Mayor Anthony A. Williams is urging the D.C. Council to stop trying to negotiate a compromise between the American Red Cross and Foggy Bottom residents who say the charity's proposed 10-story headquarters on E Street NW would destroy their neighborhood.
Williams (D), saying he fears that delays in the project would send a negative message to Congress and businesses, is urging council members to approve up to $105.5 million in tax-free industrial revenue bonds to help finance the project.
"At this point, it's time to make a decision," Max Brown, the mayor's deputy chief of staff for external affairs, said yesterday.
The mayor's push for the council to move ahead with the Red Cross project included a testy letter he sent this week to council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) in which he chastised members for not approving the bonds before now.
Twice this month, council members have delayed voting on the bonds as they tried to work out a compromise between the Red Cross and residents opposed to the construction of a 107-foot building, which would be attached to an existing historic building at 2025 E St. NW. Residents say the structure would be too tall for the neighborhood and would block their apartments from sunlight and scenic views.
In his 2 1/2-page letter, Williams--who recently has stepped up his administration's effort to promote economic development in the city--said the council's delays are sending the wrong signals to the business community and to Congress, which gave the District the authority to issue tax-free industrial revenue bonds. He said that the Red Cross project, which would be built on federal land, has been approved by the proper federal authorities and noted that the council has no legal role in the design of the project.
"I want the District to be 'open for business,' " Williams wrote. "Instead, right now, I feel [the Red Cross] may have concluded that the District has 'given them the business.' "
Congress, Williams wrote, "might look disfavorably on any action that has the effect of changing [the] purpose and scope" of the bond program. "Loss of that program authority would be devastating to our overall well-being and hobble our economic engine."
Cropp said yesterday that the council will vote on the bonds no later than Tuesday, and that she could call a special session to take up the issue before then.
Like Williams, most council members are excited that the Red Cross wants to consolidate its national headquarters and bring into the District 1,200 employees now based in Virginia.
But some council members and residents took issue with Williams's push for quick approval of the bonds, saying residents' concerns must be addressed.
Besides the proposed building's height, residents are concerned that it would not have enough parking spaces and that Red Cross workers would have to park on neighborhood streets.
Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), who represents Foggy Bottom, said the project should not proceed at the expense of longtime residents.
"The council is not behaving irresponsibly or unreasonably," Evans said. "All parties recognize the structure being proposed is not the best structure."
Barbara Kahlow, a resident who for the past three years has challenged the project, said she was surprised and disappointed that Williams was nudging the council to approve the current plan.
"He's basically nonsupportive of the community, even though he's been leading us to believe he was supportive of the community," Kahlow said. "What he basically said is, the council should be a rubber stamp. He didn't want them to exercise any judgment."
Brown, the deputy mayor, said that "we met with the community, met with Red Cross. At some point, both sides refused to compromise and the mayor exercised his leadership and said, 'Let's get this resolved the best way we can.' "
It was Evans who asked Cropp and council member Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4), chairman of the council's Committee on Economic Development, to delay a vote on the bonds while the council tried to get the Red Cross and Foggy Bottom residents to resolve their dispute. Now Jarvis said she, too, believes it's time to vote.
"I think it's time now to simply move forward," she said. "The only thing we could do at the council level now is to harm the Red Cross by failing to issue bonds, which would increase their cost. . . . I'm not prepared to harm the Red Cross in that way."
CAPTION: Foggy Bottom residents John Batham and Barbara Kahlow attend a 1997 meeting on the Red Cross building proposal.