Monday, October 17, 2011

DC's Land Grab

Federally-owned property islands throughout Washington, D.C. puncture the District government's urban domain, often for obvious reasons, but in some places that seem without rationale for federal jurisdiction. Recent efforts by Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton and the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development have begun to sew together some of the holes, parcel by parcel, adding more territory of the city. The Louisiana Purchase it is not, but a recent bill in the House of Representatives may transfer a cluster of lots from the Department of the Interior to the District. The lots are:

1) Square 336, Lot 828, the site of the Shaw Junior High School recreational fields, valued at $14,689,890.00 as of 2009 (all property values according to the DC Citizen Atlas)

2) Square 542, Lot 85, the site of the Southwest Library, valued at $15,318,280.00 as of 2008,

3) Square 2864, lot 830, the site of Meyer Elementary School (across from Howard University), valued at $13,378,420,

4) Reservation 277-A, a small traffic island at Florida Ave. and North Capitol St.

5) Square 2558, Lot 803, part of the Marie H. Reed Community Learning Center, valued at $519,570, and

6) Square 2558, Lot 810, part of the Marie H. Reed Community Learning Center, valued at $4,758,510.

Shaw Junior High Rec Fields
As part of an effort to consolidate administrative rights on land within the District's jurisdiction, Congresswoman Norton (D-DC) introduced a bill (H.R. 5494) to the House of Representatives on June 9th. The bill mandated that the Director of the National Park Service and the Secretary of the Interior transfer six properties to the District of Columbia, gratis.

Southwest Library
Valerie Santos, Deputy Mayor for Planning and Business Development sat on the panel that addressed the subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands on June 24th, testifying in favor of the transfer of the parcels to the District. While Santos advocated for the transfer, her office explained the rationale:
Meyer Elementary School
"There are no defined uses identified at this point in time. The parcels in question were aggregated through a variety of means. In some cases, the transfer was borne out of community-based discussions on possible future alternatives for these properties. In other cases, the parcels were selected by virtue of the existing uses on the site and the possibility of future co-locations at some educational campuses," said Jose Sousa in the Deputy Mayor's office.

Florida Avenue
The two Department of Interior parcels present a pertinent example of how one building - the Marie H. Reed Community Learning Center - constructed over multiple parcels, sits on both Federal- and District-administered land. The Deputy Mayor's office reports that while there have not been any problems with the administration of the building as is, "complete site control guards against the possibility of any difficulties in the future." There are no plans to redevelop this site. The Shaw Junior High School Recreation fields and Meyer Elementary School are unoccupied, and the intersection of Florida Ave. and North Capitol St. is a traffic island. This intersection is slated as a mixed-use zone under the District's 2006 Future Land Uses map. The city shut down the Meyer Elementary School because of persistent poor performance and violent crime on the premises.

Marie H. Reed Community Learning Center
"This administration is committed to the re-activation of fallow sites across the District. Our office will work with the communities in which these parcels are located to determine what possible uses are best suited to the sites. Similarly, we will continue to evaluate whether there are other parcels in the Federal inventory that would benefit the District in the same fashion," said Sousa. On a large-scale perspective, he compared the city's efforts to redevelop these parcels to the Hill East Project, another federal acquisition, which began the master planning process in 2002 with the intent of better connecting DC to the Anacostia waterfront through a mix of uses. Time will tell if that means new developments on any of the city's newfound property.

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Anonymous said...

how on earth did the triangle on florida become federal property?

IMGoph on Aug 1, 2010, 10:44:00 AM said...

probably because it used to be part of the middle of truxton circle, when it was a circle.

Adam L said...

These sorts of back-and-forth land transfer deals happen all the time. One has to remember, however, that while this may be "gratis", all public property in DC ultimately belongs to the Feds. Congress could revoke the Home Rule Act tomorrow and all "DC-owned" properties would go back to them.

In addition, when the Feds transfer property to DC government, the city also picks up the cost to maintain the property. While it may not be very expensive to maintain small parcels of land, other properties transferred to DC government, especially buildings, require a significant amount of upkeep. Oftentimes the Feds are happy to get rid of properties just so they don't have to deal with them.

Anonymous said...

With respect to maintenance, though - I'd be surprised if the Feds were actually paying to do any maintenance for, say, the SW library. As far as I can see, that's all municipal funds. A good number of parks in the city are maintained by DPR, though owned by the park service. It's kind of annoying because NPS can set rules about what parks can and can't be used for (witness the debates over the ice rink at Ft. Dupont park or the prohibition on dog parks on national park property) but don't have to have to pay to maintain them.

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