The century-old firehouse on Maryland Avenue in Northeast Washington is suddenly a much sought after prize as the former and current Ward 6 D.C. Council members vie for control of the District-owned building.

Just before leaving office this month, council member Nadine P. Winter (D) leased the building, at 1341 Maryland Ave. NE, for $1 a year for the next five years. Winter had used part of the building as a constituent service office. She says she is now the volunteer staff member running the building for a nonprofit group she founded in 1987.

Democrat Harold Brazil, the newly elected council member, has called foul.

"I want space in that building," Brazil said. "It goes with the {elected} office."

Brazil said he has asked the city to terminate the lease.

Winter defends her move by saying she has made use of the building for several decades, even before she became a council member. She suggests that she has what might be called squatters' rights. At any rate, she said, Brazil, who defeated her in the Democratic primary, doesn't have a claim to it.

"I didn't want it to be associated with the council," she said. "This is not a council action. It will be used by the community."

The 5,400-square-foot building was assessed by the city at $140,000 in 1989 and has two large, open floors complete with bathrooms and kitchens. Anna Bush, a neighbor, said the building has a long history as a meeting place for volunteer organizations.

"Since the fire department moved out around 1949, we all have always used it," she said. "Now I don't know what will happen there. It always belonged to the District government and not just one group."

Winter said she is now having second thoughts about having taken out a lease.

"With reporters calling up, someone is trying to make something out of this," she said. "{But} they will never get rid of me. If I am not here, I will open up my basement or use a storefront."

The group that holds the lease is Business Organized to Help Inc., founded in 1987 by Winter. Two of her staff members from her council days are on the board of directors. According to the incorporation papers, the group's business is stated as "nonprofit which provides annual scholarships to high school seniors desiring advanced studies in fashion design or related fields."

Winters said the group holds weekly modeling sessions for children at the firehouse and puts on a fund-raising fashion show each Mother's Day.

When asked why she felt they needed to lease the building rather than merely continue to use the space there, Winter said, "Someone had to take responsibility for it. Someone had to pay the bills. Someone has to schedule events. No one was really in charge."

Brazil said some Ward 6 residents had complained to him during the campaign that they had difficulty getting their meeting on a schedule in the last few years. He said he was told that they often had to wait until someone from Winter's office showed up with the key.

James Lawlor, president of the Tollgate Neighborhood Association, said he and other community members had planned on getting the building listed an a historic place and then restoring it. He said the Advisory Neighorhood Commission had talked of moving its office there.

"We expected to make it a senior citizen center complete with an outdoor sitting place in the summer," he said. "And Harold had agreed to meet with community members on a regular basis to hear our concerns."

Lawlor, who campaigned for Brazil, said he feels his group will be denied use of the building by Winter, but he has yet to approach her.

Winter said everyone was still welcome to use the building, including Brazil.

"But I can't believe he would want to be here under my shadow," she said.

Brazil said he isn't interested in having a desk in Winter's space.

"I think this whole thing is poppycock," he said. "She has misused her public office to obtain a lease at the expense of the community. It is totally improper."