One of the choicest pieces of property in Georgetown, worth at least $2 million and probably much more, is being used by the financially strapped District government as a parking lot for several dozen repair trucks and employes' private cars.
The parcel, three-fourths of an acre of city-owned land located at 28th and M Streets NW, is adjacent to scenic Rock Creek and just across from the posh Four Seasons Hotel. A corner of the property is occupied by an old school building taken over by the D.C. Department of Transportation more than 15 years ago, while the remainder serves as a parking lot.
The city's own assessment rolls indicate that the land is worth $1.2 million, but real estate experts agreed yesterday that the property would bring a minimum of twice that amount -- and likely a good deal more -- if the D.C. government, currently in the midst of a severe budget crisis, decided to put it on the market. Moreover, the experts agree that the property could also bring hundreds of thousands of dollars in rental income.
"What a beautiful hunk of land doing nothing," said real estate broker Michazel D. D. Brown. "It's crazy that the city's got this deficit problem and they've still got all this land just sitting there. If they don't want to sell it, they could even lease it. Imagine the rental on a place like that."
"How much is it worth?" laughingly asked Frank Devlin of H. A. Gill and Son Realtors, a Georgetown firm. "Well, first take your social security number, and then multiply it by your house number, and then . . . ."
Another parcel of land a block away from the parking lot was sold recently for about $100 a square foot, which would raise the market value of the 33,066-square-foot D. C. property to $3.3 million. One realtor, who asked not to be identified, speculated that since the property abuts Rock Creek it could go for betwen $200 and $300 a square foot. Brown guessed that it could bring even more.
Since the property is owned by the city, it provides no property tax revenues and none of the funds that would accrue from other taxes if the land were developed commercially, such as sales tax receipts.
James E. Clark III, acting director of the Department of Transportation, said the lot and the old school building are used by about 120 employes of the agency who do bridge and utility inspection and landscaping. The workers don't necessarily need to be based in Georgetown, he said, but they do need a parking lot for the city vehicles they use on the job.
"I think the theory is correct that it would be very good to sell some of these holdings," Clark said."The only catch is that you've got to find someplace to move to." Clark said that because of the difficulty in finding other sites and convincing residents near a city facility that "they want to be a next-door neighbor to us," sale of such city property is rare: "The general practice is always to look for another city use before a piece of property is surplused or sold," he said.
But Mayor Marion Barry and School Superintendent Vincent E. Reed in recent months have raised the possibility of closing a number of city schools because of declining enrollment. Some of the real estate experts interviewed yesterday suggested that the city would do well to move the Transportation Department functions at the Georgetown site to some other location, like another abandoned school, and selling or leasing the M Street parking lot.
A city task force established by Barry is currently surveying city properties to determine which ones might be disposed of, but after nearly a year of study the task force has yet to release any findings, according to William Green, director of the real estate acquisition section of the Department of General Services, the agency in control of all city properties.
"There's no question that some of these properties need to be looked at in terms of sale," Green said. "At least maybe some progress is being made now."
Green said that in the past the city has rarely sold its properties because of a cumbersome process that first involves asking other agencies if they need the facility, then asking the mayor to recommend sale and finally seeking approval by the City Council. "Most of the times when we've recommended a sale, it has failed to make it all the way to the end," he said.
Green added that properties have rarely been examined for possible sale or rental unless the agency occupying the facility first decides it is no longer needed. Once a property is in an agency's hands, he said, it tends to stay there.
"Sometimes," he said, "a piece of property gets assigned to an agency and they go ahead on their merry way. And it gets lost sight of."