A decision could come as early as next week from the D.C. government on awarding lucrative development rights to the 25-acre McMillan Reservoir site in Ward 5, a prospective land deal that has sparked competition between two well-connected development teams.
On one side is a team headed by local developer Joe Horning that counts among its partners or consultants Arthur M. Reynolds, the law partner of Mayor Marion Barry's attorney, R. Kenneth Mundy; Madeline Petty, former director of housing and community development; and local business executive Duke Greene. The engineering firm headed by former city administrator Elijah Rogers also is working on the project.
On the other side is a group headed by the Kossow/Clarke Limited Partnership. Also involved in the group is the local affiliate of African Episcopal Church and its powerful bishop, H. Hartford Brookins, and members of the law firm Leftwich, Moore & Douglas.
A fierce battle over the site has been building for nearly three years, ever since the city bought the property from the federal government for $9.2 million. The site is near Children's Hospital, between First and North Capitol streets NW.
The two development teams have been wooing civic activists to support for their proposals, which call for differing amounts of housing, recreational facilities and retail space. Ward 5 council member Harry Thomas (D) appears to be supporting the Horning proposal, according to ward activists.
Other activists are opposing any major development and are pushing for the city to maintain large amounts of open space. The site is one of the few remaining parcels of undeveloped parkland in the middle of the city. They have filed suit to stop the city's plans for commercial development at McMillan Reservoir.
Meanwhile, the city appears to be pushing to name a developer before Mayor Marion Barry leaves office, the latest in a series of last-minute land deals that has prompted some political activists to ask: Why the rush?
The D.C. Council was so concerned about Barry's dealings that it passed emergency legislation requiring council review of last-minute major contracts and leases.
Another of those land deals, a proposal to build a massive office-hotel-housing complex over the Center Leg Freeway, has an uncertain future as Barry's tenure draws to a close.
The city has proposed to sell the air rights over the freeway -- Interstate 395 south of Massachusetts Avenue NW -- to developer T. Conrad Monts, but the proposal has yet to receive necessary approval from the D.C. Council.
Council member Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4), who heads the council's Housing and Economic Development Committee, has expressed concern about Monts's ability to finance the project, and community activists have questioned the propriety of granting the rights to Monts without competitive bidding.
The Department of Housing and Community Development has scheduled a hearing on the proposal for this morning. Jarvis's committee postponed action on the proposal several weeks ago, and it is unclear whether it will meet again to consider the project before the council adjourns next week.
If the council takes no action, that could be good news for Monts, because under city rules his proposal is deemed approved by the council unless it is explicitly rejected. The 60-day period for council consideration ends at the end of the month, but there is some legal uncertainty about when that period officially expires. Trouble for Jarvis?
On another front, the widely publicized problems of Latin Investment Corp. could spell political trouble for Jarvis.
Jarvis has been carefully trying to repair her political base since her defeat in the September Democratic mayoral primary. Jarvis, who has been openly cordial to Mayor-Elect Sharon Pratt Dixon, indicated she intends to seek reelection in Ward 4 in two years. She generally has not missed a political beat since her third-place finish in the mayoral race.
But the troubles of Latin Investment raise anew questions of Jarvis's stewardship of the the Housing and Economic Development Committee, which has control over banking legislation in the District. Under Jarvis's authority, the committee has ensured that the D.C. banking regulators' office reports to the legislative branch, not the executive branch. The District is the only jursidiction in the country with that kind of arrangement.
The banking office has no real regulatory authority. Jarvis has said that a bill to give the office new power has remained stuck in the mayor's office, but other critics say it is Jarvis who has emasculated the banking office in an effort to augment her power.
The tough question that remains is whether the city, with greater regulatory power, could have discovered the problems at Latin Investment before it closed last week, prompting panic among hundreds of immigrants who entrusted their money to the corporation.