This morning, I testified on behalf of ANC 6B at the DC Council’s Committee on Economic Development oversight hearing for the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED). My testimony, posted below, focused on the status of development plans at the Hill East Waterfront/Reservation 13.
Good morning Madame 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 includes Barney Circle, the Historic Congressional Cemetery, and the Eastern Branch Boys & Girls Club Building.
I’m here today to testify about the Hill East Development, also known as Reservation 13, the 67-acre former site of DC General Hospital. I’m testifying on behalf of ANC 6B, which approved my testimony 4-0 during a Feb. 26 Executive Committee meeting.
Eleven years ago, this Council approved a master development plan for Reservation 13. The plan, created with substantial community input, envisioned a mixed-use development that would finally connect surrounding neighborhoods to the Anacostia River waterfront. The plan recognized the site’s many advantages – waterfront location, access to Metro and close proximity to two wards – and it envisioned bringing housing, retail and office space to an area of the city in desperate need of all three.
In 2008, the Fenty Administration issued a request for proposals seeking a master developer for Reservation 13. Four development teams responded to the request, and ANC 6B and the surrounding neighbors heard presentations and weighed in on each request. In 2010, citing the economic downturn, the Fenty Administration issued a scaled back request to the four development teams, asking each to submit plans to develop the two parcels closest to the Stadium-Armory metro plaza. Two of the four teams submitted responses to the scaled back request.
The city sat on the two responses until early 2012, when the city attempted to convince the Washington Redskins to build a training facility on the site – an attempt that drew loud opposition from the community. At the time, the city was ready to give away this valuable piece of real estate for nothing, and while the Mayor made it clear the Redskins would have to pay for the facility, he also indicated that the city would cover the cost of infrastructure improvements.
Once it was clear that the training facility was not going to happen, Mayor Gray announced in March 2012 that DMPED would move forward with mixed-use development plans. We applauded the Mayor’s announcement and were eager for DMPED to select a development team. Unfortunately, instead of choosing one of the two responses on the table, DMPED chose to begin the process again and issued a new RFEI in Oct. 2012 with responses due in January. At the deadline, only one development team – Donatelli/Blue Skye – submitted a response to the RFEI. While we are pleased that Donatelli/Blue Skye submitted a response, we are extremely disappointed that additional development teams decided not to participate.
Why did DMPED only receive one response? ANC 6B believes there are four explanations:
First, in their revised RFEI, DMPED removed language that gave the winning development team the right of first refusal to negotiate with the city to develop the rest of the site. This was a huge incentive for developers to bid on the scaled-back project and also demonstrated a commitment by the city to eventually develop the entire site.
Second, the RFEI required development teams to pay for all infrastructure improvements, including the construction of public roadways. Unlike the Redskins training facility, the city was unwilling to make the same infrastructure commitment to a project that is a much better use of the site – one that will provide new tax revenue, jobs and housing. The Mayor has budgeted infrastructure funds for other development projects, such as Walter Reed and St. Elizabeth’s. Why is he not willing to do so for Hill East?
Third, the city does not have a plan for closing DC General and relocating any of the services located on the site. Though initially planned to be temporary, the city has continued to expand the DC General homeless shelter. The shelter now houses around 1,000 homeless individuals in a deteriorating building separated from the rest of neighborhood. In addition, the city operates a methadone and other clinics at the site, which already includes the DC Jail. Without a plan, the development community remains skeptical that the city is committed to closing DC General and developing Reservation 13.
Fourth, the city’s on again, off again strategy on the site has made it an inherently risky opportunity in the eyes of the development community. Development teams are reluctant to spend investment dollars on competitions with no winner.
To help this important project proceed forward, we urge the committee to ask DMPED the following questions:
- How does DMPED plan to proceed with the Donatelli-Blue Skye response? Do they plan to share the response with ANC 6B, ANC 7F and the surrounding community? Can they proceed with one response?
- Given the lack of responses to the RFEI, does DMPED and Mayor Gray plan to seek funding in the FY14 budget for infrastructure improvements at Reservation 13?
- How 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?
- What does DMPED plan to do to demonstrate to the development community that the city is serious about developing the Hill East waterfront?
After years of distractions, three RFPs and numerous delays, the city has lost credibility on this project in the eyes of both the development community and surrounding neighbors. However, ANC 6B and Hill East residents are committed to working with the Mayor, DMPED and our Ward 7 colleagues to finally get this project across the finish line. We see Reservation 13 not only for its potential to bring new jobs, housing and retail options to our neighborhoods, but also as a way to strengthen the connection between residents on both sides of the river.
Thank you for your time, and I’d be happy to answer any questions.