As the D.C. Council member representing Ward 2, Jack Evans (D) has developed a reputation for going out of his way to help constituents and special interests hurdle barriers in the form of government policies, regulations and bureaucrats.
Want to build a convention center in a reemerging residential area in Ward 2? See Evans.
Want the District to provide special financing for construction of a hotel in Ward 2? Call Evans. (More on that at another time.)
Upset because the American Red Cross plans to build its new headquarters on federal property near your Foggy Bottom home? Not to worry. Evans will craft a scheme to block construction.
Indeed, Evans will lead the charge to block the Red Cross's plans tomorrow when the council meets to approve a request to issue industrial revenue bonds to help the organization finance construction of its proposed 10-story headquarters complex at 2025 E St. NW.
D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams is scheduled, meanwhile, to meet today with Red Cross officials and Foggy Bottom residents who want plans for the headquarters scaled back. Although Evans says he hopes the mayor "can make this thing work," Williams's skill as a mediator will be sorely tested.
Red Cross officials say they've already revised their plans, reducing the size of the building as much as they can, given the organization's space requirements. And, with Evans championing their cause, a determined group of residents refuses to yield even though the building would be on federal property and the National Capital Planning Commission and the Commission on Fine Arts have already approved the plans.
Evans initially tried to sabotage the Red Cross's plans by attempting to attach an onerous condition to a resolution approving the application to finance the project with $105.5 million in industrial revenue bonds. Basically an amendment he offered would have required the Red Cross to lower the height of the building by two floors in order to qualify for the bonds.
Evans has since dropped the condition, but he believes he has enough votes to defeat the Red Cross's application outright.
The industrial revenue bond program is an economic development tool that enables borrowers to gain access to the bond market at lower rates than would be the case otherwise. The District merely acts as a conduit for the tax-exempt bonds, and assumes no liability for repayment.
This callous attempt to use the District's IRB program as a zoning mechanism is a dangerous precedent. It not only sends a chilling message to others who might consider using the program but also strongly suggests the District really isn't "open for business," as Mayor Williams says.
But the greater risk in Evans's gambit is that it jeopardizes the authority that Congress gave the District to issue industrial revenue bonds.
Evans himself acknowledges that attaching conditions to the IRB application is not a good idea. "Chances are we would lose control of the program," he said last week. "I think Congress would revoke our authority" to issue the bonds.
Still, he persists in waging a narrow parochial fight on behalf of a few constituents, complaining the building "would block the views of residents in the area."
"The Red Cross building will be the Empire State Building of Foggy Bottom," Evans suggested.
This is the same Jack Evans who ignored similar complaints from constituents in the Shaw area, who tried unsuccessfully to block construction of the massive new convention center in their community.
Although the Red Cross's national executive offices are located downtown, the offices of its national headquarters support staff are in Merrifield. The organization plans, however, to consolidate operations in the new complex it proposes building on E Street, currently the site of its D.C. chapter offices.
Congress authorized use of the site by the Red Cross in 1947 and, in 1988, extended the term of the arrangement for 99 years. Thus, rezoning the property is not an option available to the District.
"It's not an easy issue," Evans suggested, further acknowledging that the Red Cross, "by matter of right, can build the building."
It may not be an easy issue for Evans as long as he views it through the eyes of constituents who see it as a struggle to save the neighborhood.
On the other hand, voting to approve the IRB application should be easy for council members who agree that the Red Cross followed the rules and that having its headquarters in the District would be an asset.