The city's department of transportation has agreed to take a second look at a plan that would speed the clean up of Metro construction materials at the Waterside Mall shopping center in Southwest Washington. Both builder and shoppers have complained about the construction equipment and materials which line the south side of the mall.
Transportation department officials said Saturday that they would reconsider a plan that calls for more drastic limitations on traffic through the area to a Metro contractor to finish his work and remove construction materials by late August or early September. Previously, the department had favored a plan that would have allowed more traffic through but kept the Metro obstacles at 4th and M Streets SW in place longer.
"Why prolong the agony?" asked city council member John Wilson, who held all day hearings Saturday on the multiple problems of the shopping center, a development that was supposed to help revitalize the large urban renewal area in Ward 2, which Wilson represents.
"It looks as if it's a question of detaining a couple of people who want to get home, as opposed to disrupting the community," said Wilson. "Let (the commuters) share in the cost of building the subway. We're building it for them."
The agreement to review the traffic plan with an eye toward gettingt the construction cleaned up faster came in the middle of a long and frequently bitter hearing on the condition of the mall. Residents of the renewed Southwest area recited what has become a familiar list of complaints about the mall, which has failed to become a thriving commercial area.
About 60 persons and two council members, Wilson and Hilda Mason, attended the hearings on the mall's problems held by Wilson's public service and consumer affairs committee.
On one hand, residents of Southwest complained about developer Charles Bressler and charged that he has not done all he could to make the shopping center work. On the other hand, Bressler and associates and a representative of the city's urban renewal agency cited problems beyond Bressler's control, such as Metro and a fear on the part of business of locating in the urban renewal area.
Instead of building apartments which would have made the mall area livelier and provided built-in customers, the developers built an office building and leased it to the Environmental Protection Agency, said representatives of the Save Our Mall Committee, a coalition of neighborhood organizations and residents.
The committee also complained that Bressler had not advertised the mall, had not contacted businesses seeking District locations that might have been prospects for the center. They also charged that he had allowed to locate on the ground floor such businesses that would not draw customers to the mall, such as a consulting firm.
Citing a long list of congressional hearings and meetings with city officials, Kathy Stief, president of the Southwest Neighborhood Assembly, said, "Perhaps our theme song should be 'Just Save your Agenda - We'll Use It Again Next year."
Particularly, said members of the mall committee, they have been disappointed by Mayor Walter E. Washington, who created a task force on the problems of the mall. That group has held only one meeting Stief said.
"The city seems unconcerned," said Stief, who said that "the residents of Southwest have not been able to meet their day-to-day neds (in the shopping center)." The group called on the council committee to investigate Bressler's leasing policies to determine if he were more interested in long-term leases from government agencies than in commercial development, a charge that Bressler denied.
"It's to our best economic advantage to have a viable functioning mall," said Bressler. "The highest and best use would be commercial - if we can get the stores - if they will rent it," he said.
Bressler said that the Metro construction is a major obstacle in attracting new business to the mall. "Last week they closed the mall up to move a water pipe that services the whole area," he said.