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Vacant Properties Legislation

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  • mhenderson797
    New legislation introduced by the DC Council regarding vacant properties. Councilmember Schwartz s Statement on Today s Introduction Of the Surplus Property
    Message 1 of 1 , May 31, 2008
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      New legislation introduced by the DC Council regarding vacant

      Councilmember Schwartz's Statement on Today's Introduction
      Of the "Surplus Property Amendment Act of 2008"

      Hearing is Scheduled for June 23rd

      Too often, I have seen vacant public properties being sold not to the
      highest bidder, but to the only bidder. Generally, deals such as
      these are characterized by unsolicited proposals, sole-source bids,
      behind-the-scenes negotiations, little or no public input, and only
      the scantest attention paid to the city's own public needs. A great
      deal of cash is spent, and sometimes there is a buy-in from the
      community once some commitments have been made to one group or
      another. Some of those commitments may be kept, some may not. We
      must end the kind of land grabs that have occurred in the past. This
      is no way to treat our city's valuable assets. And, it also
      shortchanges us by not allowing us to take advantage of that
      property. What we must do is look to our own needs, first and
      foremost. Today I introduced legislation designed to do just that.

      The "Surplus Property Amendment Act of 2008" will vastly improve the
      process involved in declaring public properties surplus. Currently,
      the District's surplussing and disposition processes are not
      separate; they occur at the same time and in the same process. The
      overall result is often a developer-driven deal initiated by private
      business entities without any evaluation of the site's value to the
      city is completed, or even considered.

      Occasionally, as with the former women's prison site at North Capitol
      and K Streets, N.W., land has been sold only to be repurchased later
      by the city - at a higher cost - in order to meet public needs. The
      city sold that site at 1010 N. Capitol Street in 2000 through an
      unsolicited bid for $1.1 million, and then bought it back last year
      for $5.75 million. In a different twist, the city - apparently
      feeling that it lacked adequate land of its own in the area - bought
      a property at 6428 Georgia Avenue, N.W. in August 2006 for use as a
      fire station. But after determining that a fire station was not the
      best use of the land, the District decided to sell it back a year

      Another example of the kinds of things that can happen under the
      current process can be found at 225 Virginia Avenue, S.E. In the
      closing days of the former Administration, the city signed a 20-year
      lease costing $6.5 million annually for that property with an eye
      toward moving the Police Headquarters there. But that plan was later
      scrapped because of exorbitant renovation costs not included within
      the terms of the lease and because of other concerns which should
      have been scrutinized much earlier before the long-term expensive
      lease was signed. It's been money down the drain. Now, at my
      suggestion, we are attempting to lessen the District's burden by
      assigning the lease and the opportunity contained within the lease to

      It's obvious that when we do not have a clear idea of what is needed
      in the future, we often end up wasting time, effort and money selling
      properties that we do need, or buying or leasing properties we
      don't. That's craziness! My legislation would separate the
      surplussing process from the disposition process and would establish
      a solid and open method for determining which properties might be
      needed in the future, and lays out a specific process for surplussing
      should the Mayor choose to do so.

      In addition to separating the surplussing and disposition processes,
      the legislation will:

      Require that District property not be sold, leased, transferred or
      otherwise conveyed until the property is deemed by the Council to be
      no longer needed for public purposes

      Require that District agencies no longer needing a specific property
      submit a report to the Mayor detailing the property's size, location,
      and general description

      Direct the Executive to forward the agency's report, along with any
      historical significance and recommended use under the Comprehensive
      Plan, to all other District agencies, giving them an opportunity to
      state a need for the property

      Require that if no agency demonstrates a need for the property, and
      the Mayor wants to consider surplussing the property that he be
      required to notify the community of his intention to do so, and that
      he hold a public meeting to seek residents' input

      Require that if the Mayor does intend to declare that a property is
      no longer needed for public purposes, the Executive must submit a
      proposed resolution detailing its intention for a 60-day period of
      review by the Council

      Stipulate that if the resolution is not acted upon by the Council, it
      will be deemed disapproved

      The District's borders are small - we only have 68.3 square miles of
      land, much of it owned and occupied by the federal government or
      universities. This dearth of available space makes it all the more
      imperative that the District of Columbia retain an adequate amount of
      public property for current and future needs.

      I'm no newcomer to these concerns. For example, as I grew
      increasingly distressed about the sale of parcel after parcel during
      the last Council period, I called for an audit of our public
      properties so that we could compile a comprehensive listing of what
      we owned, and what was not being used. It was hard to imagine that
      such a list did not exist, but it did not. Apparently no such
      undertaking had been performed for many years - if at all. I now
      chair the Council Committee with oversight authority over the Office
      of Property Management and we finally have a comprehensive list of
      unused properties to help in determining how best they might serve
      the public good.

      In addition, two Council periods ago I introduced legislation that
      eventually led to passage of a bill that protected our assets by
      requiring that any city-owned buildings provided to charter schools
      revert back to the District in the event that a school closes, rather
      than letting it become an asset of the defunct school. And, before
      that, valuable District-owned land housing our vehicle impoundment
      and driver's testing lots was sold to make way for commercial
      development. Unfortunately, however, in spite of my insistence that
      the city plan accordingly, it did not do so. Instead, the city was
      about to buy land in Prince George's County for a whopping $12.5
      million - a parcel that had sold just two years earlier for only $1.5
      million - for use as an impoundment lot. I blocked that purchase
      and, as it turned out, the location was unsuitable for an impoundment
      lot any way. At my request, the D.C. Auditor investigated the matter
      and found it so appalling that she felt compelled to subtitle her
      report, "An Example of Official Misfeasance and Malfeasance." While
      I'm proud of my policing efforts, I do believe the better approach is
      to have a statute that actually protects our property.

      I know I am not alone in wanting to make sure we have a good law on
      the books. Of course, the kind of economic development and
      neighborhood revitalization that can be brought about through the
      eventual repurposing of certain vacant public properties can be
      desirable. We need shopping centers, entertainment venues,
      restaurants, office space and gyms - but these should go into our
      buildings or on our lands only after deciding that the city does not
      need those properties for its own basic services. Again, first and
      foremost, we must determine - openly with ample opportunity for
      public input - whether properties are needed for public purposes such
      as senior centers, schools, recreational facilities, libraries or any
      of the other myriad purposes that a good government is responsible
      for providing.

      With a number of public schools soon closing and thus becoming
      vacant, I feel that now is the time to strengthen our property laws.
      There has to be a solid, protective and transparent process in place
      whereby agencies and communities can identify their space needs,
      because remember, when it's gone, it's gone. If we don't act to
      protect what we have, future generations of DC residents will be left
      to cope with the little that's left - and that's not a legacy I wish
      to leave them.

      I have further legislation in mind to address the disposition process
      as well, after we focus on surplussing. I hope to work with the
      Chair of the Committee on Economic Development, which has oversight
      responsibility for the disposition process. Changes to the
      disposition process that I want to see include ending sole-source/no
      bid solicitations, using sealed bids, and requiring public input
      before Requests for Proposals (RFP's) go out, and also after
      proposals are received. But that is left for another day.

      By passing the legislation I introduced this morning, the full
      Council would show that we, as a government, understand just how
      valuable our assets are. It will also show we are being cautious in
      protecting these assets from premature transactions that could cause
      us to forego the use of a property our residents might very well
      need - if not now, then in the future.

      A copy of the Surplus Property Amendment Act of 2008, as well as the
      notice for the June 23rd hearing, are attached.

      2) The DC Public Library is hosting a community design meeting to
      involve community residents and library patrons in plans to design
      and construct the new Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Neighborhood Library on
      Monday, June 23, 2008 6:30 pm @ the Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Interim
      Library 945 Rhode Island Avenue, NW WDC 20001.

      Myla Moss
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