Friday, September 28, 2007

DC Council to Halt West End Development Process




This week, several DC Council members pledged to rescind a resolution passed earlier this summer which would have granted the rights to purchase three separate parcels of land in DC’s West End to DC-based Eastbanc Inc. at market rate. The Council had passed the emergency measure in July, granting Eastbanc the right to develop the properties in exchange for its commitment to rebuild the fire station, library and the Tiverton apartment building. Eastbanc would have purchased the properties for the appraised value of the "highest and best use" of the land, less any improvements and services that the Council required as a condition of the transfer. 

Under the terms first passed by the Council, Eastbanc would have been required to build a new fire station and library to the specifications of the city, and provide an affordable housing component in what is probably the highest priced neighborhood in the city, on average. The Council also bestowed an interest in the project to a minority developer by requiring Eastbanc to grant 35% of the contract value to a "disadvantaged" local firm, naming several such firms in case Eastbanc's rolodex was short on minority business owners.

The DC Library Renaissance Project, an interest group formed by Ralph Nader with the goal of maintaining the public interest in the District’s libraries, held a rally opposing the resolution. Members of the Library Renaissance Project communicated with both Eastbanc and the tenants of the Tiverton in an attempt to head off the resolution. Robin Diener, director of the DC Library Renaissance Project, commented on the tenants' position: “The residents of the Tiverton had entered into a contract to negotiate exclusively with Eastbanc, and the negotiations later broke down and were legally severed. According to the tenants I spoke with, the terms of the contracts offered by Eastbanc for the purchase of the building were not as promised. A non-negotiable requirement of the tenants was that they support the terms of the Planned Unit Development unconditionally for the ultimate development of Lot 37 by Eastbanc.”

The disposition of the 24th and L Street property went to council on July 10th 2007, where Council members voted on whether to approve Eastbanc’s acquisition of the public property. Councilmember Carol Schwartz, chairperson for the Committee on Workforce Development, halted the process, claiming in a letter to the general public that she “wanted citizens to have at least some opportunity to delve into the particulars of the proposed disposition.” She, together with Councilmember Kwame Brown, scheduled an emergency public meeting on July 3rd after which she voted to approve the Mayor’s legislation in a rushed effort to protect the tenants of Tiverton.

In her statement to the public, Councilmember Schwartz stated, “now that the Tiverton tenants are pursuing other options that should protect them, there is in my mind no longer an emergency.”
Eastbanc has revitalized several neighborhoods in the District. Their past projects include a majority of the development around the West End and Georgetown, including both Ritz Carlton residences, 3303 Water Street and Cady’s Alley. Eastbanc is currently building 22 West, an 95-unit condominium fetching anywhere from $800 to $1000 per square foot, one of the highest selling properties in the DC area.

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