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What’s Up Now At Reservation 13?

Development is moving forward in Hill East. In March, Donatelli/Blue Skye are scheduled to appear before the District’s Zoning Commission (ZC) for design review and approval of two new buildings that will be built across the street from the DC Armory.

The hearing before the DC Zoning Board indicates forward motion on the large parcel of land now called the Hill East Development District, once known as Reservation 13. But the move comes more than two years after the development team was awarded a contract for the property and 22 years after the District first created a Master Plan to guide development at the site. Meanwhile, there has been no publicly visible motion on three other lots at the site awarded to another developer.

Former Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner (ANC) 6B10 Francis Campbell served on the ANC for 12 years starting in 2002, the year the city started planning for the site. Only three buildings have been built in the 21 years since then.

“Look what we’ve done throughout the city,” he said, comparing development at sites such as The Wharf and St. Elizabeth’s to construction at Hill East. “In my opinion, it sucks,” Campbell said.

The 67-acre property is technically located in Ward 7, just to the east of Capitol Hill. Originally a federal reserve (Reservation 13) it was transferred to DC by Congress in 2006. Generally, the site is bounded on the north by Independence Avenue and to the south by Congressional Cemetery. To the east is the Anacostia, buffered from the site by National Park Service (NPS) land; to the west is 19th Street SE, the edge of the existing Hill East neighborhood.

In 2002, after extensive community engagement, a Master Plan was created to guide redevelopment on the site, hoping to accommodate public services and neighborhood needs with mixed-use elements. New zoning codes were approved in 2009, setting the project up for development the following year.

However, the economic downturn caused the city to downsize the project in 2010. Instead of the full site, the District focused on two parcels, F1 and G1 to the east and just south of the Stadium-Armory Metro station. In 2012 the Office of the Deputy Mayor of Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) launched a request for expression of interest (RFEI) for the area.

One development team, Donatelli-Blue Skye, responded. The Donatelli-Blue Skye plan for parcels F-1 and G-1 included two mixed-use buildings with a total of 353 residential units and 25,678 square feet of retail. The project was expected to break ground in 2016 and be completed by 2018.

But the project did not break ground until spring 2018. Donatelli-Blue Skye finished the Park Kennedy (1901 C St. SE) in late 2020 and immediately began work on The Ethel (1900 C St. SE), 100 units of permanent supportive housing (PSH) which opened February 2023.

Map showing location of parcels to be developed. DMPED: HE PH II Disposition 15 Day Register Notice

Now complete, the two mixed-use buildings have a total of 353 residential units and space for 25,678 square feet of retail. Sala Thai (1901 C St. SE, Set A), in the Park Kennedy, opened in October 2023; Duffy’s Irish Pub opened next door a few months later. In November 2023, Donatelli-Blue Skye told a public meeting that the Park Kennedy was fully leased, with a daycare expected to fill the remaining space and said they are looking for retail tenants at The Ethel.

In November 2020, DMPED issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for two “bundles” at Hill East adding up to under 497,000 square feet total. A year later, Bowser selected developers for these bundles, located between Independence Avenue and the continuance of Massachusetts Avenue, east of St. Coletta School and the new Park Kennedy Apartments.

Blue Skye Development and Donatelli Development will develop Bundle 1, (Parcels A, B-1, B-2, F-2 and G-2). R13 Community Partners, a consortium of eight different developers who came together for the project, has been selected to develop Bundle 2, including parcels C, E and H.

R13 Community Partners have proposed a Mariott Hotel and a playground named for Relisha Rudd. This image is from the May 20, 2021 presentation. https://dmped.dc.gov/

A Hotel as Anchor on Bundle 2
Former Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander presented plans on behalf of R13 Community Partners (R13) for a $564-milion Phase II project. The plan includes a 150-room hotel as a flagship, seeking to make the area a tourist destination. In addition to the hotel, plans call for 1,120 rental and co-living apartments, 60,000 square feet of retail, 126 condos and townhomes and “multigenerational” park spaces. During presentations of the proposal, the team said they had received consent from the family of Relisha Rudd to dedicate a central playground with splash park in her name.

R13 had hoped to break ground at the end of this year. However, Alexander said that the economy had changed since the project began in 2021. While the plan is unchanged, she said the team needs to revamp project finances. The team is also working to finalize land disposition agreements and infrastructure design with a view to breaking ground in 2025.

Evens Charles of the contracting firm Frontier Development and Hospitality Group, one of eight members of the R13 partnership, gave a tentative timeline for the project. He said it will proceed in three phases, beginning with infrastructure and two apartment buildings near RFK; 12 months later, work will begin on the central park, with a memorial to RFK and a playground named for Relisha Rudd. Condos and townhomes “will probably be about 12 months after that,” Charles said.

More Residential on Bundle 1
In 2021, the Mayor selected Donatelli-Blue Skye to build on Bundle 1, located east and northeast of the work they were doing on The Ethel. The team, styling themselves as Hill East Parcel B LLC, will build on the A, B1 and B2 parcels, just east of St. Coletta of Greater Washington (1901 Independence Ave. SE).

The project will take over a portion of the school’s parking lot but developers say they will provide parking in the underground lot of the residential building. The larger of two buildings will go up on parcel B1, a seven-story, 350-unit residential apartment with a 238-space, two-level below-grade parking garage, at Independence Avenue at 21st Street SE. 100 of those spaces are allocated for the use of St. Coletta. A linear park along the residential building will be dedicated to the life and legacy of Robert F. Kennedy.

On B2, they will build a seven-story, 144-unit mixed-use building with 14,000 square feet of ground floor retail fronting along Burke Street. The two buildings will share access to a below-grade parking garage, a central courtyard and penthouse lounge in B1. Residential access is off 21st Street; a private drive will provide access to parking between the two entrances.

30 percent of residential units in both buildings will be affordable, half at 30 percent AMI and the other half at 50 percent AMI.

GTM DC designed The Park Kennedy and The Ethel and have also been tapped as the architect for the new buildings. In documents filed with the Board of Zoning, the team said “the architect’s overall approach is to create two distinct buildings that integrate signature elements for consistency and foster a pedestrian friendly experience.”

The parcels directly east of The Ethel and the Park Kennedy, F2 and G2, were also part of this RFP for Bundle 1, Plans for those two parcels were not submitted to the Zoning Commission for consideration in March. Donatelli President and CEO Chris Donatelli said the team wanted to get moving on the B1 and B2 parcels, where planning was most advanced. Parcels A, F2 and G2 will built up at a later date, he said.

Initial presentations indicated that developers wanted to put a grocery store in the large retail space fronting Burke Street. Donatelli said that while the team was not working with a particular retailer at this stage, a grocery store is a definite possibility as the project advances. “We don’t have a target retailer,” Donatelli said, “although I think a grocer would certainly be welcome by us and I think it would be something that would be additive to the community.”

Community Feedback

Neighbors have a mixed response to the news that ground could soon be broken on a new project. Some are simply pleased that development is finally moving forward.

Gary Peterson is the former Chair of the Capitol Hill Restoration Society (CHRS) Planning and Zoning Committee, and was part of the efforts to establish the plan for the area.

View of Donatelli-Blue Skye Phase II buildings, showing RFK Stadium in the background. Office of Zoning.

“If you look at what they’ve done, I think it looks really good,” said Peterson. He said he expected that the District’s Zoning Board would approve the Donatelli-Blue Skye application with little controversy.

“I’m just glad to see something being built there,” he said. “The more of that site that gets redeveloped, the less the hungry eyes of the city are going to come in and do something that will damage the plan.”

However, others were not part of the 2020 RFP process and want to know more about the project. ANCs were redistricted in 2022, and Commissioner Shirley Thompson-Wright (7F07) now represents the area to be developed in a new cross-river single member district.

Both ANCs have voted unanimously to send letters to the Board of Zoning requesting a delay of the hearing. Those include both ANC 7F and ANC 7D, the latter commission representing the Hill East community across 19th Street SE, which has not yet heard from the development team.

In putting forward the letter at a Jan. 31 special call meeting of ANC 7F, Thompson-Wright said it was done to allow time for community information sessions with the developer.

“I’m not saying that I want to oppose this situation,” Thompson-Wright continued, noting that she had some questions. “But I would like to get more information out to communities so that we can be working hand in hand with the developer and bring justice to our community with these developments being built.”

The ANC 7F resolution calls for Donatelli-Blue Skye to do in-person engagement with communities on both sides of the river in the next month, proposing an in-person meeting within the bounds of ANC 7F. Donatelli said that the team was working with the commission to secure a date in March. Check for updates at anc7f.com.

An earlier vesion misidentified the person to whom the park would be dedicated as Robert F. Kennedy Jr. The Hill Rag regrets the error.

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