August 9, 2013
For IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Robin Diener
Court of Appeals Defers to Zoning Commission in Denying West End Appeal
The District of Columbia Court of Appeals issued a decision on August 8, affirming the standing of the DC Library Renaissance Project/West End Library Advisory Group (WELAG) to challenge a Zoning Commission order approving the Planned Unit Development (“PUD”) application of EastBanc/W.D.C. Partners to acquire and build on public property in the West End.
Despite this, the Court deferred to the Zoning Commission’s approval of the PUD, thereby completing the transfer of three public parcels—currently home to the West End Public Library, the recently-renovated West End fire station and a police station—into private hands.
In its appeal, WELAG argued that the Zoning Commission ignored the value of the public property in the no-cash land swap underlying the deal, pointing out that it does not deliver even the minimal value testified to ($30 million) by the District’s Chief Financial Officer. Under the deferential standard of review applicable to Zoning Commission decisions, the Court concluded that “The Commission acted reasonably in interpreting its own regulation to permit it to decline to look behind the land transfer.”
WELAG also argued that the Zoning Commission’s waiver of the District’s Inclusionary Zoning (“IZ”) regulations based on construction of new library and firehouse was improper since the District, not EastBanc, will pay for the new facilities through the value of the property conveyed. Housing advocates long fought to see IZ regulations—which require developers to integrate a specified percentage of affordable housing into new developments—enacted. Also, Mayor Vincent Gray announced in 2011 that the city will provide an additional $7 million subsidy to build affordable housing over the fire station, which will then be owned by EastBanc.
WELAG attorney Oliver Hall said, “This is the unfortunate trend in so-called public-private partnerships throughout the District, which ought to be called what they are: giveaways of public assets, negotiated by the Mayor’s office, approved by the Council, and paid for by District taxpayers.”
Robin Diener of the DCLRP said, “We appreciate the Court’s clear confirmation of our rights to appeal questionable decisions on the part of elected and appointed DC officials. However, without any required analysis of land value, an intrinsic element of this deal, citizens will continue to wonder why tens of millions of dollars that could have gone to renovate MLK or neighborhood libraries will not be realized by this sale of a library property.”