- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 18, 2002

D.C. officials have delayed indefinitely the construction of a $50 million monument in a Southeast neighborhood a decision that both angered and bewildered the project's chief proponent, who has invested about $1 million of his own money in the plan and more than two years of his life.

The Millennium Monument was slated to be built in Barney Circle as a gift to D.C. residents and was part of a plan to rejoin the neighborhood with the Anacostia River, said Rodney Cook Jr., an Atlanta-based developer and philanthropist.

Mr. Cook said, "If this is the way you treat people who come with gifts, I would find it a difficult place to live."

"I was caught completely by surprise. Just a few weeks after sitting with these people to plan the approval calendar, suddenly we are told the monument is in the way of future plans which are as yet not defined," Mr. Cook said during a telephone interview from Georgia. "And I'm told by the fellow that it's a year off, thank you so much for your efforts and please go back to Atlanta. Goodbye."

Residents of the Barney Circle neighborhood west of where the John Philip Sousa Bridge crosses the Anacostia River near Capitol Hill warmly welcome the project.

An abrupt e-mail message from a D.C. Department of Transportation administrator to D.C. Council member Sharon Ambrose, Ward 6 Democrat, sealed the project's fate.

The awkwardly worded e-mail stated that "extensive reconfiguration of the existing transportation infrastructure in this area [makes] any consideration of Mr. Cook's monumental design premature."

The transportation "infrastructure" refers to roads that might be built in the Barney Circle area.

The message was sent by Rick Rybeck, deputy administrator of transportation policy and planning.

Uwe Brandes, project manager for the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative in the D.C. Office of Planning, said the monument project didn't have official status.

"The project has been informally proposed for some time now," Mr. Brandes said, but "no official application [has been] submitted to the District [by Mr. Cook]. The application has not been initiated."

It was the manner by which Mr. Cook was informed of the change that upset Mrs. Ambrose, one of her aides said.

"I will be calling DDOT and the Office of Planning to schedule a meeting as soon as possible to discuss these various issues regarding the monument," Mrs. Ambrose said in a statement.

John Capozzi, former president of the Barney Circle Neighborhood Association, said the District's action is especially alarming because Mr. Cook has raised the money himself and the monument would cost the city nothing.

"We're outraged," Mr. Capozzi said. "This is a project that has such potential positive impact in our neighborhood. It should be approved immediately not delayed."

He said neighborhood residents, who believe the project will encourage tourism and revitalization, will be persistent in efforts to build the monument.

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