Camp Simms, a 24.4-acre tract in Southeast Washington, will be put up for sale to the highest bidder by the federal government this summer in a deal District officials say they hope will allow the development of a shopping center and low-income housing units at the site.
But some Ward 8 community leaders contend that Mayor Marion Barry is backing down on a promise he made early in 1982 to buy the land so the city could control development for the direct benefit of the impoverished area. City planning officials respond that the mayor promised the land would be properly developed, but not necessarily that the city would buy it.
The property, which used to house a D.C. National Guard unit, now lies idle. Located between Alabama and Mississippi avenues and 13th and 15th streets SE, the facility has 18 low-rise, brick and concrete-block structures, including two small office buildings.
The General Services Administration, which supervises federal land sales, gave city officials from mid-February to March 17 to make an offer to buy the property.
"To my knowledge we have received no interest," said B.C. (Barney) Maltby, GSA's Atlanta-based regional property disposal director. "We will proceed with a public sale this summer."
Sympathizing with the plight of Ward 8, which has a shortage of reasonably priced low- and moderate-income housing and commercial centers, GSA's assistant commissioner for real property Earl E. Jones said the federal agency was unwilling to wait any longer for an "expression of interest" from the city.
"We should have been even farther down the pike than we are, because this property potentially can provide jobs for that community," Jones said. "There have been too many delays already."
In December, Barry told GSA that the city "does not wish to pursue a transfer of the property . . . at full fair market value." John (Skip) McKoy, director of the District's office of planning and development, said "we just don't have the money to pay fair market value."
New rules imposed by President Reagan require GSA to receive fair market value for surplus property, rather than disposing of such parcels as gifts or through discount sales. Federal officials have declined to disclose the market value of the Camp Simms property.
McKoy said the city is currently drafting a letter informing federal officials that the city supports the planned GSA sale.
The sale has the support of City Council member Wilhelmina J. Rolark (D-Ward 8), who said, "This is something that we want to happen out there. We hope that the type of development out there would be something that we can live with."
But Leona Redmond, chairman of the Ward 8 Fellowship Council, said Barry "promised us" the property would be purchased by the city when the federal government declared it excess to its needs.
Redmond said that despite the new rules calling for full-market-value sales, she still intends to press Barry and D.C. Del. Walter E. Fauntroy "to find a way" to buy the land.
"We want the mayor to try to buy it because I believe that once the property is developed, it will more than pay for itself over a period of time," Redmond said. "I just don't trust a private developer with developing the land and giving the local people the full benefits."
Charles B. Anderson, vice chairman of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 8-C, said area residents would lose all control over the development of the site under the planned GSA sale.
"A bowling alley could end up there, without city controls," Anderson said.
McKoy said that the mayor's promise was that the land would be properly developed, not specifically that the city would buy it. He said that as soon as the federal government offers the property for sale, the city will zone it "for the sort of development that will encourage a People's drug store , a Zayre's discount department store and a supermarket to come in . . . along with housing for low-income and elderly families." The zoning proposal has already been approved by community leaders, he said.
McKoy said that if GSA has trouble selling the site, the city may offer some kind of incentive to prospective buyers.
The Camp Simms facility was part of a controversial three-cornered trade proposal last year that had local community leaders angered because the Architect of the U.S. Capitol wanted to put a plant nursery, which would create few, if any, local jobs, on the site.
The office of the architect had sought the land because its tree nursery on the Anacostia River was about to be displaced by proposed construction of a Green Line Metro station. But with the Green Line on hold and the Architect now interested in a parcel of land in D.C. Village near the Blue Plains Sewage Treatment plant, federal officials flashed the green light to begin disposal procedures.