Staff Editorial: West End development gone about in the wrong way

Developments over the summer to sell the land currently occupied by the West End Library and firehouse on an “emergency” basis to a real estate development company is cause for concern not only for neighbors but also for the integrity of the D.C. City Council.

The most alarming element is not the actual proposed development, but rather the way that the city council went about ratifying it.

The deal, which was approved in July despite the complaints of West End neighbors, will see the demolition of the library and firehouse to make room for real estate and retail development. Perennial presidential candidate and founder of the D.C. Library Renaissance Project Ralph Nader has spoken out against the plan to sell the land to the Eastbanc company, which has already developed the Ritz Carlton hotel and condominiums in the area.

Adding to the controversy is the fact Eastbanc was the sole bidder for the opportunity to build-up a prime piece of real estate. While they promise to rebuild the library and firehouse, the ruling states the land is “no longer required for public purposes.” This could be the beginning of a slippery slope in dealings between the D.C. government and private enterprises without a competitive and comprehensive process.

Foggy Bottom residents, including GW students, should be vigilant of city decisions that bypass the usual methods of community involvement. Although often frustrating for GW initiatives, the usual protocol in dealing with development proposals is vital for neighborhoods and the city to work together for beneficial resolutions. Because of this speedy and one-sided decision, the residents of the West End may not be getting all they could out of a publicly debated and studied transaction.

With many students moving into West End area apartments and the building of Square 54, our two neighborhoods are more intertwined than ever. GW students, at the very least, should remain informed citizens as this situation could be seen in the future if nothing is said now. Although often at odds, GW and the West End should both demand a fair process in dealing with development proposals and the execution of the decision-making procedure.

Yet at this point, any community members’ voices seem to be falling on deaf ears.

The opinions of the Foggy Bottom/West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission were bypassed in this emergency situation that will unfortunately cause controversy for a neighborhood that is actually open to the idea of new development.

With the continued growth around and north of Washington Circle, much of which stems from GW, all parties should walk a fine line between developing the neighborhood and keeping it’s historical charm and quaint nature. While additions to the neighborhood can be beneficial, it is understandable when residents become weary at the thought of another imposing high-rise.

It should be applauded that L. Asher Corson, president of ANC Ward 2 and a 2007 graduate of GW, is demanding answers from the council. He is leading the way in a battle to have the decision rescinded in the face of the ruling. It is becoming evident that some elected officials in the matter are failing to represent their constituents’ voices.

The controversy facing the West End isn’t only about development – it’s about the abuse of the means in which the city moves forward with such projects. Major development decisions must be thoroughly debated with the viewpoints of neighborhood citizens taken into prominent consideration before one-sided verdicts mandate action.

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