City Council member Frank Smith Jr. (D-Ward 1) yesterday asked the D.C. auditor to investigate the recent land deal between the city government, developer Jeffrey N. Cohen and a nonprofit community group to develop property in the Shaw community.
The District paid Cohen and his partners $11 million for six properties, including the former Children's Hospital site at 13th and V streets NW. The city hopes to recover its costs, including an additional $1.5 million in interest, by selling or leasing the land back to Cohen and his new partner, the nonprofit group, to develop as low-cost housing and commercial and retail space.
Smith attended the Feb. 19 press conference at which the deal was formally announced, and endorsed it, saying it would help the area.
But yesterday he asked D.C. Auditor Otis Troupe to clear up questions surrounding the agreement, including the land appraisal and sale price. In closing the deal, the city relied on an appraisal that was paid for by Cohen's partnership.
Smith, whose ward includes the proposed development site, also urged that the board of the nonprofit group, the Shaw Community Redevelopment Corp., be expanded so that a majority of the members are Ward 1 residents. Currently, a majority of the board members live outside the ward, he said.
"The time has come to settle the community turmoil and confusion that has resulted from this project," Smith said. "The proposed partnership between a community-based organization, the private sector and the community has great potential and is something I would like to support, if we can work the problems out."
At the earlier briefing, Smith said it was time that the area's residents, who have lived through times of crime, drugs and a deteriorating neighborhood, enjoyed the benefits of redevelopment.
Last week, a Shaw-area advisory neighborhood commission blasted the development deal, saying it was negotiated in secrecy, and questioned whether the nonprofit group really represented Shaw.
Yesterday, Cohen said he would welcome any investigation. But, he added, "If Frank had all these questions which he now raises, it's somewhat surprising he didn't raise them before, as we briefed him and asked him for recommendations."
Cohen warned that such complicated projects could be jeopardized by unwarranted attacks by politicians and community groups. "If they're going to do that, they're going to risk the success of this type of . . . venture," he said.
Ibrahim Mumin, head of the SCRC and the Shaw PAC, a group formed to comment on the city's area renewal plans, said, "It's kind of unfortunate this letter comes today, because I think we're very close in working out the difference between the various groups."
Cohen and Mumin met with members of the ANC Wednesday evening in an effort to work out those differences and possibly expand the membership of the nonprofit group's board of directors.
Smith yesterday asked Deputy Mayor Curtis McClinton to delay a scheduled March 21 hearing on the proposal or to hold another meeting later