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
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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

Press Release re West End Parcels Appeal

August 9, 2013
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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.”

Mayor Petitioned in FOIA Appeal

March 22, 2013
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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.

Press Release: Expanded Library Hours Put Forward by Jack Evans

July 10, 2012
Contact Robin Diener
202 431-9254

Expanded Library Hours Put Forward by Jack Evans

Ward Two Councilmember Jack Evans introduced legislation today, to restore library hours to the full schedule residents have advocated for, and which the FY2013 budget failed to provide. The bill calls for 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM hours Monday through Thursday, 9:30 AM to 5:30 PM on Friday and Saturday, and noon to 5:00 PM on Sunday.

According to a press release from his office, Evans said “I hear from residents around the District on a regular basis about our inadequate library hours and this bill is the first step in fixing the problem. I am confident that out of our $10 billion budget, we can find $10 million to make this a reality.”

“These hours are needed to realize the return on investment of the District’s $180 million library transformation over the last five years,” said Robin Diener of the DC Library Renaissance Project, an advocacy group that has lobbied extensively for the restoration of hours. “They bring DC in line with the best library systems around the country, such as Seattle’s, which also invested heavily in rebuilding its library system in recent years.”

Diener commended Evans for his responsiveness to library users, noting that Ward Two has three new libraries – Georgetown, Northwest One, and Shaw. Plans for the future of the city’s central library, Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, also located in Ward Two, are currently being studied by an outside consultant.

Since the legislation was introduced during the final DC Council session before summer recess, it’s not clear if the funding for hours could be legislated in time for the start of FY2013 (on October 1, 2012), but Evans’ spokesperson Andrew Huff indicated by email that Evans had been in discussion with DCPL’s chief librarian about hiring timeline should the hours be approved. Also unclear is how the legislation would affect the Council’s funding “wishlist,” which included Sunday hours for libraries citywide, subject to availability of additional revenue to be identified by the District’s Chief Financial Officer in a quarterly report that is anticipated shortly.


Sent from Robin Diener
DC Library Renaissance Project
1530 P Street, NW
Washington, DC 20005

Press Release: ULI’s Tentative Recommendation to Keep MLK a Library

November 20, 2011
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202 431-9254

ULI’s Tentative Recommendation to Keep MLK a Library

Washington, DC — It has taken 12 years, but library advocates appear to have scored a partial victory in the struggle to restore and improve the long-degraded Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library building and to keep it as the location of the city’s central library.

Over a decade ago, in 2000, award-wining local architect Kent Cooper and the Urban Design Committee of the American Institute of Architects released their pro bono study of how to correct the MLK library’s long acknowledged design flaws.  Though cited often in the years since, the AIA/Cooper study was ignored by then-Mayor Williams, who wanted a new library on the old convention center site.

Earlier this year, DC Public Library (DCPL) hired the Urban Land Institute (ULI), at a cost of $120,000, to do another MLK study – this time exploring ways to “leverage” the value of the building in order to afford to build a new central library or find ways to pay for renovation to the 40-year-old landmark, which was designed by Mies van der Rohe.

The ULI’s preliminary report, presented on Friday, favors co-tenancy, either residential or office, over sale.  

Ironically, their design suggestions relied heavily on the AIA/Cooper 2000 report solutions, including what appears to be uncredited use of the drawings.  

That the central library is likely to remain in the MLK building comes as a relief to library activists. But they’re disappointed that the ULI panel proposed shrinking the city’s central library from its current 440,000 sq ft to about 225,000 sq ft. to accommodate a co-tenant. Smaller central libraries are supposedly a “trend,” but most of the acclaimed new central libraries, built in recent years in cities comparable to DC, are substantially larger than 225,000 sq ft.

Moreover, the report by the panel’s financial expert, Mike Reynolds of the Concord Group, depicted the District’s financial health as excellent. This undercut the central premise of the panel’s work: that the District must find ways to “leverage” the value of MLK building.

In his brief presentation, Reynolds did not even mention the city’s AAA bond rating, the $180 million taxpayer investment in beautiful transformations of 14 neighborhood libraries across the city over the past five years, or the announcement by Library Trustees President John Hill on Wednesday that another $100-million-plus is expected from the FY 2013 round of capital budget planning to rebuild the remaining 10 branches.

Residents may wonder why a city doing so well can’t afford to renovate its historic central library. They might address that question to the DC officials listed below — and perhaps cc ULI Chair Wayne Ratkovich, who might include that query in the ULI’s final report to be issued in 60 days.

Library Committee Chair Tommy Wells (Ward 6), [email protected]

Finance and Revenue Committee Chair Jack Evans (Ward 2) [email protected]

Library Trustees President John Hill, [email protected]

Chief Librarian Ginnie Cooper [email protected]

Mayor Vincent Gray  [email protected]

Wayne Ratkovich, Chair, ULI Panel  [email protected]



Press Release: Ralph Nader Asks Mayor Gray to Appoint Citizens Task Force on MLK

November 18, 2011
Contact Robin Diener
202 431-9254

Ralph Nader Asks Mayor Gray to Appoint Citizens Task Force on MLK

Washington, DC — Ralph Nader and Robin Diener of the Library Renaissance Project have asked Mayor Gray to appoint a Citizens Task Force on the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, in a letter of November 16.  The Project has been calling for a citizen-based look at possibilities for the central library since 2006 after legislation to sell MLK backed by then-Mayor Anthony Williams was defeated. 

The renewed call for a citizen task force is particularly timely since Library officials, who have repeatedly rejected the suggestion as “premature,” have now out of the blue commissioned a study of the MLK Library by the Urban Land Institute (ULI).  The ULI will release a full report in 60 days but made public its preliminary findings today:

The ULI study has come under fire for having no local residents on its panel, for being costly ($120,000) at a time when the city was scraping bottom to find the $318,00 needed to keep MLK open on Sundays, and for being biased towards a predetermined outcome.

Text of letter follows:

The Honorable Vincent Gray
Mayor, District of Columbia
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC  20004

November 16, 2011

Dear Mayor Gray:

Library Trustees President John Hill recently announced the recruitment of the Urban Land Institute (ULI) to “assess” the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library building.

Unlike the American Institute of Architects Urban Design Committee study of MLK in 2000 performed pro-bono, ULI is charging the Library $120,000 for its study. Just a month ago, we were searching for $318,000 to keep MLK open on Sundays.

Further, we learned that no District residents will be seated on the panel. While we might understand having “fresh eyes on” the situation, we don’t accept the disenfranchisement of residents and library users from assessing the “value” of their central library building.

In 2005, District citizens and their representatives, including you, rejected legislation to dispose of the MLK building. Ever since, our organization and others have called for a Citizen Task Force on the Future of MLK to plan and fundraise for a renewed central library.  Library officials have repeatedly rejected this idea as “premature.”

Now, out of the blue, Library officials say a new “review” is needed.  If so, it should be delivered to a Citizen Task Force as part of comprehensive planning for the remainder of the library system — including MLK.  The library system, a ready-made network of “town halls” throughout the city, is ideally suited to gathering input.

Five years into the “Transformation” of the DC Public Library system, much has been accomplished. Let us now take the opportunity to evaluate the transformation and plan the renewal of the remainder of the system, including MLK central library.

We call upon you, Mr. Mayor, to appoint and convene The Citizen Task Force on MLK that, among other things, would consider any ULI findings or recommendations.


Ralph Nader, Founder                                      Robin Diener, Director

No DC Residents on MLK Advisory Panel

November 9, 2011
contact Robin Diener
202 431-9254

No DC Residents on MLK Advisory Panel

Washington, DC — None of the eight panelists named to participate in an assessment of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library by the Urban Land Institute (ULI) live in or near the District of Columbia, according to descriptions on the DC Public Library (DCPL) website.

Five of the eight are based in California. The closest is from Richmond.

The panelists are leading a process to “assess and review the value” of the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial Library building, and to “make recommendations on how to leverage the value of the building to benefit the District of Columbia,” according to a DCPL press release. The process will consist of interviews conducted by the ULI panel with parties invited by Chief Librarian Ginnie Cooper. Only invited parties will have the opportunity to be interviewed by the panel.

DC residents and library users are, however, invited to direct comments to the Board of Library Trustees on Wednesday November 16 at 6 PM at the Southwest Library, located at 900 Wesley Place, SW, a short walk from the Waterfront metro stop. Comments can be emailed to [email protected]

The public is also invited to the ULI panel’s presentation of findings and recommendations on Friday November 18 from 9 to 11 AM in the Great Hall of the MLK Library, located at 901 G Street, NW, a short walk from either Metro Center or Gallery Place metro stops.

Sent from Robin Diener
Director, Library Renaissance Project
1530 P Street, NW
Washington, DC 20005
202 431-9254