Donatelli/Blue Skye's proposal for Hill East
Donatelli/Blue Skye's proposal for Hill East

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After years of frustration, residents of eastern Capitol Hill finally have a proposal for development at the troubled site on the Anacostia River known as Hill East. But they’re more interested in talking about their frustration.

Only one development team responded to the city’s recent request for expressions of interest for Hill East—-a partnership of Donatelli Development and Blue Skye Development—-after several earlier abortive efforts to develop the property and a move to pare down the parameters of the first phase of development. Last night, Donatelli and Blue Skye presented their $60 million proposal to members of the community.

A rendering of their proposal is above; I’ll have more soon. Per the city’s instructions, it concerns only two parcels adjacent to the Stadium-Armory Metro station, totaling about two acres, of the full 67-acre site. Here are the details:

  • 113 residential units in the north building
  • 240 units in the south building
  • All units are rentals: 215 one-bedrooms and 141 two-bedrooms
  • More than 30 percent of the units will be for people making less than 60 percent of area median income.
  • 20,000 square feet of retail along 19th Street SE—-about 10,000 square feet in each building. Includes a “quality sit-down restaurant.”
  • 225 underground parking spaces
  • The development will be set back from 19th Street, allowing for a widening of the street to turn it into a “promenade, a courtyard that will be an important pedestrian neighborhood meeting place right along 19th Street,” according to Donatelli President Chris Donatelli.
  • The retail is likely to be a mix of local and national retailers, smallish in size. “I think the area here is very much underserved as far as small retailers are concerned,” says Donatelli. “I don’t anticipate that we’ll put a 10,000-square-foot user in either building.”
  • It’ll be a matter-of-right project, not requiring any zoning changes.
  • Donatelli says the project won’t require any cash subsidy or tax abatement from the city.

Neighbors asked a few questions about the design, and the developers struggled to answer a few about how the buildings would fit in with surrounding roads and the social services on the parts of Hill East that will be slated for later development. (One suggestion they seemed to take to heart: Given the patchwork nature of the development now that only two parcels are being developed for the time being, having retail just on 19th Street, and three dead sides to each building, might discourage further development on other parcels to the east of these two.)

Then neighbors expressed some doubts about the aims of the project. “We don’t feel that we need revitalization in our neighborhood,” said one. “We already feel pretty vital.” Another asked, “Are you gonna make it like Georgetown, because of the waterfront?”

But the neighbors really came to life when the conversation turned to what the city’s done wrong to bring us to this point, with only one proposal to consider after years of delay and changes of heart. “I’m still trying to figure out how we went from the large master plan to this,” said one man, to a smattering of applause from the audience. Several others in the crowd echoed this theme.

Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander showed up during the Q&A and joined this line of inquiry. “A lot of the residents’ frustration is that when we see CityCenter and St. Es done all at once, people wonder, why is this project piecemeal?” she asked. She was also concerned that the lack of development elsewhere on the site would make it harder to attract residents to the new buildings. “I wouldn’t move into a place where I was surrounded by boarded-up vacant buildings,” she said, before telling Donatelli, “I don’t want to discourage you; please don’t pull out of this.”

While in an earlier solicitation, the city offered the developer chosen for these two parcels the right of first refusal to develop the rest of the site, that right was stripped out of the latest request. Still, Alexander was confident Donatelli and Blue Skye will be able to develop the entirety of Hill East.

“I predict that once this proposal is approved, they’ll probably end up being the developers for the entire site,” she said.

Blue Skye President Scottie Irving responded with a smile: “Sounds good to me!”