Washington's urban renewal agency took back the development rights to the largest city-owned commercial site on H Street NE yesterday, saying developer W. Loraine Alexander had failed after four years to obtain firm financing for the project.
At the same time the Redevelopment Land Agency also removed developers from a major housing site and 12 smaller city-owned residential sites in other parts of the District because they, too, had failed to obtain adequate financing. The board is expected to seek new bids on all the sites.
The action, which appeared to be a departure from the board's past reluctance to revoke development rights, came two months after the city housing department released a report criticizing the lack of progress in redevelopment along the riot-damaged H Street corridor.
The city's report strongly suggested that the current developers of the major H Street parcels of land now be removed because they had failed to move forward on the projects.
At one point in a testy discussion yesterday with RLA Chairman Nira Long about the project's financing, Alexander gave the board a letter that she described as "a firm letter for commitment." When Long asked Alexander's attorney, Edwin C. Brown Jr., his opinion of the letter, Brown said it was not a firm commitment.
"A developer should recognize what is a commitment," Long told Alexander, who owns a restaurant, now temporarily closed, on H Street and who has been involved in rehabilitation efforts in the area.
After the board's unanimous vote revoking the development rights, Alexander said she would supply documents "within 24 hours" substantiating the financing for the project.
Mayor Marion Barry has criticized the RLA for its failure to move development projects forward on much of its city-owned land.
When Long was asked yesterday if the board had a new "get tough" policy as a result of the mayor's criticism, she said, "I don't think we had had a conscious get tough policy. We have been talking about this for some time. They all just happened to fall on the same day."
Board member Stephen Klein interjected, "These projects have been going nowhere for years."
The RLA delayed action yesterday on a staff recommendation to remove the Farragut Partners as the developers of another H Street site, after the developers' attorney, Robert Jeffers, said he had not had adequate time to prepare for the hearing.
Among its actions yesterday, the board revoked the right of the Norfolk-based Bush Development Co. to build 700 apartments at the corner of Fourth and K streets NW.
Bush had originally planned 1,000 housing units for the site, and 302 federally subsidized apartments for the elderly were completed in 1981. High interest rates and the cutoff of federal housing funds made the rest of the project impossible to finance.
William S. Tennant, Bush's lawyer, said the company should be allowed to retain its development rights while it worked with the city to change the urban renewal plan to allow commercial development on the site.
The board also took back the development rights to 12 boarded-up houses in the 14th Street area, which it had given to four community groups three years ago. The groups had failed to get the necessary financing to renovate the houses.
Two other community-based nonprofit sponsors, St. Stephen of the Incarnation Church and the United Planning Organization, successfully rehabilitated the seven houses they received, and those homes are now occupied, a housing department staff report said.