The District plans to close a controversial Prince George's County impoundment lot that it leased from developer Douglas Jemal for $1 million a year and use city property in Southwest Washington for cars towed from D.C. streets.
The lease for the Jemal lot on Addison Road, which had a capacity of 450 cars, will expire next week. The city will begin moving cars today to the Blue Plains Impoundment and Storage Facility at 5001 Shepherd Parkway SW. Owners can retrieve their towed vehicles at the new location beginning Monday.
The move will consolidate the city's impoundment and abandoned vehicle lots at Blue Plains, which has space for 1,700 vehicles. There will be 500 spaces for cars towed from city streets for parking violations. Owners usually pick up the cars within three days, officials said.
Any vehicles towed because of rush-hour violations will continue to be parked temporarily in nearby neighborhoods because the trip to Blue Plains in heavy traffic would take too long, officials said.
"This is a great move for the city," said William O. Howland Jr., acting director of the Department of Public Works. "It gives us an opportunity to consolidate our towing operations, and we're getting more efficiencies in the future as a result of the consolidation."
By the end of the year, the city hopes to implement a plan that will ease the process in other ways.
The plan includes adding Saturday hours and making Blue Plains a one-stop operation where owners can pick up their vehicles and pay parking violations, thus avoiding a trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles. He also said he is working with Metro to increase the frequency of bus trips to Blue Plains.
Finding a good location for towed cars has been a problem since the city closed the Brentwood NE impoundment lot in 2001 to make way for a shopping center. The city used Blue Plains as a temporary lot for about two months. Later, officials signed a three-year lease agreement with Jemal, a District-based developer, to pay $1 million annually to use eight acres of his property on Addison Road. The city spent $260,000 to make the land usable.
The lease raised questions after Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) tried to rush emergency legislation through the council to buy Jemal's 37-acre lot for $12.5 million. Four years earlier, Jemal purchased the land for $1.5 million.
Initially, Blue Plains did not have enough space for the towed cars, but the city increased the space after it suspended the auction of abandoned vehicles in July.
D.C. Council members Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) and Carol Schwartz (R-At Large) were vocal critics of the Addison Road lease.
Yesterday, Graham said he was pleased that the lease had not been renewed.
"This is positive because we're at least avoiding the very high rent that we would be paying at 4800 Addison Road," Graham said. "I think it was very important not to renew that lease. Whether this is the right location is a question that I can't answer right now."
New legislation and technology upgrades have helped reduce the backlog of abandoned cars. Computer tracking allows the city to process towed cars faster. The city used to store abandoned cars for as long as 45 days, but a new law allows the city to scrap the vehicles after 28 days.
Those improvements will speed the flow of vehicles off the impound lot, Howland said.
The short-term lot for towed vehicles is open 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays. The abandoned vehicle lot is open from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays. To find out where a vehicle has been towed, owners can call (202) 727-5000 or goto the District's Web site at www.dpw.dc.gov and click on the towed vehicle indicator.