Testimony on Res. 13 at Feb. 11 DMPED Oversight Hearing

This afternoon, I testified at the DC Council’s Committee on Economic Development oversight hearing for the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development . My testimony, posted below, focused mainly on the status of development plans for Reservation 13, though I also commented briefly on the Hine redevelopment. ANC 6B retroactively approved my testimony during tonight’s (Feb. 11) full commission meeting.  

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 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’d also like to share some brief thoughts on the Hine development. I’m testifying on behalf of myself and not on behalf of ANC 6B, though the commission will consider retroactively approving my testimony at tonight’s Feb. 11 commission meeting. My testimony is consistent with ANC 6B’s support of mixed use development at Reservation 13 and the Hine PUD.

In June 2013, ANC 6B voted unanimously to support moving forward with the Donatelli/Blue Skye response to DMPED’s Request for Expressions of Interest in parcels F1 and G1 of the Hill East Development. In September 2013, DMPED announced that the city would move forward with the Donatelli/Blue Skye response. The response – which consists of two mixed-use residential/retail buildings next to the Stadium-Armory Metro– is consistent with the community-supported Reservation 13 master plan and the Hill East District zoning on the site. I believe that the Donatelli/Blue Skye plans will help catalyze development on the rest of the site, assuming Mayor Gray, DMPED and the DC Council make the investments and policy decisions necessary to make the long-stalled vision of the Hill East waterfront a reality.

Currently, DMPED and Donatelli/Blue Skye are in negotiations on a final agreement which must be approved by the DC Council. I’d like the committee to ask Deputy Mayor Hoskins and his team:

1) When do they anticipate bringing a final agreement on the first phase of the Hill East Development to the Council?
2) Since this project is finally set to begin, how much funding is the Mayor and DMPED requesting in the FY15 budget related to the Hill East Development? As I’ve mentioned in previous testimony, public funding will be needed to extend public roads/sewers, demolish buildings and to mitigate any environmental concerns on the Hill East site.

I also urge Mayor Gray and DMPED 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. Instead, the city should be looking to other alternatives for serving the homeless population in less concentrated settings.

• Developing a plan for transitioning social services located on the site. The Reservation 13 master plan envisions, and I certainly supports, 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 Hoskins 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?
5) Does DMPED plan to talk more about the Hill East Development in the coming year? Last year, I didn’t see the Hill East Development referenced in any of the Mayor’s presentations on economic development. I’ll be curious to see if it made DMPED’s presentation today.

After years of distractions, three RFPs and numerous delays, I’m pleased that the Hill East Development is finally moving forward. This is just the first step to bringing mixed-use development to Reservation 13. The ultimate goal remains the achievement of the Council-adopted and community supported Reservation 13 master plan which, when completed, will finally connect the eastern end of Capitol Hill to the Anacostia waterfront.

I’d also like to share a couple of additional comments on the Planned Unit Development process for the Hine School redevelopment. As you know, the Zoning Commission has approved the PUD but the project is currently stalled by pending litigation.

First, I’d like to raise the issue of transparency. I believe the record now reflects that DMPED mishandled the Freedom of Information Act request submitted by community members and needlessly delayed and limited access to information that was appropriate for the public domain. Irrespective of the content of that information and its relevance to any proceeding, the mishandling of this request undermined the spirit of the public process around these types of developments and is not consistent with the city’s commitment to an open and transparent government.

Second, I want to raise a broader point about the PUD process itself. PUDs typically happen on straight forward property purchases where the owner has full ownership and is simply seeking to obtain zoning relief through the PUD. The community and affected ANC then negotiates appropriate levels of benefits, amenities and mitigation with the owner, with the Zoning Commission eventually approving the PUD and the package of benefits. In the case of Hine, the PUD process came after and RFP process, which included a very lengthy, closed door negotiation between DMPED and the selected developer to set the terms for benefits and amenities.

I certainly understand the need for closed door negotiations after the city closes an RFP process and selects a developer. However, I also believe that the community should be involved in helping set the parameters for these negotiations, particularly when it comes to desired benefits and amenities. Our ANC approached the RFP process with a fairly well publicized and organized process, but the commission’s entire focus was on which development team to support. Presumably this was somewhat predicated on the idea that the real discussion benefits and amenities would happen in the PUD process. We now know that the major conversation on benefits and amenities happened during DMPED’s closed door negotiations with the development team. To its credit, DMPED’s aggressive negotiations produced a well-defined and directed list of benefits and amenities to be delivered by the project.
Given the experience of ANC 6B, I encourage DMPED and the Council to consider strategies or ideas on how to engage the community and ANCs in helping set the parameters for benefits and amenities in situations where a PUD follows a city-led RFP process.

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

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