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).