Testimony on Sense of the Council for Closing DC General Shelter Resolution of 2014

July 10, 2014

This afternoon, I’m delivering ANC 6B’s testimony on PR20-854, Sense of the Council for Closing DC General Shelter Resolution of 2014 at a Public Oversight Roundtable being held by the DC Council’s Committee on Human Services. Below is the full text of my testimony.

Good afternoon Chairman Graham and members of the Committee on Human Services. 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 is located immediately west of the DC General campus, located on 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 express ANC 6B’s strong support for Resolution 20-854, Sense of the Council for Closing DC General Shelter Resolution of 2014. I’m testifying on behalf of ANC 6B, which approved my testimony 10-0 during its July 8, 2014 meeting with a quorum present.

As you know, ANC 6B supports the closure of the temporary family emergency shelter at DC General. We view housing so many incredibly needy families in such deplorable conditions, including a large number of families with children, as an outrage and embarrassment to our city and as completely counterproductive to the ultimate goal of ending homelessness.

When the city started housing homeless families at DC General in 2008, it was announced as a temporary measure. Soon after the shelter opened, the city began housing more and more families at the old hospital, particularly as shelters were closed in other parts of the city. Instead of working to find suitable housing and shelter options within existing neighborhoods, city leaders chose the politically convenient approach of housing more and more families and individuals in a deteriorating, depressing building totally separated from the surrounding neighborhood and city.

In addition to the shelter, the city opened and expanded clinics at the site, including a methadone clinic. So, in addition to an overconcentration of people, the site has an overconcentration of services.

You have held a number of hearings on the topic of DC General, Mr. Chairman, and have heard directly from shelter residents about poor, unsafe conditions at the deteriorating old hospital campus. DC General should not be our city’s answer to addressing homelessness. ANC 6B strongly believes that the city’s goal should be closing DC General and transitioning homeless families and individuals to better housing options. We also believe that these alternative housing options, including a smaller scale shelter and permanent supportive housing, should be a part of the Reservation 13/Hill East Development.

The lack of a humane and holistic plan for housing homeless individuals in this city concerns us greatly, and developing such a plan should be a top priority of the Mayor and the Council. We support PR20-854 because it is a step in the right direction. The resolution outlines clear benchmarks that the city must meet to close DC General, and we urge the Mayor and Council to pursue strategies to achieve these benchmarks immediately.

To that end, we would ask that the committee consider amending the resolution to strengthen the time component. While we appreciate the resolution’s reference to closing DC General before the height of the 2014-2015 hypothermia season, our preference would be for the resolution to set a date, or request that the Mayor set a date, for DC General to be closed. Setting such a date would have the combined effect of pushing the Mayor and Council to develop a plan to achieve the benchmarks and to provide the funding necessary to identify and invest in better housing alternatives for families at the shelter.

Another option would be to amend the resolution to direct the Mayor and Council to produce a plan to achieve the benchmarks by the fall of 2014 or spring of 2015. Without some sort of time component, we fear that both the Mayor and Council will ignore this resolution to the detriment of shelter residents and the city.

Once a plan to close DC General is in place, the Mayor and Council will have to make the investments necessary to make it happen. We support the idea that the savings from the closure of DC General (around $14 billion a year) should be used to fund alternative emergency shelter capacity. And we agree that the Mayor and Council need to fully fund homelessness prevention and affordable housing programs such as permanent supportive housing, rapid rehousing and the local rent supplement program. Of course, it is easy to state this in a resolution versus actually funding these investments in the budget. We are going to need the Mayor and Council to follow through on these commitments.

Finally, we want to thank you, Chairman Graham, for introducing this resolution and for your strong support and commitment to closing DC General and identifying better housing options for homeless families. We also want to thank the seven other co-sponsors, especially Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells and Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander, for recognizing that DC General should not be our city’s answer to addressing homelessness.

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


Neighborhood Town Hall Project Updates

June 30, 2014

A big thanks to all who attended my June 19th Neighborhood Town Hall meeting. I’m particularly grateful to Kristi, Sam and the Curbside Cupcake Team for hosting the town hall at Curbside Cafe.

If you missed the meeting, here are some brief updates on major projects happening in Hill East.

Hill East Development/Reservation 13
The Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development and the Donatelli/Blue Skye Development team continue to negotiate at Land Disposition Agreement for Phase I (parcels F1 & G1) of the Hill East Development (Reservation 13). DMPED hopes to have a LDA ready for DC Council consideration this fall.

I also shared my concerns about the impact of DC’s Olympic bid on mixed-use development plans for Reservation 13.

DC General
We discussed the Zoning Commission’s recent ruling to allow the Harriet Tubman Women’s Shelter to move from DC General’s Building 9 to a Building 27 for a period of 5 years. The city has also announced its intent to demolish Building 9 once the relocation is complete.

While Building 9’s planned demolition is progress, there has been significantly less progress made by the city in closing the main DC General Family Shelter. Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham, who chairs the Council’s Committee on a Human Services, has introduced a Sense of the Council Resolution that calls for the closure of DC General once certain benchmarks are met. Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be a plan or significant funding in the FY15 budget to make closure a reality anytime soon. I will continue pushing the city to craft a plan and announce a date for closure of DC General.

17th and 19th Streets a Safety Improvement Project
DDOT informed me last week of a significant delay in construction of the safety improvements to 17th Street SE (narrowing to one lane, adding a bike lane, adding curb extensions, etc.). The improvements, originally scheduled to be implemented in spring 2014, will now not happen until Fall 2015. The reason appears to be some previously unannounced DC Water water main replacement work between C Street SE and Potomac Ave SE that is scheduled to happen in Dec. 2014/Jan. 2015.

Needless to say, an additional 18 month delay on these much needed safety improvements is unacceptable. I plan to ask ANC 6B to support sending a letter to DC Water asking why the neighborhood were not previously notified of this work and why their construction timeline cannot be expedited.

DDOT does plan to begin construction on the 19th Street improvements this fall.

Eastern Branch Building
The Department of a General Services is working to schedule the required public hearing on the disposition of the Eastern a Branch Building. The hearing will likely take place at the end of July or in September. DGS must hold a public hearing before issuing it’s planned Request for Offers (RFO) for the building. The department does plan to include ANC 6B’s comments(pdf) as part of the RFO.

Barney Circle-Southeast Boulevard Study
I’ve been part of a group of ANC 6B Commissioners who have been meeting with Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells, the District Department of Transportation and the Office of Planning to discuss how to improve DDOT’s design options for the Barney Circle-Southeast Boulevard project. The Office of Planning is conducting a “rapid planning study” of the project with recommendations due out sometime this fall. ANC 6B’s Transportation Committee will be discussing the status of the study at the committee’s Wed., July 2 meeting, 7 pm at the Hill Center (921 Pennsylvania Ave SE). Once the study’s recommendations are finalized, ANC 6B and Councilmember Wells will hold larger community meetings to discuss the results.

How DC’s Olympic Bid Could Affect Hill East

June 16, 2014

On June 13, the United States Olympic Committee announced that DC is a finalist to be the U.S. bid city for the 2024 Summer Olympic Games. In a press release, Ted Leonsis, vice chair of DC 2024, the committee of local business leaders working on the DC bid, stated:

“This is about how investments will accelerate existing development plans for Washington, Virginia and Maryland to create a permanent legacy of affordable housing, employment, transportation and environmental improvements in our neighborhoods. It is also about the Washington region building the most transparent, greenest, most wired and most athlete-centric Games in history. And it is about bringing the world to Washington and bringing Washington to the world.”

Well, given that there is almost zero information about the bid, budget and venues on the DC 2024 website, the “most transparent” games in history are off to a shaky start. But the Leonsis quote also gets at another common argument made by supporters of hosting an Olympics – that the two-week extravaganza can address major issues and concerns facing the host city. The reference to affordable housing is not an accident as everyone is aware of the lack of affordable housing in DC. But do we need to spend $10+ billion to bring the Olympics to DC to address the city’s affordable housing crisis?

Olympics supporters also like to point out how the event can increase civic pride, boost tourism and push cities to invest in infrastructure and transportation improvements that will benefit residents after the games are over. In a July 2012 article in The Atlantic, Andrew Zimbalist, an economist from Smith College who studies the economic impact of mega-sporting events, does a great job of debunking these arguments. Unlike other cities, we certainly do not need the Olympics to boost tourism or put us on the map. And we shouldn’t invest millions in sports infrastructure that will be rarely used.

While all DC residents should be concerned about a potential Olympic bid, Hill East residents should be especially concerned. Why? Though DC 2024 has not released any information about the location of proposed venues, the Washington Post has reported that the current RFK Stadium site is under consideration for a new Olympic stadium. And given the need for numerous other venues to be located in close proximity to housing for the athletes, I think it is safe to assume that Reservation 13, the 67-acre site of the former DC General hospital campus that sits immediately south of RFK Stadium, is also under consideration in the plans.

This is not good news for our neighborhood. The city has just moved forward on the first phase of the long-stalled, community-supported Reservation 13 master plan. And with DC United set to move out of RFK Stadium in the coming years, the city has an opportunity to think creatively about future uses of this critical site. The Olympics bid potentially puts all of this on hold and creates additional uncertainty about development plans.

If Reservation 13 and RFK Stadium are part of the Olympics  bid, I hope DC 2024 and city officials will answer the following questions:

  1. How will the Olympics benefit Hill East? The land targeted for Olympic venues is already valuable and will be even more so in the coming years. What is the opportunity cost of locking this land up for the Olympics versus pursuing mixed-use development now?
  2. Why is an Olympic stadium used for two weeks and perhaps 10 days annually thereafter the best future use for the RFK Stadium site? I’ve previously shared my concerns about building a new stadium.
  3. What advantages does an Olympic plan for Reservation 13 have over the community-supported master plan? Why should we develop this land to the specifications of the International Olympic Committee versus the reality of what best serves the neighborhood and city?
  4. Does Reservation 13’s inclusion in the Olympic bid mean the city really does have a strategy in place for relocating the emergency homeless shelters and other services at Reservation 13? It is amazing how supposedly insurmountable political obstacles tend to crumble when sports-related facilities are proposed (see training facility debate).
  5. How much is DC 2024 (or more likely, the city) going to spend to building Olympic venues and housing at RFK/Reservation 13?
  6. What is the city’s current involvement in the Olympics bid? Does Mayor Gray support the bid? And who on the Council supports the bid?

Of course, there is no guarantee that DC will be selected as the U.S. bid city (Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco are also in the running) nor is there a guarantee DC will ultimately be selected to host the games. But the longer that DC stays in the running, the more likely the unacceptable status quo for both RFK Stadium and Reservation 13 remains in place. And that would be a shame for the city and Hill East.

What do you think about DC’s Olympic bid and its potential impact on Hill East? Post your thoughts below.


DC General Building 9 to Be Demolished

June 10, 2014

During a June 5 Zoning Commission hearing, representatives from the DC Department of General Services testified that the city plans to demolish Building 9 on the DC General campus and that DGS, working with the Mayor’s Budget Office, had identified the estimated $2 million needed to raze the building this coming year.

As I wrote in a previous post, the city is relocating the Harriet Tubman Women’s Shelter from Building 9 to Building 27 on the DC General campus. The relocation is due to hazardous and unsafe conditions in Building 9, particularly in the 85 percent of the building not used by the shelter. Since Reservation 13 is zoned to conform with the Reservation 13 master plan, the city needs to get zoning relief to allow the shelter relocation to happen.

Originally, the Office of Planning sought a text amendment that would have allowed shelter use permanently in either Building 9 or Building 27 (not both) and referenced the Department of Human Services’ plan to move the shelter back to Building 9 once renovation was complete. In a May 14 submission to the Zoning Commission, ANC 6B objected to the text amendment and urged the Zoning Commission to require OP to seek a time-limited special exception to allow the temporary shelter use. ANC 6B also urged the Zoning Commission and city to signal intent to demolish Building 9.

After consulting with DGS, DHS, the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development and reviewing ANC 6B’s comments (pdf), the Office of Planning revised their text amendment to limit the use to Building 27 for period of 5 years. Though I testified (pdf) on behalf of ANC 6B for the special exception, the Zoning Commission approved OP’s revised amendment. While this was not exactly what we wanted, adding a time limit was big move in our direction.

Though getting a time-limit included in the text amendment was a big news, the bigger news was the DGS announcement that the city plans to raze Building 9 this coming year once the women’s shelter is relocated to Building 27. The demolition of Building 9 opens up the northern third of the Reservation 13 site (parcels B1, B2 and C) for development and certainly signals the city’s commitment to the Reservation 13 master plan. Overall, a good outcome for both the residents of the women’s shelter and for the development vision for the site.

I really appreciate DGS, DHS, DMPED and OP’s willingness to revise their original text amendment and find funding to raze Building 9. I’m also appreciative that the Zoning Commission agreed to include a time-limit on the temporary use in Building 27. And, finally, I’m grateful to my colleagues on ANC 6B for supporting  a strong position on this issue and to former ANC 6B Commissioner Ken Jarboe for sharing his expertise and advice on the zoning issues at hand.

You can watch a replay of the June 5 Zoning Commission hearing on the Office of Zoning website.

The Right Approach to Relocating the Women’s Shelter at DC General

May 23, 2014
Current and proposed location of Harriet Tubman Women's Shelter on DC General Campus. Diagram from DC Office of Planning's prehearing statement.

Current and proposed location of Harriet Tubman Women’s Shelter on DC General Campus. Diagram from DC Office of Planning’s prehearing statement.

The DC Department of General Services needs to move residents out of the current Harriet Tubman Women’s Shelter in DC General’s Building 9 to Building 27. Why? The city has determined that Building 9 is in extremely poor condition and poses potential safety and health hazards, particularly in the unoccupied areas of the building (only 10 percent of the large building is currently used for the shelter). Building 27, which used to house the offices of the city’s chief medical examiner, has been recently renovated and abated. DGS plans to temporarily house up to 100 women in the portion of Building 27 previously used as office space. DCist has a nice recap of the May 8 community meeting where DGS outlined the relocation plans.

Before DGS can begin the process of moving the shelter, the city needs to seek zoning relief to allow the move to happen. The DC General campus is located on Reservation 13, a site with zoning for mixed-use development consistent with the city-approved Reservation 13 master plan. The existing shelter uses on the site – the women’s shelter and the emergency family shelter in the core building – are not permitted under the site’s Hill East District zoning but were grandfathered in when the zoning was approved in 2009.

At the request of DGS, the DC Office of Planning is seeking a text amendment (pdf) to the Hill East District that would allow for a temporary emergency shelter serving up to 100 residents at either Building 9 or Building 27 but not both. OP argues that the text amendment would allow the relocation to happen while ensuring that the shelter use is limited to one building or the other. The Zoning Commission will consider OP’s text amendment request during a June 5 hearing. The Zoning Commission already approved the requested change on emergency basis set to expire in July.

The problem with OP’s text amendment is that it permanently changes the Hill East District zoning, potentially allowing an inconsistent use to exist in Building 9 or Building 27 in perpetuity. Why does the city need to permanently change the Hill East District zoning for a temporary relocation?

Fortunately, the Hill East District zoning already includes a process by which the city or any applicant can seek a special exception to temporarily allow a use that is inconsistent with the zoning. In our letter to the Zoning Commission (pdf), ANC 6B outlines two options the city can use to seek the zoning relief needed through the special exception process. We also argue that any ruling should make it clear that the women’s shelter should not be permitted to move back to Building 9 and that the deteriorating, unsafe building should be demolished (DGS has stated publicly that they have no plans to renovate the building).

Of course, I’d prefer that the city have an actual plan to find better, safer housing options for residents of both the women’s shelter and the temporary emergency family shelter at DC General. Unfortunately, temporary uses tend to turn into permanent uses at Reservation 13, which makes it all the more critical that any zoning changes are temporary and not permanent.

ANC 6B May Meeting Recap

May 16, 2014

We had a packed agenda and full house for ANC 6B’s monthly commission meeting on May 13. Here is a brief recap of the major actions.

  • The commission voted 9-0-1 to send comments (pdf) to the DC Department of General Services on their planned Request for Offers for the Eastern Branch Building (261 17th Street SE). The comments included feedback received by ANC 6B’s Hill East Task Force at two April community meetings on the topic. DGS is currently working to schedule a public hearing on the building and plans to issue the RFO this summer. Thanks to all who attended the meetings and weighed in on the future of this important building.
  • On the relocation of the Harriet Tubman Women’s Shelter at DC General, ANC 6B voted 9-0-1 to send a letter (pdf) to the Zoning Commission opposing the city’s request to permanently change zoning on Reservation 13. Instead, the commission supports the city seeking a special exception to allow the shelter to move from Building 9 to Building 27. A special exception would keep the existing zoning in place and would allow the Zoning Commission to put a time limit on the use. I plan to write a separate post on the shelter relocation issue soon.
  • ANC 6B voted unanimously to support the public space permit application for outdoor seating at Curbside Cafe (257 15th Street SE).
  • The commission voted 8-0-2 to oppose a fast food special exception request for &Pizza, a local restaurant chain that wants to open a location at 405 8th Street SE (currently Oxx0 Dry Cleaners). However, the commission also voted to support the owner’s request to delay his Board of Zoning Adjustment hearing to allow more time for negotiation. I was one of the abstentions on this vote. While I understand neighbor concerns about the number of fast food restaurants and rodent problem on the 400 block of 8th Street SE, &Pizza would be a welcome addition and would not contribute to the rodent problem like some existing tenants on the block. I’m hopeful that a compromise can be reached.
  • After a back and forth between the owner, commissioners and neighbors, the commission voted unanimously to approve a new settlement agreement with Nooshi (524 8th Street SE). The new agreement will allow the restaurant to seek permission to serve food/drinks on its elevated outdoor patio deck.
  • The commission voted 10-0 to support sending comments to the District Department of Transportation on its new policy regarding private use/improvements of pocket parks. ANC 6B wants to ensure that DDOT policy protects open space and provides ANCs an opportunity to review permit applications for private improvements to triangle and pocket parks. The Capitol Hill Corner blog has more background on the pocket park controversy.
  • A request for a fast food special exception for the vacant commercial space at 1400 Pennsylvania Avenue SE was withdrawn from the ANC 6B agenda by the owners of New York Pizza (1401 Penn Ave SE). The owners, who plan to expand their operations, have asked for a delay in the case.
  • ANC 6B’s June meeting will be on Tuesday, June 10, 7 pm at the Hill Center (921 Pennsylvania Ave SE).

*UPDATED*Hill East Cases on May 13 ANC 6B Agenda

May 13, 2014

ANC 6B will be discussing and voting on a number of Hill East cases during tonight’s full commission meeting, 7 pm at the Hill Center (921 Pennsylvania Avenue SE). Here is a brief rundown:

  • Sidewalk Cafe Application for Curbside Cafe – The owners of Curbside Cafe (257 15th Street SE) are seeking a public space permit to allow outdoor seating at their location. I fully support this application ANC 6B’s Planning & Zoning Committee unanimously recommended approval of the application and it will be on the commission’s consent agenda.
  • Fast Food Special Exception for 1400 Penn Ave SE – The owners of New York Pizza (1401 Pennsylvania Ave SE) are seeking to expand their operation across the street to the vacant commercial space at 1400 Pennsylvania Ave SE. To do so, they need to ask the Board of Zoning Adjustment for a fast food special exception. Assuming the owners can address the trash, delivery and other concerns of nearby neighbors, I’m still puzzled why NY Pizza would seek to operate the same restaurant on both sides of Penn Ave. I hope to get some answers tonight. This case will likely be considered in the 7:45-8:15 pm time frame.
  • Relocation of Women’s Shelter at DC General/Reservation 13 – Due to environmental and safety concerns, the city needs to relocate the Harriet Tubman Women’s Shelter from Building 9 to Building 27 on the DC General campus. To allow this to happen, the Office of Planning is asking the Zoning Commission to approve a text amendment (pdf) to the Hill East District zoning (the zoning code that exists for Reservation 13). I’m going to encourage my colleagues to oppose the text amendment and instead urge the Zoning Commission to approve a time-limited special exception to allow the move. I’d also like to see demolition of Building 9 clearly stated in the final order. This case will likely be considered in the 8:45-9:00 pm time frame.
  • Comments on Planned Eastern Branch Building RFO – The commission will consider final comments to the DC Department of General Services on the planned Request for Offers for the Eastern Branch Building (261 17th Street SE). The comments reflect the community feedback ANC 6B’s Hill East Task Force heard during our two April community meetings. This case will likely be considered in the 9:00 pm hour.

Updated 5/13/14 1:00 pm – The applicant for the fast food exception for 1400 Pennsylvania Avenue SE has withdrawn the case from tonight’s agenda. This may move up commission consideration of the DC General and Eastern Branch letters.