Two on Council Want Land Deal Voided

Residents said they did not receive adequate notification of a deal to sell a library, a fire station and surrounding land.
Residents said they did not receive adequate notification of a deal to sell a library, a fire station and surrounding land. (By Colin Drummond -- Bloomberg News)
By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 20, 2007

Two D.C. Council members who praised a plan to sell city-owned land in the West End to a private developer about two months ago are now seeking to have the plan revoked after neighborhood leaders said they were not adequately notified.

Council members Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large) and Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) said they will ask their colleagues to reconsider the sale of the West End branch library and fire station and surrounding land at the council's next legislative meeting, on Oct. 2.

In July, the council approved emergency legislation in a 12 to 1 vote to allow Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) to negotiate the sale of the land exclusively with EastBanc, which wants to build a new library and fire station, along with retail space and condominiums. The Fenty administration is negotiating a price with EastBanc for the land, which is between downtown and Georgetown.

Joy Howell, president of the Foggy Bottom Association, said her group and advisory neighborhood commissioners were not told about a July council committee hearing in which EastBanc representatives testified about the legislation. Howell said the association favors modernizing the city's facilities.

"We believe it is a bad precedent to, quote, dispose of, unquote, public property without making sure the public is duly notified," Howell said. "That's totally separate from the merits of" the development.

Anthony Lanier, EastBanc's president, said he had heard rumblings about the potential reconsideration of the deal but had not heard from the council members. "My job is to develop a library, a fire station and housing until someone tells me not to," he said.

Lanier said he did not know what he would do if the deal is put up for competitive bid. "We'll decide when the case arises," he said.

At Tuesday's council meeting, 150 people, organized by Empower D.C., a grass-roots group, protested the land deal.

In addition, the Foggy Bottom Association, the Federation of Citizens Associations, the Dupont Circle Citizens Association and two Advisory Neighborhood Commissions recently passed resolutions urging the council to rescind the legislation, Howell said.

Brown and Evans, who had applauded the land deal as a chance for the city to redevelop the library and fire station, said the resolutions and residents' complaints had prompted them to take another look at the deal.

"The question really is: What does the community want?" Evans said. "The council is very amenable to reconsidering this."

Brown said, "My number one priority is to always be responsive to the residents."

Brown added that he was initially swayed by EastBanc's statements that it needed to quickly cement the deal because it was going to develop the nearby Tiverton apartment building, where residents were running out of time to exercise their rights to buy the building.

The deadline for the tenants' first right of refusal is Sept. 28, and the Tiverton/Square 37 Tenants' Association plans to sign an agreement with a different group of developers today, said Michael Malloy, the association's president. "At the time that the [July 3] hearing was held, we were in negotiations with EastBanc, but we never signed a deal," Malloy said.

Lanier said he did not use the Tiverton situation to justify the sale. "The tenants association has inadvertently been seen as a key idea in this transaction," he said. "Originally, this was a chance to regain affordable housing."

He said the development of the city-owned land would work without Tiverton in the blueprint.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company