In separate actions, two D.C. citizens groups have demanded immediate investigations into alleged improprieties by four District regulatory board members involved in bids to redevelop a large parcel of city-owned land in downtown Washington.
In a strongly worded resolution last week, the D.C. Federation of Civic Associations said that the involvement of the four board members in the proposals to develop a tract of land around the Gallery Place Metro stop "cannot go unchallenged."
The resolution calls for the removal of Zoning Commission Chairman Ruby B. McZier, Board of Zoning Adjustment Chairman Leonard L. McCants, Alcoholic Beverage Control Board member Larry C. Williams Sr. and D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics Chairman James L. Denson.
Last month, McZier, McCants and Williams joined with the Western Development Corp. in submitting a proposal to build the $100 million-plus Gallery Place hotel, retail and office project, to be located at the Gallery Place Metro stop. Denson submitted another bid for the same project in association with the Gallery Center Corp. All four individuals have denied charges that a conflict of interest exists.
Following submission of the proposals, D.C. City Council member Polly Shackleton (D-Ward 3) said that the three individuals associated with the Western Development Corp. placed "themselves in the possible position of achieving personal financial gain through association with "a developer and said that this raised "serious questions of propriety." Shackleton did not mention Denson in her statement last month.
The federation's resolution asks that the four individuals "remove themselves (from their board positions) . . . and remain unsitted" until a thorough investigation of the matter is completed.
The Washington D.C. Citizens' Planning Coalition, in a milder resolution, said last week that it is "distressed by the apparent or perhaps actual conflict of interest." The coalition urged Mayor Marion Barry to accept the resignations of McCants, Williams and McZier.
"Your acceptance of the resignations of these members . . . could spare your office future embarrassment," planning coalition chairman Carol Currie Gidley said in a letter which was hand-delivered to the mayor this week.
McCants, Williams and McZier, in letters dated Sept. 14, the day they submitted bids on the development, informed the mayor of their involvement in the Gallery Place project and offered their resignations if the mayor felt that a conflict of interest existed and if he deemed the resignations appropriate.
In response to these letters, Mayor Barry last week sent letters to McZier, McCants and Williams, which read, in part:
"It is my considered opinion, after investigation and advice of the Corporation Counsel, that there is no conflict of interest nor impropriety in your position as a bidder on the D.C. Parcel 6 project and your official activities, nor does one appear likely. f.s. But in such an event, I am sure appropriate steps will be taken by you to prevent any conflict or potential conflict."
McCants, contacted early this week, denied that there was any conflict of interest. "The mayor has looked the matter over and the Corporation Council has looked the matter over . . . and nobody has found a conflict of interest," he said.
McZier and Williams have also denied that any conflict of interest exists. "The thing is, neither Polly Shackleton, nor anybody else has defined the nature of the conflict," McZier said during a telephone interview. She further stated that it is highly unlikely that the development in question will even come up before the Zoning Commission.
"The zoning needed to develop it as RLA (the Renewal Land Authority) wants it to be developed is already on the land," McZier said.
Denson also denied that a conflict of interest exists in his case. "I'm not involved in licensing, I'm not involved in land decisions or zoning, and so I have no conflict of interest . . . . However if it comes to that, I'm prepared to step down, if the city attorney should rule that a conflict existed in the case," he said.