The D.C. City Council passed controversial “emergency” legislation this summer to sell the area surrounding the West End Library to a private developer without the approval of community groups.
The legislation would allow Eastbanc, a private developer, to purchase a public plot of land on 24th and L streets. Emergency legislation bypasses the Foggy Bottom/West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission, which usually advises the District government on development and neighborhood issues. This special process must be approved by the mayor.
Jack Evans, D.C. councilmember for the area, wrote that the bill was rushed so residents of the Tiverton – a building in the lot – could buy their properties before their rights expire, according to an e-mail forwarded to a Foggy Bottom resident listserv. The Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act gives all tenants in the District the opportunity to buy their property if it is put up for sale.
The approved bill states that Eastbanc must fairly develop the area by creating affordable housing options on par with the local income. It adds that the land is “no longer required for public purposes.”
Ralph Nader, former presidential candidate and founder of the D.C. Library Renaissance Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting District libraries, spoke to local residents outside the West End Library July 14.
“This idea of public/private partnership – to use the latest euphemism – is nothing more than subordinating the public trust, the public interest and the public property,” Nader said. “But this battle is not just your battle. If this goes through, what other D.C. library branch will be next?”
Many people in the neighborhood said at local meetings this summer they oppose the decision and doubt the necessity of the emergency status.
“I think the real reason that people are angry is because of process more than anything,” said L. Asher Corson, president of ANC Ward 2 and a 2007 graduate of GW. “It is outrageous and unreasonable to expect the ANC to support a process that would permanently undermine its ability to comment on these things in the future.”
Under the deal, Eastbanc must agree to rebuild the public library and fire station currently located on the property. The city would reimburse them for those costs.
Eastbanc was responsible for some of the largest development projects in the District, including the Ritz Carlton in Georgetown and another across the street from the firehouse on L Street. The company could develop condominiums or other high-rises in the lot.
Corson said Evans came to an ANC meeting in July and promised he would follow the advice of the Foggy Bottom Association, the ANC and the West End Citizens Association.
Evans voted for the bill, though Corson said most people in the area were against it. “I really do believe that the emergency process was used as a guise to cut the public out in every way,” Corson said. Corson has passed a resolution calling for the Council to rescind the deal.
Don Lincoln, a resident of the Watergate complex, said he thinks the West End area needs some development.
“I think something should be done,” Lincoln said. “But whether they went about it the right way is the question in my mind.”
There is an emergency meeting of the ANC Ward 2 on Sept. 13, several days before the city council reconvenes for the fall.