The D.C. Council Government Operations Committee formally recommended yesterday that the city cancel a controversial $216 million lease for a temporary city hall, contending that the project would be a waste of money that would provide few benefits to the District.
The city signed a 20-year lease in May to move into an building to be constructed at 800 North Capitol St. NW by a group of developers including sports agent Richard A. Bennett Jr., Washington Redskins wide receiver Art Monk and former Redskins safety Brig Owens.
Bennett was a major campaign contributor to Mayor Marion Barry before the mayor abandoned his plans to seek reelection.
The lease agreement brought immediate criticism from council members because it was the most expensive of several sites being considered by the Department of Administrative Services, and because of concern that the project would not be completed by August 1991, when the government is scheduled to move out of the District Building to permit renovations to begin.
In a report approved by voice vote yesterday, the council committee said that it would be cheaper for the government to temporarily house city offices in unused school system buildings or other facilities.
The committee noted that the city government "is facing serious problems in its ability to finance the continuation of essential services to the residents of the District."
Hence, it added, "the District government cannot continue to commit to major expenditures of the taxpayers' dollars for projects that will provide negligible benefits to the citizens of the District and that are far down the list of priorities."
The committee members urged Barry to cancel the lease "as quickly as possible," and to explore "more reasonable alternatives" for relocating city offices.
Barry has previously told council members that he might consider getting out of the lease, but other officials have since said the city is proceeding with the project.
A spokeswoman for City Administrator Carol B. Thompson said yesterday that Thompson "is currently reviewing the committee's report to determine its impact on the relocation of District Building employees."
"This government intends to make a responsible, cost-effective decision regarding the relocation," the spokeswoman said.
Only three members of the five-member Government Operations Committee were present yesterday: Chairman Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large), William Lightfoot (I-At Large) and Nadine P. Winter (D-Ward 6). Kane and Lightfoot voted to support the report; Winter voted present and suggested the panel should not release such a report.
The council cannot formally cancel the lease, but it can refuse to appropriate the necessary funds when it considers the fiscal 1992 budget next February.
Kane, who is running for D.C. delegate to Congress, said it was necessary to send a message to the administration to begin making alternative plans.
"We're saying to the administration that it would be in the best interests of the owners of the site and the best interests of the mayor and the council if you rethink where you are going to put us," Kane said. "The council doesn't think . . . that this is where we should be spending money."