Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A Brief History of Hill East Waterfront

This project is part of the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative, a development plan led by the District government that involved multiple agencies, thousands of stakeholders, 19 Federal agencies and Congress. Developing vibrant communities along the Anacostia River is described by the District Government as a laudable goal that enriches the entire city. The Hill East Master Plan is not something that a few community members decided would be a good idea to enhance their neighborhood. It is a plan that was indeed developed with community involvement but was led by well-respected urban planners and architects, both city agency staff members and consultants, based on solid urban planning practices. The concepts behind the development, both the Hill East Waterfront as well as the other planned developments along the Anacostia Riverfront, have garnered the attention of the global architecture and planning community. Extending the urban fabric into the site, that is the city street grid, with building scales appropriate to the site and the city in general, along with the mixed-used nature is really just a description of a city neighborhood. It transcends Wards. 


 A brief synopsis to bring newcomers up to speed, or to just refresh other's memories: Over 10 years ago, the city started the planning process of what to do with the 67-acre site, then called Reservation 13. Although many city buildings were located on this campus-like setting, the federal government was the owner of the land. Anticipating taking over ownership, the city held numerous community meetings to inform the public, including a 3-day workshop to engage the public in the planning process. Based on these meetings, workshops and presentations, a draft master plan was developed and subsequently adopted by the City Council in 2002. "The Office of Planning's Reservation 13 Draft Master Plan creates an urban waterfront area that serves the city and connects the surrounding neighborhoods to the waterfront via public streets and sizable parks. The area would have a mixture of health care, civic, residential, community, and other public uses. The area is envisioned as pedestrian-oriented, on a human scale, and a convenient, safe, and pleasurable place to live, work, and play." (Office of Planning Reservation 13 Master Plan introductory statement.)

 In 2008, the city requested proposals from private developers to build the master plan in its entirety. Proposals were received, public meetings were held, articles were written. The ANC publicly discussed the proposals. Public input was solicited by the city through a formal comment period. Endorsements were made by the ANC, individuals and various civic organizations. Amazingly enough, it seemed that the community in general overwhelmingly supported one development team – HDG Waterfront Partners. As you may well know, it is exceedingly rare when you get large numbers of people and organizations to agree to anything – a testament, I believe, to the inherent qualities of the development proposal based on the city’s master plan for this area. It should be noted, too, that the master plan did not include a training facility or anything similar to a training facility.

 However, the city did not take the next steps and make a master developer selection in April of 2009 as promised, or May, or April of 2010. Instead, in April of 2010, the city announced that a new direction was being taken and that, due to the economy, instead of awarding a contract to a development team to build the entire site, a smaller parcel would be developed. The parcel to be developed, called blocks F1 and G1, would be the area surrounding the Stadium/Armory metro station. The community favorite, HDG Waterfront Partners, withdrew their proposal due to the reduced scope; however it seemed that the city was prepared to move forward with a development team and was to make an announcement of who that team would be. Preparations were made by the city to allow development of this smaller parcel to begin - a building along Independence Avenue was taken down to allow the parking lot around the Metro station to be moved to open up that land for the planned metro station village square construction to begin once a developer was chosen. To date, no developer has been announced. Here is the 2008 Request for Expression of Interest, Developer Responses, and 2010 Best and Final Offers for Parcels F1 and G1.

  Other crucial steps that have taken place: 

The land transfer from the Feds to DC took place in 2010. What does that mean to us?

 Due to the fact that the property had been owned by the Federal Government, there was no city zoning in place. Zoning regulations based on the community-developed and supported master plan were developed to establish a new district, HE (Hill East) and implemented in April of 2009. Instead of using the cumbersome overlay system used elsewhere in the city, the HE zoning regulations are based on form based code, which streamlines the development process by providing "clear, concise and objective rules that provide predictability for both the developer and the community." (quote came from the Office of Zoning's final ruling, 4/13/2009). Those who are used to the old zoning process should familiarize themselves with the new zoning for Hill East – its quite different. The zoning for the 67-acre site includes design guidelines supportive of pedestrian-friendly, mixed use environments as opposed to the usual zoning in the city which usually only addresses allowable uses, density, heights, etc. In addition to regulating the allowable uses, etc, the zoning for Hill East sets up urban-style building instead of campus-style properties, through the establishment of requirements to build at the property lines amongst other regulations – in other words the campus-like layout that is there now is not allowable with the zoning. Our city blocks with parks and buildings along sidewalks is what is allowed. Vast seas of parking is not allowed. Development along streets that are designated as more heavily used streets (primary streets) such as Independence and Massachusetts are required to have buildings with a percentage of the ground floor devoted to retail, entertainment, cultural or commercial uses. In other words, no long stretches of buildings along sidewalks closed off to public use. This is the zoning that is already adopted. This already exists – this is what is required for a building to go up in Hill East Waterfront (see it here).

What are the boundaries of this 67-acre site that we keep talking about??? 

Glad you asked! This is the area across 19th Street between the cemetery (the jail is mandated to stay right where it is) and Independence Ave (St. Coletta’s stays where it is also) and the National Park Service land along the waterfront drive leading the stadium parking lots. So, although we call it waterfront, the land along the water belongs to the National Park Service, but they have been involved with the planning and are part of what will be keeping access to the river open – public streets and sidewalks leading to public land along the river.

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