Andre Watson’s property in Hill East overlooks a sprawling chunk of long-deserted land and buildings, dubbed Reservation 13. But to Watson and his neighbor’s relief, the lot won’t be abandoned much longer.
“I’m happy to hear they’re finally doing something with it,” said Watson, who moved to the area five years ago. “And if the people building it up are doing right by the neighborhood, then all the better.”
After a lengthy selection process, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced earlier this month that three developers were chosen to convert a large swath of Reservation 13 into a vibrant neighborhood, replete with affordable housing, retail spaces and a park. Both the District and some members of the local community say the project is right for Hill East’s future.
Formerly the site of D.C. General Hospital, the roughly 67 acre lot stretches from 19th Street SE to the banks of the Anacostia River, with RFK Stadium situated nearby. Other than an ill-fated homeless shelter housed in the former hospital, the site remained largely unused since D.C. General closed in 2001.
The District built smaller shelters around the city after finally flattening the decrepit facility last year.
Following their year-long search for developers, the District announced earlier this month that it chose Donatelli Development and Blue Skye Development to jointly build up one section of Reservation 13. R13 Community Partners, a collection of African American-owned companies, was selected to develop another section of the site. The District refers to the plans as “Hill East Phase II Development.”
Chris Donatelli, president and CEO of Donatelli Development, said he believes his company was chosen, at least in part, due to its ongoing relationship with the District. The company signed an agreement in 2015 to build other mixed-income housing nearby as part of “Hill East Phase I Development.”
Yet Donatelli said the needs of the community is prescient in both his and the District’s minds.
“The city is trying to get as much affordable housing out of this as they can,” Donatelli said. “There’s certain economic consequences for requiring as much as they are, but it makes sense because it’s what the community wants and deserves.”
Donatelli said that about two-thirds of the housing in the entire Phase II project will likely be marked as income-restricted (middle income or lower), with about one-third marked as affordable.
Although the city is not required to receive the local ANC’s permission, Donatelli said community groups were consulted on what they wanted done with the site.
While the site is now part of Ward 7 due to redistricting, ANC 6B hosted a public presentation of the proposed designs in June.
Capitol Hill Village, a volunteer advocacy organization for seniors, has called for “senior-friendly housing options.” The Washington Interfaith Network has advocated for the creation of a “racially and economically diverse community.”
Kelly DeStefano, who has lived in Hill East for three years, said she believes the parties invested in the project are attempting to do right by the community despite the project’s scope and complexity.
“We may disagree on how we get there, but I think everyone wants to do what’s best for the neighborhood,” DeStefano said.
Other plans to develop the area were attempted in the years following D.C. General’s closure. According to reporting by DCist, a plan by the city to transform the area into a “vibrant, mixed-use waterfront community” was shut down in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.
Amazon also scouted the area in 2017 as a potential candidate for its second headquarters, but ultimately did not move forward with the idea.
The area fell under Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen’s jurisdiction until it was redistricted into Ward 7 in 2011. Allen said in a statement earlier this month that the companies with the winning proposals committed to building more housing at affordable price points.
Allen said that while he is still reviewing the plans, he is heartened by the progress made for the site.
“Today is a major step forward for a project that has stretched on for nearly two decades, offering more concrete details of the vision and hope Hill East neighbors have long held for Reservation 13 to extend the neighborhood from 19th Street to the Anacostia River,” Allen said.
For Andre Watson, the site’s rock and grass-filled lots and empty buildings represent 20 years of lost potential for the neighborhood.
But, at the end of the day, he said it also represents a big eyesore for him and his neighbors.
“I’m just glad I don’t have to look at it anymore.”