Council Member Urges Rejection of New Lease On Evidence Warehouse

Phil Mendelson says rent increase for evidence warehouse is too large.
Phil Mendelson says rent increase for evidence warehouse is too large. (By James M. Thresher -- The Washington Post)
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By Yolanda Woodlee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A D.C. Council member is calling on his colleagues to reject a $1.1 million, 15-month lease to keep the D.C. police's evidence warehouse in Southeast Washington, saying he is appalled at a deal that raises the rental rate to more than four times this year's $264,000 cost.

Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), head of the council's Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, decried the new lease's increase from $2.69 to $11.81 a square foot. If the council does not reject the proposal, the lease will go into effect March 29. It is retroactive to January.

The city plans to build an evidence warehouse, but it will not be complete for more than a year. In the meantime, if the city leases the current facility beyond May 1, 2009, it will have a onetime option on an 18-month contract that will increase the rent to $12.50 a square foot, according to the proposal.

"This is a bad lease," Mendelson said yesterday. "It's bad because the rent is almost twice market value. It's bad because it's a short-term lease that will be too short for the District's needs and then it's going to increase."

Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier appeared at the council committee hearing yesterday, but Mendelson said she had few answers about why the department would accept the lease. In January, the city's inspector general said the facility needed "vital repairs."

The building, at 2235 Shannon Place SE, in the heart of Ward 8, is owned by Curtis Properties and has been the evidence warehouse for at least 24 years. Don Brenitz of Curtis Properties did not return phone calls.

Last month, in a letter to Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D), Mayor Adrian M. Fenty urged the council to approve the contract.

"I am confident that we have negotiated a contract which is in the best interests of the District," Fenty (D) wrote.

Robin-Eve Jasper, interim director of the Office of Property Management, said the current lease was negotiated in 1984 and does not reflect the increases in property values. She said the city has been leasing on a month-to-month basis since 1994.

"That was a fair rent at the time, and the $11.81 is a fair rent now," compared to properties in similar industrial areas, she said. "It's way below market 24 years later."

Jasper said the landlord wanted more for the property and has said he will not negotiate any lower. She said the city can likely negotiate a better deal next year if the property is needed beyond May 2009.

Despite rising property values in Ward 8, council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) said he couldn't believe the lease increase. "I don't see how Mayor Fenty could begin to support this kind of outrageous deal," Barry said.

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