Developers of a D.C. mayoral mansion have drastically scaled down a proposal to gain access to several acres of national parkland in Northwest Washington after running into stiff community opposition.
Richard W. Carr, a board member of the Casey Mansion Foundation, which is developing the mansion, informed Foxhall residents of the new plans in a meeting Sunday. Carr told residents that the foundation intends to ask only for an easement to build a driveway and landscape two acres owned by the National Park Service adjacent to the site at 1801 Foxhall Rd. NW. Originally, the foundation wanted four acres and in exchange had offered the Park Service two small parcels on the Georgetown waterfront.
An easement, rather than a deed transfer, would allow the Park Service to retain ownership of the land and attach more restrictions on its use.
Pete Ross, head of the Foxhall citizens group that opposed the land swap, said his organization declined to take a formal position and asked Carr to provide more specifics within the week. After the meeting, however, the board of directors informally voted 10 to 0 to support the basics of the new plan.
"This is a win-win," Ross said. "We're going from something that was to be four acres behind a gated fence to having [those acres] be part of the mansion but remain open property."
Reached at his office yesterday, Carr confirmed that the proposal would involve two acres or less, but he declined to provide specifics.
"We're not at the elaboration point yet," he said. "We're trying to work it out. I think we're making progress in trying to find a compromise everyone is happy with."
The Eugene B. Casey Foundation has been trying for nearly two years to build a mansion for D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) and his successors. The foundation made a $50 million donation to the city and already has purchased 16 1/2 acres in Foxhall for the project.
Foundation officials said in June that they needed the additional four acres to provide an access road, service entrance and security booth.
But many Foxhall residents objected. Some said the swap was not equitable because the four acres were more valuable than the waterfront property. Others argued that the parkland served as a home to precious wildlife and absorbed erosive sediment and water runoff during storms.
The controversy has slowed the development of a project that was embraced by most city leaders when it was announced in February 2001. Developers initially hoped the mansion would be completed by last fall, but architectural designs have yet to be developed and the project is at least two years from being finished, officials said.
In a letter to the Park Service in December, Carr said continued community opposition might make foundation Chairman Betty Brown Casey reconsider her donation to the city.
"The reaction from the community, which previously had no interest in this land, seems inappropriate," Carr wrote. If the project does not move forward expeditiously, he added, "I believe Mrs. Casey will rethink the entire project, as the spirit of her generosity will clearly not have been met in the reception we have been given."
Asked yesterday whether the project was in jeopardy, Carr said: "Nope. Right now, we're trying to solve the problem."
D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), one of several council members who supported the original mansion project but opposed the four-acre land swap, said he will need to learn more about the new proposal before taking a position.
"The bottom line is that we are looking for a solution to this," Mendelson said. "There is no question Mrs. Casey is very gracious in her donation. I think that's the reason the council accepted it. We just need to work it through."
Ross stressed that most Foxhall neighbors support the general idea of the mansion because they fear that if the mansion is not built, the 16 1/2 acres owned by the Casey Foundation will be used for denser residential development. Studies have shown that the property could accommodate 144 houses.
"We want to give them something to go on," Ross said. "We want the mayor's mansion, so we don't want to dilly around too long."