D.C. Council Eyes Checks on Property for Developers; Fenty's Schools Plan Sparks Measure

Article excerpt

Byline: Gary Emerling, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

D.C. Council members want to place tighter requirements on Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's administration designating city-owned property for use by private developers, following his failed proposal this summer to redevelop a public library and recent plan to close more than 20 schools.

"We must be extremely vigilant and provide legislative safeguards to protect the people's property for the people," said Harry Thomas Jr., Ward 5 Democrat.

Mr. Thomas and council member Marion Barry yesterday introduced legislation that would require Fenty officials and D.C. agencies in charge of city properties to provide detailed explanations of why they are allocating parcels of land for use by private companies and developers.

For example, Mr. Fenty, a Democrat, would have to submit a resolution to the council stating the property is not required for public purposes and prove why it should be sold or leased to developers, instead of housing city agencies that now lease private space.

Another key part of the proposed bill is a requirement that the mayor hold at least two public hearings near the property before designating it as a parcel for private use.

The legislation, which was referred to the council's Committee on Workforce Development and Government Operations, follows several contentious land-use decisions made by city officials this year.

Council members in October reneged on a plan proposed by Fenty officials to negotiate exclusively with developer Eastbanc Inc. for the sale and redevelopment of the West End Neighborhood Library, a fire station and nearby land. Members initially approved the deal by a 12-1 vote, but voted to reconsider the plan following an outcry from residents and community groups.

Two weeks ago, Mr. Fenty and D.C. public schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee announced plans to close 23 schools to "rightsize" the system and fund additional academic programs.

The proposed closures would add to the District's existing list of hundreds of vacant properties and have caused concern among residents about the buildings being abandoned by the District, then sold to developers.

Mr. Fenty has not outlined plans for most of the empty school facilities, but has said they will not be sold.

The city has 290 vacant properties, according to the Office of Property Management. …