- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Members of the D.C. Council have changed their minds about legislation allowing the District to sell a library and fire station in Northwest to a specific private developer and will attempt to rescind the measure next week.

“In 20-20 hindsight, everyone recognizes that the process could have been [done] better,” said Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat who has agreed to support rescinding the bill along with Kwame R. Brown, at-large Democrat, and Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican. “And that’s why we’re going to start it over.”

The council in July voted 12-1 in favor of an emergency proposal that would allow Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s administration to negotiate with EastBanc Inc. for the sale and redevelopment of the West End Neighborhood Library, a fire station and nearby land.

EastBanc planned to build a new library and fire station in a mixed-use development, which still would have required additional council approval.

But community groups and neighborhood representatives opposed the deal, saying they had little public notice and inadequate input.

“The problem was not with the project,” Joy Howell, president of the Foggy Bottom Association, said yesterday.”The problem was with the lack of public participation in the process, the lack of public notice that the decision was imminent.”

The motion to rescind the agreement is expected to be introduced at the council’s legislative session Oct. 2. All three council members are on the Committee on Economic Development, and Mr. Brown is chairman of the panel.

At a hearing held by the committee yesterday, Mr. Brown stressed the importance of increasing public input in the government’s decisions to develop public property.

“There should be some process [so] that everyone understands what takes place,” he said.

Some council members have said their initial votes in favor of the deal stemmed from misinformation about EastBanc’s negotiations to develop the Tiverton apartment building near the library.

Mr. Brown said he understood that the building’s tenants had agreed to deal exclusively with EastBanc, and Mrs. Schwartz said she understood that voting for the emergency bill was crucial to preserve the tenants’ right to first refusal and to save their homes. Tenants have since signed a deal to sell the building to another company.

At least five community groups — including advisory neighborhood commissions in Adams Morgan and Dupont Circle — passed resolutions against the West End agreement, and the grass-roots organization Empower DC held a protest last week that interrupted the council’s session.

Robin Diener, director of the D.C. Library Renaissance Project, told council members yesterday that their effort to rescind the legislation was “historic.”

“We thank you for listening to the community in a way that I have not [seen] before,” she said during the hearing. “This means more than lip service on your part, so we have our fingers crossed that this is what’s going to happen.”

The library is in the 1100 block of 24th Street Northwest, and the fire station is in the 2200 block of M Street Northwest.

Rescinding the legislation would prompt city officials to open a competitive process to develop the site, said Sean Madigan, a spokesman for the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development.

Anthony Lanier, EastBanc’s president, said he intends to see what process city officials undertake before he determines his company’s next course of action.

“It’s only disappointing in the context that something that could have been accomplished in a fairly short period of time and demonstrated success now may never be done,” he said.

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