The District Source: Hill East to Get Denser

Area near the SE Safeway to see several large residential and mixed-use projects.

Rendering of Watkins Alley, a development proposed by OPaL.

Capitol Hill and Hill East’s signature rowhomes have long been part of the District’s hot real estate market, but now the area has captured the attention of real estate developers who combined plan to add nearly 500 units of new residential development to the neighborhood. 

The new developments--concentrated largely between 11th and 14th Streets along E Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, SE--include both townhouse and apartment units. 

Kirsten Oldenburg, commissioner for Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6B, said she is amazed by the surge in developer interest.

“Six months ago did we know about any of these? No,” said Oldenburg. “They’ve just popped up all of a sudden.”

How we get to 500

In the mix are two projects from Insight Property Group. 

The first will bring 81 units split between townhouses and condo units on the site of the former Buchanan School at between D and E Streets SE on 13th Street SE. The townhouses will have one parking space each and the condos will have between 14 and 16 parking spaces. Insight will need to go before the Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) for a few minor zoning changes, but by and large the Buchanan school plans fall within the matter of right for the site’s zoning. 

Recently, Insight confirmed to the Advisory Neighborhood Commission that they were under contract on a neighboring site, home to Bowie’s trash (1337 E St. SE) and Signature Collision (1355 E St. SE), where they propose to build 160 units. The multi-family project will require zoning relief including a change in use to allow residential development on a site zoned for commercial and light manufacturing uses.

The Buchanan project will be for-sale units and the newer project will likely be rental units. 

OPaL Builders has filed plans with the Zoning Commission for a development it calls Watkins Alley, which will include 45 residences at 1309-1323 (rear) E St. SE and 516(rear) 13th Street SE. The mixture of apartments and townhouses bounded by courtyards and other open spaces will provide 45 parking spaces. Watkins Alley will combine residentially-zoned lots with commercial lots (home to an automobile repair shop, a parking lot and a warehouse) into one project. 

Nearby CAS Riegler proposes 180 apartment units and 22,500 square feet of ground floor retail to 1401 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, the current site of New York Pizza. The project includes below-grade parking with 56 spaces, a ratio of one per three units.

“I was here for all of the waves of renovation and remodeling, but I’ve never seen anything this concentrated for larger developments” said John Weintraub, owner of Frager’s Hardware. 

And there could be more development in store: Weintraub is currently working with developers on potential reuse for the long-time Frager’s location 1101-1117 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, which was gutted by a fire in June 2013. A previous plan which would have brought residential development above a new hardware store fell through, but the store is close to a new deal, according to Weintraub. 

Several of the proposals will require zoning relief through the planned unit development (PUD) process, which triggers additional community input. OPaL and CAS Riegler have already filed their PUD applications with the Zoning Commission. Insight may choose to file a PUD for its 160-unit proposal as well. 

Significance for the community

“I think it’s good for the neighborhood. It will be good for business and it will be good for Fragers too,” Weintraub said in reflecting on the slew of new residences and retail envisioned for the neighborhood.

Fragers was long on the “fringe” of the change that has swept over Capitol Hill in the last decade, but now stands to be at the center of it all.

“I’m quite amazed at what is happening and I think it is a lot for us all to absorb,” said Oldenburg. 

Commissioner Nick Burger, who represents the area where most of the new projects are planned, said the general response he has gotten from his neighbors is one of cautious optimism.

“More neighbors, more people on the street, is a good thing,” said Burger.

And the retail opportunities created by the larger mixed-use projects will bring amenities like restaurants closer than the offerings on Barracks Row. 

Competing or Complementary?

Oldenburg wondered if there is enough demand to justify the planned influx of housing in such a short time frame. 

“I guess that is just a risk developers take,” she said.

Burger said the developers are not operating in a vacuum and are more than aware of the other nearby proposals.

“They seem to view the projects as complementary in many cases,” said Burger. 

A Role for the Community

The next several months will be filled with meetings with developers to discuss everything from the height of proposed buildings to the community benefits packages the projects will provide in exchange for zoning relief. ANC 6B recently convened its Subcommittee on Public Unit Developments (PUDs) to begin strategizing how and what to pursue from the various developers. Meetings are open to the public and advertised in advance on the ANC 6B website:

Shaun Courtney is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of District Source, a D.C. real estate and neighborhood news blog, co-founded and supported by Lindsay Reishman of Compass real estate. Shaun has been a local reporter in D.C. since 2009 and has called the city home since 2002. She lives in Kingman Park with her husband and son.