The land — once home to D.C. General, the struggling hospital that became a notorious family homeless shelter that was closed in 2018 — is now a dusty demolition zone just south of RFK Stadium and north of the D.C. jail. It is also the object of competing dreams and visions.
A park, a playground, a senior home, subsidized housing, deluxe co-living units for 20-somethings; a shelter for homeless teens, a day-care center, a health-care facility; an office tower, a grocery store, a coffee shop, a Home Depot — developers have put forward many options, hoping to be chosen by the administration of Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) to lease and build on the property.
Now, as Bowser’s team weighs the bids, community members are offering their opinions, with many advocates arguing primarily for more affordable housing.
“We see this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to maximize this property, which is public land, which is my land and your land, to be utilized for those most in need in this District,” Randy Keesler pleaded on May 20 at a disposition hearing the city held about the property. “It’s a huge property. It’s a beautiful property. Let’s do the best we can.”
More than 400 people watched the live-streamed hearing — the type of bureaucratic procedure that typically does not draw a crowd.
Most, including Keesler, were convened by the activist group Washington Interfaith Network to push the city to select a bid that maximizes housing units for low-income D.C. residents.
Five developers are seeking contracts, and the District plans to pick two of them to build on adjacent segments of the property.
The District will not simply lease land to the highest bidders; in fact, John Falcicchio, the deputy mayor for planning and economic development, said the city will not make public how much any of the developers are offering, to avoid damaging the District’s negotiating position as officials seek to improve the final offer.
Falcicchio’s office is soliciting input from residents and advisory neighborhood commissioners and will also analyze the bids’ feasibility and desirability. The office will select two bids, which will go to the D.C. Council for approval before the city can sign agreements and construction can begin.
The city already awarded the first part of the Reservation 13 parcel to a team that built an apartment building, which opened this year, and a soon-to-open permanent supportive residential building for people who have been homeless and for other very-low-income city residents. These next two segments, which total more than 11 acres, will be followed by still more construction opportunities on other parts of the site in years to come.
For the first of the two lots up for development, two pairs of companies are bidding: Donatelli Development and Blue Skye Development are competing against Argos Group and NRP Group.
Donatelli and Blue Skye propose building 907 units of housing, of which 272 would be subsidized for low-income residents. Argos-NRP proposes a 161-unit assisted-living facility for very-low-income seniors, along with 894 units of for-sale and rental housing and a day-care center operated by CentroNía, a child-care provider with locations in Northwest Washington and Maryland. Not counting the assisted-living units, 540 of the housing units would be subsidized for people at a variety of low- and moderate-income levels.
The second lot has three bidders, with competition over who can build the most housing as well as more out-of-the-box ideas.
The developer Jair Lynch also proposed an assisted-living facility — a form of housing that many of the developers pointed out is almost nonexistent in the eastern half of the District — as well as a building for homeless youths and other housing that would mostly be subsidized, with just 145 market-rate units out of 1,188 homes.
A group called R13 Community Partners, led in part by former D.C. Council member Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7), wants to build a Marriott hotel, a furnished luxury “co-living” rental apartment building, 126 condominium units, subsidized and market-rate apartments, and a grocery store.
At the request of the mayor’s office, many of the developers said in their proposals that they would pay tribute to Robert F. Kennedy, for whom the stadium across the street from the parcel is named.
R13 was the only development team also to mention the memory of Relisha Rudd, the 8-year-old girl whose 2014 disappearance from the D.C. General homeless shelter led to the shelter’s closure four years later. R13’s proposal said the team had sought permission from her family to build a playground on the grounds and name it for Relisha, who remains missing.
The developer Home Team Community Partners presented a letter from the Special Olympics at the disposition hearing, saying the organization would be interested in moving its headquarters into a nine-story office tower, with Anacostia River views, that the developer proposes building on the site. The team also showed a letter from Home Depot, which promised to build its second D.C. store there if Home Team wins the contract.
That bid also would include an assisted-living facility and rental apartments, creating a total of 260 subsidized and 442 market-rate units.
Anne Ford, a Ward 7 resident who listened to the hearing, knows the soon-to-be-developed site very well. When D.C. General was a hospital, she was a nurse there. When it became a homeless shelter, she would visit with her church group and hear residents’ complaints about rodents and moldy food.
The patients she treated at the long-gone hospital, most of them Black and low-income, “should have a chance to live on that land. . . . It was a Black population down there. Now that land should still belong to them,” Ford said, adding that she hopes Hill East won’t become another Navy Yard or Wharf, catering largely to wealthier residents. “I’m really looking for some more affordable housing. I’m praying on that for that land there.”
Falcicchio said that choosing proposals that include high levels of affordable housing will be a priority for his office.
He noted that if the federal government were to transfer the RFK site across the street to the city, as Bowser has long requested, the new neighborhood that will be created could grow even larger. “In terms of untapped land, Hill East — if it were combined with the RFK campus — would be the largest infill urban development on the East Coast.”