Library Trustees Issue Mixed Message Regarding Mixed-Use Policy


Contact Robin Diener 202 431-9254

Library Trustees Issue Mixed Message Regarding Mixed-Use Policy The Board of Library Trustees passed a new policy regarding mixed-use at public libraries, including that of DC’s central library, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, at their bimonthly meeting on Wednesday May 28. The new policy and a set of principles for renovation of MLK were developed by the Trustees’ Facilities Committee and presented to the full board of Library Trustees. The new policy was not available for the public to read until about noon, six hours before the Trustees meeting, where it passed after brief discussion. It replaces a 2007 policy. ·

New Policy ·

Old Policy

Citywide Advisory Neighborhood Commissions were not notified per ANC Law about this major policy change before the final decision at the Trustees meeting.

Conflicting Policy Positions

The new Mixed-Use Real Estate Projects Policy presumably would apply system wide and takes a seemingly passive approach: “The Board of Library Trustees is open to exploring mixed-use opportunities, where appropriate, for libraries as a way to increase visibility and access, and generate revenue.”

However, a second document — MLK Renovation Principles — indicated that library staff would be pro-active in looking for mixed-use for the central library: “DCPL will seek mixed-use options.” The policy further stated, “All options will be judged from a financial, programmatic and ownership framework,” but offered no guidelines for types of mixed-use desired or the controversial issue of public versus private partnerships.

Trustee Myrna Perralta, a veteran of the mixed-use wars at Benning and Tenley, but who is not on the Facilities Committee that developed the new policy, gave an immediate strong caution saying, “It is ironic that we are discussing this at Benning, where residents didn’t want mixed use… And where it got ugly, to say the least.”

Residents’ opposition Perralta recalled, “was because they didn’t want the library diluted. That sentiment gets repeated whenever we talk about mixed use.”

Trustee Bonnie Coen weighed in about the first of the MLK Renovation Principles, “DCPL will optimize the utilization of the historic landmarked MLK Library.” She asked that the phrase “as a library” be added.

Trustee Valerie Mallet concurred and wider discussion ensued. The phrase “as a central library” was ultimately adopted.

Library President Hill’s Public Assurances Contradicted in New Request for Architects for MLK

August 28, 2013
Contact Robin Diener
202 431-9254

Library Board President John Hill’s Public Assurances
Contradicted in New Request for Architects for MLK

In response to recent questions about plans for the renovation of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library, John W. Hill, the President of the Library Trustees said, “No decisions have been made. Everything is on the table.”

His comments came on July 27, 2013 at the regular bi-monthly meeting of the Board of Library Trustees, where Hill also noted that the Library is due to issue a report on DC’s central public library by October 1, as requested by the DC Council in the Budget Support Act.

On August 21, however, the Library issued a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for architects , the terms of which seem to indicate that the option for a fully public building has already been eliminated, “in anticipation of a future public private partnership,” according to “Section 4.0 Services Requested” of the RFQ .

“It concerns us that the RFQ was issued prior to the Council-mandated report and any public discussion of it,” said Robin Diener, Director of the DC Library Renaissance Project. “The RFQ language leads us to believe that the report will focus on private partnerships only for financing, and won’t meaningfully consider public-public options and the financial benefits they might confer.”

For instance, the DC Archives was allocated $42 million for a new facility but has no location as yet. New Orleans and San Francisco house their municipal archives at their central libraries and the city archives of Vancouver, BC will shortly move into the top two floors of Vancouver’s central public library.

RFQ for architects

San Francisco City Archives

New Orleans City Archive


In response to articles about the release of an RFQ for architects to renovate MLK, assertions have been made  that we oppose renovations to libraries. Honestly? No one has done more to advocate for libraries in DC than the DC Library Renaissance Project and the District Dynamos. And we have succeeded.

We led the effort to save MLK in 2006;
We led the effort to fund neighborhood library rebuilding (17 new libraries to date);
We led the effort to keep MLK library open on Sundays when Mayor Gray threatened to close it 2011;
We led the effort to get library hours increased at all branches (begins Oct 1).

For the last seven years, we have also testified to the need for a Citizens Task Force on the MLK Library.  There have been 5 chairs of DC Council Library Committee during that time (Patterson, Thomas, Bowser, Wells and Catania). We are the constant representative of the public interest in DC’s public libraries.

What we do oppose:

Undervaluation of the most valuable public land in the city (West End Library and parcels) in order to sell it at bargain rates to developer contributor friends of Jack Evans, Tommy Wells, Tony Williams and the rest of the bunch over at the Federal City Council;
Violation of Inclusionary Zoning (of Affordable Housing) Law to do so;
Privatization of the central public library of DC.

No other capital city in the world is privatizing its central library or proposing to replace it with a smaller one. Nor is there any economic imperative for DC to do so. To the contrary, the Urban Land Institute found DC to be the most financially secure city in the US, in its 2011 study commissioned by the DC Library Trustees.

Everyone wants a great central library for DC. It’s not necessary to give anything away or sell out to private interests in order to make the best municipal library in the world.

We already have a structurally sound historic building purpose designed by an iconic architect. We have plenty of money to renovate it into a leading edge 21st century facility. Make it bigger and better, but keep it public.

Add the two stories that were originally intended by architect Mies van der Rohe. Put in the DC Archives (it comes with $42 million in the capital budget but has no location). Put in a performance hall and rehearsal rooms, put in a community college, put in a roof garden, put in a book spiral, put in daycare for library users. There are myriad public, educational uses that could be centered at 901 G Street, NW.

When there are so many possibilities, why are we entertaining the same tired idea that private interests can do it better? And by the way, is there a District leader that can put this partnership into a coherent proposal for DC residents to consider? The library belongs to everyone, and the central library is the most important and most used public building we have. The privatization issue is one citizens must decide.

It would be nice if District leaders would ask the residents and library users of the District what they want. Doubtful that it would be a smaller central library, without parking, buried under eight floors of grade A office space.

DCPL Issues Request for Qualifications for Architect to Renovate MLK Memorial Library

The DC Public Library today issued an RFQ (request for qualifications) for an architect to renovate DC’s central library, MLK Memorial at 901 G Street NW.  The sudden issuance is a surprise. It was not mentioned at last night’s monthly meeting of the MLK Friends.  In addition, DCPL was charged with presenting a report to the DC Council Library Committee by this October, outlining “the project’s community and stakeholder engagement plan to identify the needs and perspectives of District residents” per the 2013 Budget Support Act.  It is not clear how architects could reasonably  respond to the RFQ when the public has not yet been consulted about its preferences for the building’s future use, including potential private partnerships, public partnerships or other co-locations, as well as the types of activities it would like to see.

As part of the Budget Support Act deliberations this spring and summer, our Project had asked that public consultation about the future of the central library be prioritized as the first matter of business by DCPL before any other planning including, partnerships, financing and design.  We predicted that DCPL would move ahead without public consent if not reigned in, and so they are.

Background  The central library was designed by iconic modernist architect Mies van der Rohe and opened to the public in 1972. The facility fell into disrepair along with the District’s branch libraries during the long years of governmental “deferred maintenance.” So much so, that over the years various officials were accused of practicing  “demolition by neglect.”  In 1999, then-members of the Board of Library Trustees worked with the Urban Design Committee of the American Institute of Architects, led by local architect Kent Cooper, to examine issues identified by the staff and library-going public and devise solutions. The AIA recommendations went unacted upon until 2005, when Mayor Anthony Williams put into a Budget Support Act mayoral authority to sell the building. Public opposition, led by a coalition of preservationists, library advocates, and our Project — armed with the AIA recommendations — derailed the vague plan in favor of a focus on rebuilding neighborhood branches. Since that time 17 new and renovated libraries have been added or transformed.

Since 2006, our Project has been calling for a Citizens Task Force on the Future of MLK. In 2008 and again in 2013, the Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission (2B) passed resolutions in favor of a citizen task force. In 2008, DCPL informed ANC2B its resolution was premature. The March 2013 resolution has not yet received a response.

ANC Resolution

Press Release re West End Parcels Appeal

August 9, 2013
Contact Robin Diener
202 431-9254

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.”

Council Should Deny the Mayor’s Nomination of Neil Albert to the Library Trustees

The DC Library Renaissance Project opposes the nomination of Neil Albert to the Board of Library Trustees. Among other things, Mr. Albert’s focus is on real estate development, which is not a priority of the board. Moreover, the details of some of Mr. Albert’s very controversial actions in his previous role as a DC Government official on two library development projects indicate that he is not suited for this particular board service.

Martin Luther King Library: On behalf of the administration of former Mayor Anthony Williams, Mr. Albert spearheaded an inexplicable attempt to divest DC of its central library (and only local memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.). That plan—covertly introduced through a mention buried in the 2004 Budget Support Act—was notable in retrospect for its total disenfranchisement of the public. Eventually uncoupled from the BSA, the plan to sell Martin Luther King, Jr. Library became the subject of multiple hearings demanded by the outraged public and was subsequently dropped.

West End Library and Fire Station: In his position as Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development during the Fenty Administration, Mr. Albert supported and advanced July 2007 sole-source emergency legislation (a no-bid arrangement) for a large real estate development effort in the West End. The project involved the giveaway of multiple public parcels, including the West End Library. The private beneficiary of DMPED’s largesse in this case was real estate developer EastBanc. Sustained public outcry compelled City Council to investigate, and in the course of one hearing, Mr. Albert was summoned to testify about his ownership—a clear conflict of interest to which he admitted—of an investment apartment in the condominium building located directly across from the proposed development. City Council rescinded the emergency legislation in October 2007.

In a related issue, subsequent legislation was brought to Council by citizen groups working with the American Civil Liberties Union to require public inclusion in the “surplus and disposition” of public land, a “best practice” already used by other jurisdictions that testified during these hearings. After these improved public inclusion processes were mandated, a new and purportedly competitive Request for Proposals (RFP) on the West End project was issued in late 2008 by DMPED.

The parameters of the RFP were strikingly similar to the original no-bid proposal, and, despite much initial developer interest, there was no response to the initial RFP. Mr. Albert’s office adjusted and re-issued the RFP, which resulted in only two responses, EastBanc’s and another developer’s (that proposal did not include the fire station property). Predictably, EastBanc’s bid—which had been shopped around the neighborhood since 2004—was chosen by DMPED and the community was supportive, primarily because it had no idea that its extremely valuable assets were being traded away for a pittance…

We ask City Council to consider Mr. Albert’s history of poor judgment and stewardship while a public employee. Moreover, it was announced in February 2011 that Mr. Albert, who left with the outgoing Fenty administration, is now working as a senior policy advisor in the Public Policy & Regulation Practice Group of Holland & Knight, the Zoning and Land Use firm for EastBanc’s real estate development projects. Surely, there must be more suitable candidates—with a record of advancing the public’s interest through libraries—than Mr. Albert and we ask that his nomination be denied so that person or person(s) can step forward.

Mayor Petitioned in FOIA Appeal

March 22, 2013
Contact Robin Diener
[email protected]

Mayor Petitioned in FOIA Appeal

The DC Library Renaissance Project (DCLRP) Wednesday filed an appeal after a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request was denied by the office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED)’s FOIA officer.

Denials of FOIA requests are appealed directly to the Mayor, whose office has not yet responded but which has ten days to do so.

DCLRP’s FOIA request was for the Land Disposition Agreement (LDA) in the matter of the “sale” of three pieces of public land in the West End — to be conveyed to a developer, EastBanc LLC, in exchange for construction of a library and firehouse.  A draft LDA was presented to the DC Council but no final version is in the public record.  Also referred to as a “term sheet,” the LDA in this case would outline (among other things) the relationship between the public facilities and private buildings in which the library and firehouse would be located.

DC LRP maintains that the grounds for denial — attorney client privilege — are incorrect. The terms of sale of publicly owned assets should be public information.

Update March 23, 2013
DCLRP lawyer has asked the DC Attorney General to look into whistleblower allegations of document shredding by the Deputy Mayor’s Office for Planning and Economic Development.



FOIA Request Denied for West End Library Agreement

March 14, 2013
Contact Robin Diener
[email protected]

FOIA Request Denied for West End Library Agreement

A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Officer has denied a request by the DC Library Renaissance Project (DCLRP) for a copy of the final land disposition agreement (LDA) between the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) and developer EastBanc, LLC for the controversial West End Parcels deal. An LDA is a contract of sale, often referred to as a term sheet.

When the case was heard recently at the Court of Appeals, Judge Roy L. McNeese’s first question was “Where is the final LDA?” EastBanc’s counsel Deborah Baum confirmed that only a draft agreement was included in the record.

“The terms of a deal conveying valuable public property to a private developer should be public,” said DCLRP attorney Oliver Hall. “The District’s refusal to disclose the LDA, in apparent violation of the District’s open records law, raises serious questions about the propriety of this deal.”

The DC Library Renaissance Project is suing the Zoning Commission (ZC) over its decision to approve a Planned Unit Development (PUD) of three pieces of publicly-owned land in the West End, which the city is conveying to EastBanc in exchange for its construction of a new library and firehouse. Among the points of contention is the improper granting of a waiver of the affordable housing required under the District’s Inclusionary Zoning law.

DCLRP maintains that prime real estate was substantially undervalued and offered as an incentive to build the facilities, which the ZC then failed to take into account when approving the Eastbanc waiver. In addition, according to DCLRP, the new library/firehouse facilities are being paid for by the city through the land transfer and they should not count towards a waiver.

DCLRP filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the finalized LDA document after the Court of Appeals hearing. On Friday that request was formally denied in an email by DMPED’s FOIA Officer Ayesha Abbasi “on the grounds that these documents contain internal discussions and recommendations of a deliberative nature as well as attorney client communications. These documents are exempt pursuant to D.C. Official Code §2-534 (a)(4).”

DCLRP plans to appeal the denial of its FOIA request.

Court of Appeals Raises Issue of Double Counting in West End Deal

Press Release
February 15, 2013

Can facilities to be constructed by a developer as payment for acquiring public land also be counted as offsets towards a request for zoning relief? That was among the questions posed yesterday in a lengthy hearing at the D.C. Court of Appeals.

The three-judge panel, considered the D.C. Library Renaissance Project’s appeal of the Zoning Commission’s approval of developer EastBanc’s planned unit development (PUD) scheme for three parcels of publicly owned land in the city’s West End. Judge Roy W. McLeese III specifically asked if a new library and firehouse that are part of the PUD deal were being counted “twice.”

DCLRP has argued consistently that, since the city would pay for the facilities through a land transfer, the same facilities cannot be counted to offset the zoning relief requested.

Based on EastBanc’s testimony that it could provide a new library, fire house and 52 units of affordable housing out of the land transfer proceeds and the resulting up-zoned PUD, in 2010 the D.C. Council okayed the land transfer, contingent on PUD approval. By the time EastBanc got to the PUD hearing in 2011, it sought to have the city’s new Inclusionary Zoning law–which requires affordable housing in all new multi-unit residential developments–waived for the luxury residential building it plans to construct, claiming that without this waiver, it could not afford to build both the library and firehouse. EastBanc’s lawyer did not explain this discrepancy.

In rebuttal, DCLRP lawyer Oliver Hall argued that the District’s own appraisal valued the public land at $30 million (the Chief Financial Officer’s Office put the estimated fair market value at $100 million as assessed for deed and recordation fees) and that it was “impossible to weigh the PUD’s adverse effects against its alleged public benefits, as the Zoning Commission is required by law to do.”

The judges seemed to take these contentions seriously, discussing them at length.

Also hearing the case were Judges Vanessa Ruiz and Corinne Beckwith.

Court of Appeals to Hear Arguments in West End Deal

Oral Arguments, Case 12-AA-1183
DC Library Renaissance Project vs. DC Zoning Commission (West End Deal)

Thursday, February 14, 2013 at 9:30 AM
DC Court of Appeals
430 E Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20001

COA calendar:

Read the Documents in the Case:

DC LRP Brief:  Brief of Appellant

Eastbanc Response Eastbanc Reply Brief 

DC LRP Response     2012_12_25_westend_WELAG_response_brief

Proceedings are open to the public.