On June 10th, four developers presented their plans for the now-closed Hine Junior High School site in Capitol Hill to a packed room of neighborhood residents and business owners. Three of the four proposals were refreshingly urban in their look, focused on place-making oriented toward people friendly, human scaled buildings. The other one had no hard plans, making it difficult to judge. All four of the presentations are online here.
National Leadership Campus: This one is the outlier of the four, as they intentionally presented a concept rather than a plan. The City Paper’s Ruth Samuelson dubbed this the “green blobs” proposal. They hope that a specific design would come out of working with the community.
The concept is a non-profit leadership campus, a place where non-profits can get low cost office space, housing, training, conference facilities and leadership development programs. Retail and restaurant space would partly subsidize the nonprofits. The site would include community and open space, a green low-density walkable campus, the possibility of reopening C Street, and as many as 500 parking spaces.
This one probably has the longest odds, since it’s harder to sell people on a concept. If the other proposals had been weak it might have won by default, but that wasn’t the case. Furthermore, with so many parking spaces and an emphasis on low-density development it may be the least appropriate. The idea is good, but the design and site isn’t.
The other three resemble each other more closely. They all envision reopening C Street, with some type of open space along it and placing cafes along 7th. The all treat the site as one with four fronts and build below ground parking where Eastern Market trucks could park. All would have retail along 7th, C and Pennsylvania and residential along 8th. None included a second entrance to the Metro.
Market Row: Samuelson described this presentation by Seven Penn Partners as looking like Bethesda, and that is more accurate than SPP might hope. Their plan would move the flea market to C Street, closing the street to car traffic on the weekends. A below ground garage would contain 350 parking spaces, two-thirds for the public and one-third for residents. An alley offset to the south would break up the site, though it wouldn’t line up with the alley between 8th and 9th. A pedestrian walk from the alley to C Street offset to the west. In addition to residences and retail, they would include office space, a park along C and a courtyard. The biggest weakness is that, unlike the other two, they didn’t mention any explicit tenants (except St. Colleta’s for crafts) which makes is hard for people to imagine themselves going there.
Kimpton Hotel Anchor: The proposal from DSF/Street Sense/Menkiti Group presented a high end set of proposals with more specifics. One key element was the inclusion of an 80-room Kimpton Hotel and Spa on the corner of 7th and Penn. They had more specific numbers than others: 235 residential units, 40,000 sf of retail, 15,000 sf of private open space (including for-rent rooftop space). They plan to add a 35 foot wide sidewalk along 7th and to move the flea market there. Unlike Market Row, the only way to traverse the site is on an L-shaped alley from C to 8th that does align with the alley between 8th and 9th. They plan fewer than 350 parking spaces, though they didn’t give a number, and think they can do it by doing a shared space analysis.
They said they would spruce up the currently sad triangle of open space at the northwest corner of 8th and Pennsylvania. They have commitment letters from Yes! Organic Market about moving down the block for a larger location, and with Busboys and Poets, who would provide a community room. For an added touch of class, they’re bringing in Robert Wiedmaier, 2009 Rammy Chef of the Year, to do the cooking at the Kimpton. They would build below the maximum allowable building height and FAR “to keep the development consistent with the existing neighborhood.” Finally, they’d also build a small park along C Street.
It was a strong entry, and probably the one most in line with New Urbanist principles. The quality of its design and the strong list of partners they’ve added make this one of my two favorites.
Stanton/Eastbanc: This is the homer choice. With Amy Weinstein and her husband Philip Esocoff as the prime architects, they bring in a team who knows the area, knows the history, and knows the neighborhood (though every group brought someone who could tell a story of living on the Hill). They spent significantly longer than the others promoting their experience and knowledge of the history of the area. Weinstein designed the addition to the building across 7th Street, a building on 7th just north of the Hine site and is designing the proposed Capitol Hill Town Square just south of the site. Knowledge and experience is definitely a strong suit for this team.
Despite their “emphasis on people” — they showed photos of Hill residents eating Al fresco and of the artistic bike rack on 7th — their proposal is most donut-like, without an alley or walk to traverse the site. It also has the greatest density. A large amount of space is set aside for the Shakespeare Theatre, which has office space down 8th, a rehearsal space across the street from that, and a prop storage area in Mt. Rainier; they would love to combine these into one location.
The plan includes a piazza on C Street, where the Shakespeare Theatre could do free performances, a sunken courtyard in the middle, and over two acres of green roof and roof gardens. Like Market Row, they’d place the flea market on C Street and close it to car traffic on weekends (as well as during ‘special events’ in the piazza). Other than the Shakespeare Theatre, the only other specific user mentioned was International Relief and Development, which would move into a large block of office space along 7th. The garage would have parking for 390 cars. They would pursue a LEED platinum rating. This group seemed the most prepared and gave the most information about the site and their plans. With their connections to the Hill, the project is almost theirs to lose, and at this point it’s probably a two-horse race between the last two groups.
Overall, I felt they were all better proposals than what I expected to see, with three very strong ones.
Followup from David A: A group of neighbors, called the Eastern Market Metro Community Association, laid out five principles in advance, including accommodating the flea market, keeping the neighborhood’s residential character, working with the community, and designing for people and bicycles rather than cars, including avoiding excessive parking. According to EMMCA organizer Thomas Riehle, the Stanton and Street Sense groups have been aggressively reaching out to neighbors, particularly Street Sense. Riehle says that Bozzutto, the lead developer in the Seven Penn group, “was actively hostile” to neighbors’ outreach efforts, limiting the number of attendees at a meeting to 12 and insisting they had to check with the Mayor’s office before scheduling anything. NLC was “the hardest to reach,” routing EMMCA’s outreach efforts to an assistant.