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

February 11, 2014

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.

Vincent Orange’s “Vision” for the RFK Stadium Site

December 19, 2013

I first learned of Councilmember (and mayoral candidate) Vincent Orange’s District of Columbia Sports and Entertainment Complex Feasibility Study Act of 2013 on November 7, the day it was introduced. The bill 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.

Based on media reports, I fully expected B20-563 to be 1-2 pages of legislative text. Instead, the bill is 15 pages long, detailing every pet project Councilmember Orange and others have dreamed up for the site. Here are some examples of what is included.

  • A proposed “hotel zone” would include a minimum of three hotels, adding a combined total of 1000 rooms to the site. The hotel zone would also include a 24/7 spa, fitness and wellness establishment that includes an Olympic size pool, leisure pool, children’s pool and sauna. And don’t forget the “health conscious café open 7 days a week featuring juice and smoothies bar, organic foods and healthy eating options.”
  • Apparently, the more than 1,000 hotel rooms in the hotel zone are not enough, because the bill also calls for another 200-300 room three star hotel to go along with the indoor waterpark resort. The waterpark also includes 15,000 sq. ft. of conference and meeting facilities. I’m not sure why you would build conference and meeting facilities in the waterpark and a pool facility in the hotel zone.
  • The detail for the hotel zone and indoor waterpark pales in comparison to the detail provided on the multimedia soundstage. The soundstage, which apparently would be in the DC Armory, includes everything from a television recording studio and production offices to green rooms and a paint shop.
  • The bill does call for retail on the site, mainly in the “Robert F. Kennedy Domed Stadium Complex” which includes the 100,000 seat stadium, two “nationally recognized” department stores, two nationally recognized family restaurant chains, one nationally recognized chain bar or nightclub, one nationally recognized high end restaurant, one nationally recognized movie theatre, one independently owned restaurant and a beer garden. The bill is silent on whether the beer garden must be nationally recognized.
  • The bill does call for some housing on the site, but it is very vague. There would apparently be affordable housing units for low-income residents and students. It is also unclear as to where the housing would be built.

This is a small sampling of the ridiculous level of detail in the bill (I didn’t even mention the required 3D model). It would be laughable, except five (!) additional councilmembers joined Councilmember Orange in co-introducing the bill – Councilmembers Alexander, Barry, Bonds, Evans and Graham. This tally is one short of a Council majority.

Apparently, almost half of the DC Council actually thinks it is worth taxpayer dollars to study Councilmember Orange’s dreamland. Why would we build more than 1,000 additional hotel rooms for a stadium that will 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? And why would we fund this study when Mayor Gray has already asked Events DC to conduct a study on future uses for the RFK Stadium site? (Events DC has already posted a Request for Expressions of Interest seeking a consultant to conduct the study)

Clearly, Councilmember Orange’s plan is not feasible and not in the best interests of the city. Instead of wasting taxpayer dollars on a poorly thought out study, the DC Council should look to fund realistic future uses for the site – uses that serve both residents and visitors. An example is the Capitol Riverside Youth Sports Park proposal, which aims to turn a portion of the stadium’s north parking lots into recreational fields. Not only is this project feasible, it also responds to a critical need for more recreational field space in the city.

What do you think about Councilmember Orange’s vision for the RFK Stadium site?

ANC 6B Urges Veto of Bill Delaying Elected AG

October 13, 2013

With the federal government shutdown dominating the local news, a pretty outrageous move by the DC Council has flown under the radar.

In Nov. 2010, roughly 76 percent of DC voters voted in favor of a charter amendment that called for the election of an attorney general in 2014. Currently, the attorney general is appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by the DC Council. Supporters of the amendment argued that DC’s attorney general should be independent of the Mayor, and voters overwhelmingly agreed.

Fast forward to earlier this month. On Oct. 1, the DC Council voted 7-6 to approve legislation that delays the election of an attorney general until 2018, effectively thwarting the will of DC voters. The excuses given by supporters of the delay – a lack of candidates, not enough time to set up the office, etc. – were particularly weak. This Washington Post article provides a brief summary of the debate.

During ANC 6B’s October 8 meeting, I asked my commission colleagues to support sending the following letter to Mayor Gray urging him to veto the bill. I’m not optimistic about a veto, but I am hopeful that the commission’s action will at least draw needed attention to this outrageous bill. I’m grateful that an overwhelming majority of my colleagues agreed to send the letter.

If the Mayor doesn’t veto the bill, it could be thrown out in the courts. Former Council candidate Paul Zukerburg has filed suit against the Council and the DC Board of Elections arguing that delaying the AG election violates DC voter rights.

Here is how Councilmembers voted on the bill:

FOR the AG Delay: Marion Barry, (Ward 8), Anita Bonds (At-Large), Muriel Bowser (Ward 4), Mary Cheh (Ward 3),  Jack Evans (Ward 2), Jim Graham (Ward 1), Vincent Orange (At-Large)

AGAINST the AG Delay: Phil Mendelson (Chairman), Yvette Alexander (Ward 7), David Catania (At-Large), David Grosso (At-Large), Kenyan McDuffie (Ward 5), Tommy Wells (Ward 6)

Text of ANC 6B’s letter below:

October 9, 2013

The Honorable Vincent C. Gray
District of Columbia
John A. Wilson Building
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC

Dear Mayor Gray,

Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6B strongly urges you to veto Bill 20-134, the Elected Attorney General Implementation and Legal Service Establishment Act of 2013. ANC 6B voted 7-1 to send this letter at a properly noticed meeting with a quorum present on October 8, 2013.

During the November 2, 2010 General Election, DC voters overwhelmingly approved Proposed Charter Amendment IV, the Elected Attorney General Proposed Charter Amendment. More than 90,000 DC residents voted in favor of the proposed charter amendment (roughly 76 percent of voters), including more than 12,500 voters in Ward 6. At the time, voters were told that if the amendment was approved, they would begin voting for an attorney general in 2014.

On October 1, 2013, a narrow majority of the Council of the District of Columbia voted 7-6 to approve Bill 20-134, legislation that thwarts the intent of Proposed Charter Amendment IV by delaying the election of an attorney general to 2018. During the Council debate, supporters of the legislation claimed that the city is not yet ready for an elected attorney general and pointed to a lack of announced candidates.

ANC 6B notes that the city had four years to prepare for an elected attorney general, plenty of time to organize the office and outline its responsibilities. In addition, there are currently a number of DC Council seats up for election in 2014 without declared candidates. We believe that all elected positions in 2014 – including attorney general – will have qualified candidates if allowed on the ballot.

We are most outraged at the thought that seven of our elected Councilmembers, all of whom claim to support DC voting rights and statehood, would vote to overrule the wishes of DC residents using the same rhetoric and excuses given by DC voting rights opponents. The District of Columbia, like any other state, is more than ready for an elected attorney general.

Again, ANC 6B strongly urges you to respect the will of DC voters by vetoing Bill 20-134.


Brian Flahaven
Chair, ANC 6B

Chairman Phil Mendelson
Councilmember Yvette Alexander
Councilmember Marion Barry
Councilmember Anita Bonds
Councilmember Muriel Bowser
Councilmember David Catania
Councilmember Mary Cheh
Councilmember Jack Evans
Councilmember Jim Graham
Councilmember David Grosso
Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie
Councilmember Vincent Orange
Councilmember Tommy Wells