The U.S. Armed Forces Retirement Home is preparing to offer 125 acres of its scenic campus in Northwest Washington to private developers for construction of hundreds of residences and blocks of offices, shops and other commercial projects, officials said yesterday.
Money from selling or leasing the federally owned land would help support the D.C. home and its sister institution in Gulfport, Miss., which together house more than 1,600 elderly or disabled former military personnel. Both institutions have struggled financially for years.
The campus, bordered by Catholic University, Washington Hospital Center, Rock Creek Cemetery and the gentrifying Petworth and Park View neighborhoods, is far larger than most District parcels that come on the market. Developers have expressed interest in building there, citing the close-in location and the ongoing demand in the city for new housing and office space.
"There are very, very few such properties in the District, where you can really kind of set a whole concept in place from scratch," said G. Neel Teague, a vice president at McLean-based Stout & Teague. The development firm bid on a separate parcel that the home sold in 2002 but lost it to Catholic University after a court dispute.
City officials and civic leaders cautioned that the development plans, reported in yesterday's Washington Business Journal, will have to address traffic congestion and parking problems and show sensitivity to historically significant buildings and landscaping on the 154-year-old campus. Such buildings include the cottage that President Abraham Lincoln used as a summer retreat and where he wrote the final draft of the Emancipation Proclamation.
But they said developing nearly half of the 271-acre campus could draw residents and tax revenue, open up green space currently off limits to the public and steer more foot traffic to nearby Georgia Avenue.
"This would be a great opportunity to provide for additional development in the city that doesn't displace anybody," said Ellen M. McCarthy, the District's interim director of planning. "There needs to be really close cooperation with the neighborhoods that are along the borders, to minimize any negative impact."
Sheila Abarr, a spokeswoman for the home, formerly the U.S. Soldiers' and Airmen's Home, said officials there are working with the General Services Administration and the National Capital Planning Commission on a master plan for the campus, which identifies five or six possible parcels that could each be developed in one or more projects.
Possibilities include more than 1 million square feet of residential development, a hotel and conference center and millions of square feet in commercial projects -- perhaps research and development institutions or medical offices -- and retail shops.
The retirement facilities would continue to operate in the northernmost part of the campus, according to Abarr, and a nine-hole, members-only golf course would remain in the south-central area.
The campus is close to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, a 113-acre tract that may also be redeveloped if the federal proposal to close it and other military bases is approved.
A draft of the retirement home's plan was presented to the Planning Commission last week and will be discussed in a public meeting from 7 to 9 p.m. June 22 at the home's Scott Theater. Abarr said developers will be asked this fall to submit their qualifications for developing large parcels and asked later to propose projects for specific parcels.
The master plan and individual proposals will be reviewed by federal and local planning and historic preservation entities.
Land will have to go through the District zoning process if it is sold to private developers, but officials said yesterday it was not yet clear which zoning rules would apply if the land was leased.
The United Neighborhood Coalition, a civic group based in Park View and Petworth, has posted parts of the draft plan on its Web site and is eager for more information, said coalition President Andrew McGilvray.
"This is happening and it's going to have an enormous impact," McGilvray said. "Most of the public have no clue."