Mayor Marion Barry, criticized in his reelection campaign for ignoring commericial redevelopment outside the downtown area, released a wide-ranging but general plan yesterday for revitalizing the Minnesota Avenue shopping strip in Northeast.
The first part of the two-part proposal calls for redeveloping a 37-acre area around the busy Benning Road and Minnesota Avenue intersection. Most of the area north of Benning Road would be rezoned to allow construction of high-rise buildings with a mixture of offices, stores and condominiums or apartments.
The plan, based on a consultant's report prepared last December, also calls for the city to establish a special planning and taxing district to control the design and appearance of new buildings and to insure that tax dollars generated by the new developments are used to pay for public improvements in the area.
Barry has been sharply criticized by his Democratic challengers in the Sept. 14 primary -- lawyer Patricia Roberts Harris and City Council members John Ray and Charlene Drew Jarvis -- for neglecting economic development in city neighborhoods.
In a press release announcing the plan, Barry said it "is consistent with my commitment to revitalize neighborhoods and concentrate resources on the previously neglected areas east of the Anacostia River."
Barry said the plan could spur new development that would generate $40 million in new buildings and 900 new jobs in 10 years.
But the plan is unfinished, lacks funding for the second part, depends almost exclusively on attracting major devlopers to an area they have long ignored and is devoid of most specifics of how it would be implemented.
The area targeted for redevelopment is in Ward 7, which usually generates the third largest number of votes in Democratic primaries and is considered by the candidates a vital area.
City planning director John (Skip) McCoy, said the release of the plan was not connected to the upcoming primary 11 days away. "We are at a stage that's appropriate to say 'here is the plan'," said McCoy, adding that he was unaware of Barry's earlier promise.
Barry said he was unaware that his public information office had released the plan under his name. "I had not heard it. Did they release that today?" he asked.
Several Ward 7 community leaders said yesterday the plan was simply another in a series of similar plans that had been paid for by the city but had never been carried out.
Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner James Onley, who McCoy said had participated in the plan, said he had not attended a meeting in more than a year.
Onley said those meetings were to help Robert Harmon Associates, a consulting firm, prepare a plan that was finished last year.
"I thought when they had the last study a few years ago it would start development," said Onley, a Barry supporter. "The city has spent $500,000 on studies out here and all tell basically the same thing over and over again."
Walter E. Byard, president of the Ward 7 Business and Professional Organization, which includes storeowners in the area, said the group was never briefed on the plan.
"It's news to me," said Byard, who supports Harris. "I wonder if it is something spur of the moment or if it is thought out."
However, City Council member H.R. Crawford, who represents Ward 7 and who has endorsed Barry, said he was aware of the plan and supported it.
"It is a step in the right direction," said Crawford.