District Is One Signature Away From 200 Acres of New Land

By Elissa Silverman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 17, 2006

Congress sent legislation to President Bush yesterday giving the District roughly 200 acres of federal land, much of it valuable waterfront property that is key to the city's plans to transform areas bordering both sides of the Anacostia River.

The biggest parcel is Poplar Point, a 100-acre site on the eastern side of the Anacostia that is intended as the location of a stadium for the D.C. United soccer team. Also transferred to city control would be Reservation 13, a 66-acre site on the western edge of the river that houses the former D.C. General Hospital campus and is slated for mixed-use development and health-related facilities.

Officials said the land transfer is the biggest handoff of federal property since the city achieved home rule in 1973.

The Senate yesterday passed the legislation, which was approved by the House in September. Federal officials said Bush will probably sign the bill soon.

D.C. officials were jubilant about the passage.

"It's a huge deal. The federal government just doesn't give away land," said Vince Morris, spokesman for Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D). "It's not just the acreage. It's the relevance."

Williams, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and other local officials have vigorously campaigned for the federal land.

The transfer would allow the District to move forward with the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative, a massive redevelopment plan that has been seen as a legacy for Williams, who leaves office Jan. 2.

It also would place the land on tax rolls, which would produce significant revenue when the land is redeveloped. For years, District officials have argued that the federal government's presence here creates a "structural imbalance." A 2003 report by the Government Accountability Office estimated that the District loses $470 million to $1.1 billion a year because of the federal presence.

"This land transfer is a very important and sizable down payment," Norton said.

The land transfer also would settle a long-standing claim the District filed against the federal government in 1993 asking for reimbursement for certain mental health services provided at St. Elizabeths.

The District would receive a total of 19 properties, also including the Old Naval Hospital off Pennsylvania Avenue SE on Capitol Hill and several smaller properties on Potomac Avenue near the site of the new Nationals baseball stadium.

In return, the District will transfer 12 properties to federal control, including five buildings on the western side of the St. Elizabeths Hospital campus. The hospital site on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE is part of the plan to build a new headquarters for the Department of Homeland Security.

Norton praised White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten and Office of Management and Budget Director Rob Portman for pushing the legislation forward.

"It actually works for both sides. It's one of these win-win situations," Portman said. "Because we really do need access to the St. Elizabeths area, and it's good for the District to have federal offices here rather than in Virginia or Maryland."

Plans for the Poplar Point site include a mix of high- and low-rise housing and retail, as well the eventual site of the soccer stadium. According to the land swap, 30 acres of the site would be developed, and the rest would be preserved as parkland.

"Today's action is a demonstration of federal support for the Anacostia Waterfront Corporation's mission to restore the Anacostia River and revitalize the lands and communities along the river," said Stephen Goldsmith, chairman of the board of the corporation, the quasi-public agency charged with developing the land.

"I firmly believe Popular Point is an ideal location for our new home, our fans and most importantly for our neighbors in Anacostia," D.C. United President and chief executive Kevin Payne said in a written statement.

Staff writer Lori Montgomery contributed to this report.

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