What’s Going on With Reservation 13?

Deputy Mayor of Planning and Economic Development Brian T. Kenner speaking at the official opening of The Wharf on Oct. 12. Developers of The Wharf received approval for the project in 2006.

Reservation 13 has been the subject of development talk for the past decade and a half. Though a full development plan for the site was produced in consultation with the community in 2008, and a developer has been selected for work on two parcels, Capitol Hill residents are increasingly frustrated with the lack of progress.

Recent news and rumors about the fate of the nearby Central Detention Facility (DC Jail) and the inclusion of the site in the District’s response to an Amazon RFP as the location of a second corporate headquarters have upset residents even more and caused concern that development may be delayed even further or abandoned altogether.

Located on the east end of Capitol Hill, Reservation 13 has 67 acres of land bordering the Anacostia River. Originally a federal reserve, in 2006 an act of Congress transferred it to the District. In 2008, the District asked developers to submit plans for the site.

Community members contributed to a master plan in a series of public meetings, and the master plan became law in fall 2002. The Zoning Commission approved the first zoning codes for the site in preparation for development in 2009. With plans enshrined in law and zoning complete, redevelopment of the site appeared certain.

However, with the economy worsening and funding limited, the city downsized the project in 2010. Instead of developing the full site all at once, it decided to focus first on two parcels (F-1 and G-1) north of Massachusetts Avenue and east of 19th Avenue SE, just south of the Stadium-Armory Metro station.

In 2011, Reservation 13 was redistricted to Ward 7, angering many Ward 6 residents who had worked on plans for the property. The following year, the Office of the Deputy Mayor of Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) launched another request for expression of interest (RFEI) for the area. This time, only one development team, Donatelli-Blue Skye, responded.

Donatelli-Blue Skye
The Donatelli-Blue Skye plan for parcels F-1 and G-1 calls for two mixed-use buildings with a total of 353 residential units and 25,678 square feet of retail. The parcels are located immediately north of Massachusetts Avenue along 19th Avenue SE, just south of the entrance to the Stadium-Armory Metro station. The project was expected to break ground in 2016 and be completed by 2018.

At a meeting of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 6B’s Hill East Task Force held on Oct. 11, developers and District agencies were directly questioned about progress and delays. A one-year extension on the land disposition agreement (LDA) with the District had already been granted by Council resolution, extending the deadline to close on the property to Dec. 29 of this year. At the meeting, officials cited the complexity of infrastructure design and the long permitting processes.

Still, both Chris Donatelli of Donatelli Development and Sarosh Olpadwala, director of real estate of DMPED, guaranteed progress would start on the project in early 2018. “We’re very confident about our ability to close, and we should be underway and [have] the construction start in the December-January timeframe,” said Donatelli at the meeting.

“I want to say unequivocally, and without any uncertainty, we are closing on F-1 and G-1 by the end of the year,” Olpadwala added, “and we will break ground in the first quarter of 2018.”

Asked about DMPED’s progress on planning for the next phase of the site, Olpadwala said his office had been focused on phase one and not on what would happen afterward.

The DMPED representative made no mention of a forthcoming Amazon proposal.

So, Hill East residents following news of Reservation 13 were surprised on the morning of Monday, Oct. 16, when Mayor Muriel Bowser announced the four locations included in the District’s response to Amazon’s request for proposal (RFP) for its second headquarters, Amazon HQ2. The sites are in Capitol Riverfront, Shaw-Howard University, NoMa-Union Station, and Capitol Hill East on Reservation 13.

After 15 years of community consultation, and with a 10-year-old plan for the site, some community members feel the inclusion of the site means all their feedback has been devalued. Many feel they have been lied to.

ANC Commissioner Denise Krepp (6B10) said she has no reason to trust District agencies moving forward. “I have no confidence left in any of these agencies,” she said. “They have repeatedly lied and they were given multiple opportunities to tell the truth.”

Commissioner Daniel Ridge (6B09) said, “The Reservation 13 site is not a free space on the board. It has been the subject of an intensive planning and development process in which residents participate to the greatest extent the city allows.”

Asked why the director of real estate had not mentioned the inclusion of Reservation 13 in the city’s Amazon proposal, Deputy Mayor of Planning and Economic Development Brian T. Kenner pointed out that the Amazon RFP is a competitive process and, as a result, DMPED could not go public with information about the sites until all details had been finalized.

But he added that the proposal did not affect the phase-one plan for the site, and reinforced Oldpadwala’s statements at the Oct. 11 meeting. “There is no impact on [the Donatelli-Blue Skye] plans. We will continue as we indicated in the meeting the other night,” Kenner said.

Councilmember Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) said the selection of so many sites in proximity to Ward 6 “confirms what we already know – this is an incredible community to live, work, and play in,” but added that the selection of Reservation 13 as part of the Hill East site gave him pause. “It’s unclear to me how a campus of nearly eight million square feet of office could align with the community vision and planning that’s taken place for this site,” he said.

Councilmember Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7) had no comment for this story and has made no formal comment on the Amazon RFP.

What About the DC Jail?
The inclusion of Reservation 13 in the Amazon proposal raises the fate of the Central Detention Facility (DC Jail). While not located on Reservation 13, the corrections center is located directly adjacent to the site. The facility, originally constructed in 1972, is in need of upgrade and improvement.

Under former Mayor Vincent Gray, the District Public Safety Master Plan (completed in 2015) recommended that the city build a criminal justice center at Blue Plains. Mayor Bowser deemed the plan unfeasible in 2016.

DMPED officials and the Office of Public-Private Partnerships (OP3), a small office tasked with building relationships with private enterprise in order to fund major infrastructure projects, have both said there are no plans to build a correctional facility on any site. But statements made to the press seem to indicate differently. Earlier this year, the deputy director and counsel for OP3, Judah Gluckman, told the Washington Business Journal that his office would issue a request for qualifications for the project in the spring, in addition to looking at unsolicited offers. The request was not issued.

Until Oct. 2, a corrections center project was listed as “in procurement” on the “Project Pipeline” section of the OP3 website. An OP3 spokesperson said that this was an error, and it was removed.

Kevin Donahue, deputy mayor for public safety and justice, said, “Currently, the District is not considering any proposals for the reconstruction of the DC Jail.” However, Donahue added that during the unsolicited proposal period, OP3 received four proposals for the DC Jail, but that all were reviewed, declined, and returned. “The Bowser Administration will ensure a thoughtful public engagement process is part of any plans for a replacement detention facility and Hill East redevelopment,” said Donahue.

Asked whether Amazon would want its second headquarters to abut the DC Jail, Kenner said, “These are questions that no one knows the answer to right now. We purposely did not include any of the jail site at all in this conversation, and so there is no idea how Amazon would respond. Amazon would probably have to answer that question.”

For Now, Nothing
On a neighborhood Facebook site, one resident said that they were theoretically in favor of an Amazon headquarters but doubted anything would ever come of the site, saying in part, “It seems the mayor’s office is just intent to keeping Res13 as a pocket site for whatever pitch may come up in the future and not work with the community to make forward progress.”

To those who live nearby and walk by the area every day, there may appear to be little progress. Despite the expectation that the Donatelli-Blue Skye project would be complete by next year, no work is in progress on the Reservation 13 site. It remains to be seen when construction will begin and what development, if any, will take place.