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DC’s New RFP Process Credited for Former Hebrew Home Project Planning Success; Community Input Had Priority

Accompanying images can be viewed starting on page 1 of the April 2019 issue pdf

Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd recently told The InTowner, “I have been impressed and pleased with the depth and breadth of community input that the [Office of Planning’s] Our RFP process has fostered throughout the Hebrew Home redevelopment project. The development team has made numerous adjustments to the design and scope of the project based on community input at every stage of the process. The strong support of both ANC 4C and 1A, for a project of this magnitude, speaks to the effectiveness of the Our RFP process. I highly recommend it for future projects across the District.”

The 144,400 square-foot Columbia Heights/Petworth Hebrew Home development project will incorporate the former historic Hebrew Home property, retaining the park area alongside the former Hebrew Home building which will be reconfigured to provide for senior affordable housing.

In 1924 the city’s Jewish community, led by its members residing in Columbia Heights, acquired the property at 1125 Spring Road, NW and built its new Hebrew Home for the Aged. Designed by architect Harry A. Brandt and costing $27,000, it initially it had just 35 rooms. By 1953, with the need for expansion having become urgent, a $1 million addition designed by noted architect Appleton P. Clark was built.

Brandt’s original 1924 building had replaced the late 19th century one in the Shaw neighborhood at 415 M Street, NW that had formerly been the Young Men’s Hebrew Association’s clubhouse until acquired in 1914 for use by the Home.

The Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) in 2014 designated the Hebrew Home and the Jewish Social Service Agency (JSSA) located on Spring Road as an historic landmark with the DC Inventory of Historic Sites. The entire property is a five-acre parcel.

As stated in the staff report from the Historic Preservation Office (HPO) prepared for the guidance of the preservation board’s commissioners, “The period of significance extends from 1925, when the Home opened until 1969, when the Home and JSSA relocated. . . . It is an example of the Moorish Revival architecture in the District, a historically popular style for synagogue architecture. In addition, the location of the Home and JSSA is indicative of the sizeable Jewish population in the Columbia Heights, Petworth and Park View neighborhoods.”

In July of the same year the property was listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Just west of the Hebrew Home was the Jewish Social Service Agency (JSSA), designed by architect Julius Wenig. JSSA serves as a relief agency delivering food and services to needy families. This allowed for the centralization of Jewish welfare services in the District. By the 1960s, substantial numbers of Jewish families, like so many other longtime DC residents, had relocated to the suburbs, especially Montgomery County. That prompted the relocation the Hebrew Home and JSSA to Rockville.

(Today, the DC metropolitan area’s Jewish community is considered to be the country’s third largest, New York City and Los Angeles. As of 2018, of the area’s estimated 300,000 Jews, DC is home to an estimated 28,000, an increase of 28,000 from 2003.)

The District government then purchased the property $13 million and used it for about a decade following to provide social and homeless services, including mental health services.

In the 1970s, DC constructed a new facility on 10th Street known as the Paul Robeson School for Growth and Development to serve DC youths challenged with emotional and behavioral problems. With the city’s departure, the building then remained vacant for approximately a decade. Many uses had been discussed, even a homeless shelter, but nothing ever came of it.

How DC Finally Decided to Proceed

The Deputy Mayor’s Office for Planning and Economic (DMPED) decided to experiment with the 2016-announced Our RFP (Request For Proposal) process which allows for stakeholders, such as neighbors and ANCs, to be actively involved through early participation in an agency’s process for drafting an RFP that would be not be determinative of the kind and scope of a development project favored by the agency alone, but now one that would reflect a community’s view of what would be needed and desirable.

So instead of following the long-established process whereby agency staff drafts a proposed RFP document that is then published in the DC Register for a 30-day comment period during which time stakeholders can make their views, including objections known, now the affected parties are able to make their views known at the very start of the process.

Since the Hebrew Home project, now referred to as the Spring Flats development, is in Ward 4 but borders Ward 1, the affected ANCs 4C and 1A along with nearby neighbors were actively involved. It was how this worked so well that inspired Ward 4 Councilmember’s enthusiastic statement quoted at the beginning of this report.

As ANC1A Chair Kent Boese told The InTowner, “The most successful aspect of the Our RFP, and why it was extremely helpful with redeveloping the Hebrew Home property, is that it created opportunities for the community to be actively engaged in the process in advance and help shape the RFP before any discussions with development teams occurred. The result is a development that not only will deliver much needed housing to the community, but does so in a way that provides affordable housing for seniors and families and is more architecturally sensitive to the century-old neighborhood surrounding it.”

DMPED conducted three community meetings during 2016. Attendees placed emphasis on affordable housing, senior housing, neighborhood fit, and the natural environment. Persons unable to attend completed Our RFP “engagement forms” on line. The RFP was then issued in July.

Seven developers responded with presentations to the community that included housing units ranging from 109 to 212.

Consistent with the recommendations of ANC1A and ANC4C, in August of 2017 Victory Housing and Brinshore Development were selected as the development team. They conducted a series of engagement meetings with the community focusing on historic preservation, traffic maintenance and parking, community spaces and sustainability strategies.

Last month, March 19th, the development team presented a project update; site and building plans with elevations were presented and discussed. The project will be constructed in three phases, with the first phase being the renovation of the historic Hebrew Home into 88 units of senior affordable housing. The second phase will be a mixed-income building of 87 units with 66% affordable. The third phase will be 10 townhouse-style condos with three being affordable.

In making the selection announcement, Mayor Muriel Bowser commented, “With the support of the community, we now have a path forward for this long-vacant property and a plan to create much-needed affordable housing for District seniors and families.”

The Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development describes the process as follows: 

“The OurRFP process is a Bowser Administration initiative that was created to obtain, understand, and incorporate community input early in the process of redeveloping publicly-owned land. By soliciting community input through a series of community meetings and online engagement forums, the OurRFP process enables the Deputy Mayor’s office to understand the community’s perspective and priorities in conjunction with the District’s goals when crafting and issuing a Request for Proposals.

“Because the 1125 Spring Road site is located on the border of communities in both Wards 1 and 4, includes a historic designation, and had been the subject of previous redevelopment efforts, DMPED determined the Property to be a prime candidate for Mayor Bowser’s OurRFP process.

“DMPED conducted the 1125 Spring Road Our RFP during the spring and summer of 2016. At a public meeting and online, community members and stakeholders were given the development constraints of the site and invited to share their priorities and ideas for its redevelopment. In a subsequent meeting, these priorities were further refined, resulting in a number of community preferences being included in the final RFP.

“The Our RFP served as a great way to let the community and stakeholders share their priorities for the redevelopment of 1125 Spring Road while also hearing and balancing the priorities of their neighbors.”

* Larry Ray serves as Senior Adjunct Faculty at The George Washington University Law School. He is a former three -term ANC Commissioner in Dupont Circle and later Columbia Heights and currently Columbia Heights/Petworth liaison for the nonprofit social neighborhood network NextDoor. He is also Senior Adjunct faculty at The George Washington University School of Law.

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