

On Wed., Feb. 25, I testified on behalf of ANC 6B at the Committee on Finance and Revenue’s performance oversight hearing for Events DC. My testimony (below) focused on the future of the RFK Stadium site. 

Good morning Chairman Evans and members of the Committee on Finance and Revenue. My name is Brian Flahaven, and I serve as vice 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 provide testimony on our commission’s experience with Events DC and, in particular, our views about the future of a critical piece of land the authority oversees – the RFK Stadium site. I’m testifying on behalf of ANC 6B, which approved my testimony 9-0 during its February 10 meeting with a quorum present. We appreciate Events DC’s efforts to keep our commission and constituents informed about events happening at RFK Stadium, the Armory and the surrounding parking lots. As you know, the site is immediately adjacent to a residential rowhouse neighborhood. Events DC’s quarterly community outreach meetings and frequent event e-mails have been extremely helpful. We particularly want to acknowledge the efforts of Erik Moses, Events DC’s senior vice president and managing director, and Theresa DuBois, Events DC’s external affairs manager, to keep our constituents and the commission informed and engaged.

With DC United set to move out of RFK Stadium in the next couple of years, our focus is on potential uses for this valuable site – a waterfront site that sits on top of a Metro station. The redevelopment of the RFK site could be a potential boon to Hill East, the health of the Anacostia River, Capitol Hill, and the entire city if city leaders are open to some creative and imaginative thinking. But it appears that some city officials have determined that a new NFL football stadium is the obvious future and best use of the site. You’ve been quoted, Chairman Evans, as saying “There’s nothing else you can do there.”

We strongly disagree. While we understand the lure of the site’s tradition and history, a new football stadium at RFK will bring the city and the neighborhood very little. First, football stadiums are used 10 times a year for games, leaving an empty shell the remainder of the time. Second, since tailgating is part of the football experience, football stadiums are typically surrounded by empty parking lots. At RFK, that would mean the continued separation of the surrounding neighborhood from the Anacostia waterfront. Third, a football stadium will not attract new businesses nor help existing businesses in our neighborhood since NFL owners make money when fans buy their concessions in the stadium itself. If you need an example, when was the last time you went shopping or dining at a local business or restaurant next to FedEx Field?

Instead of solely pining for a new stadium that will bring little, city leaders should be open to other uses for the site. For example, a neighborhood-serving sports complex with recreational fields and/or an outdoor environmental education center that draws upon the waterfront location could be better potential uses for the site. Hill East is in desperate need of more playing fields for youth sports and activities and a sports complex would comply with the terms of the National Park Service lease. An environmental education center could provide youth a positive connection to the Anacostia River while providing the city with a destination for environmental education, sustainability and recreational fun.

Speaking of the NPS lease, why can’t it be changed? Why can’t the city develop a comprehensive plan similar to the National Capital Planning Commission’s 2006 plan that includes significant recreational use and some mixed-use development on portions of the site? Such a plan could be used to lobby Congress to amend the lease and/or transfer the land. That is exactly the strategy the city used 10 years ago to successfully obtain Reservation 13, the 67-acre site that sits immediately south of the RFK site, from the federal government.

We are committed to working with Events DC, city officials and our colleague commissions – ANCs 7D, 7F and 6A – to think creatively about the best future uses for the RFK Stadium site. We understand that Events DC has hired the consulting firm of Brailsford and Dunlavey to conduct a study of future uses of the site. While we would prefer that the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development and the Office of Planning were leading this effort, we take Events DC at its word that the study will include robust neighborhood engagement and alternatives that do not include a stadium.

One final point. If the city decides to pursue a football stadium on the site once the study is completed, we should remember that the District has and should retain the upper hand in any negotiations. If media reports are correct that Mr. Snyder wants to build a new stadium at RFK, he should not only pay for the stadium but should also pay for the land, infrastructure and taxes associated with the site. He should also be required to build a stadium that is consistent with the city’s vision of the Anacostia waterfront – a waterfront connected to the surrounding neighborhoods (i.e. no surface parking lots). If Mr. Snyder wants taxpayer dollars to subsidize any of these costs or doesn’t agree with this vision, he can go look for a site in Maryland and Virginia, and the District can pursue alternative, better uses for the RFK Stadium land.

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


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