- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 20, 2007

Real estate developers should expect tough political opposition if they try to purchase government-owned property from the District.

Community activists are ratcheting up their efforts to block property sales for private development.

They want the land used for public purposes, such as homeless shelters, public libraries and youth activity centers.

About 50 protesters interrupted a D.C. Council meeting Tuesday, shouting, “Public property’s not for sale.” Security guards escorted a half-dozen out of the council chamber after they stood to speak in loud voices about the importance of using public land for public good.

The council meeting continued after the demonstrators left the Wilson Building.

The number of supporters for a group called the People’s Property Campaign has been growing since July 10 emergency legislation by the D.C. Council. It gave developer EastBanc Inc. a right to replace a library, fire station and police station in the West End with high-rise condominiums and retail.

EastBanc agreed to pay the District fair market value for the property. Company officials said they would build a new library and fire station on the sites at 24th and L streets and 23rd and M streets in Northwest.

Protesters object to the fact EastBanc was given the property deal without competitive bids or public hearings.

“We will no longer tolerate back-room deals,” Victor Vandell, a D.C. health department chemist, said during a rally in front of the Wilson Building.

The People’s Property Campaign was organized in 2005 but won a surge of support after the July 10 legislation.

Ward 2 residents were “awakened to the gravity of the situation” by the District’s plan to sell the West End property, said Parisa Norouzi, a People’s Property Campaign organizer.

They say more public-land sales are coming as the D.C. Council tries to make what it calls a better use of underutilized property. Many of the properties are public schools slated for closing.

Jack Evans, a Ward 2 Democrat on the D.C. Council, said tax revenue from private development on the property helps to run the city.

“We actually have more land in our inventory now than we’ve ever had,” said Mr. Evans, who thinks the protesters misunderstand. “It’s a little bit puzzling to me what it’s all about.”

Groups supporting the People’s Property Campaign include the Foggy Bottom Association, the Tenants’ Advocacy Coalition and Ralph Nader’s D.C. Library Renaissance Project.

In other news …

More signs of a slowing office market in Washington showed up in an economic report this week from the real estate information firm Delta Associates.

Washington’s office landlords raised rents an average of only 0.5 percent in the first half of this year, the lowest rate among 15 major cities studied.

Houston and San Francisco tied for the highest rent increases at 10 percent.

Washington’s office market is linked closely with federal government spending, which surged during the military buildup in Iraq.

“Federal spending, particularly defense and security, remains strong in the Washington area,” the Delta Associates report said. “However, the growth rate is slowing.”

Property Lines runs on Thursdays. Call Tom Ramstack at 202/636-3180 or e-mail tramstack@washingtontimes.com.

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