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.”

Let’s Not Make the Same Mistake as NYC

The DC Library Trustees should heed the controversy over changes to New York City’s flagship Fifth Avenue Library.  Plans there to dismantle the iron and steel stacks, which both house books and provide structural support for the building’s beautiful, iconic Rose Reading Room, have already led to two lawsuits. The plans address much needed upgrades but, if they fail to value what the library-going public finds important, they are the wrong plans and should be redrawn.

Read more here:

To be sure, the situation regarding renewal of our central facility, Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, has not yet progressed to that of New York City, but the disconnect between what library users value and what library decision makers are pursuing will deepen in DC if Trustees do not move to prioritize citizen input to planning for the long-awaited and much-desired overhaul of MLK.

Despite hundreds of letters, DC Council refused to prioritize planning for MLK in the reporting requirements of the Budget Support Act, listing public input last after design, financing and construction timelines. The Act also called for an examination of public/private partnerships but did not require assessment of the needs of public facilities such as the DC City Archives or other public uses that could be co-located with  MLK.  By prioritizing private partnerships, Council tacitly approved downsizing the library to a portion of the current building. In an era of digitization, this may seem right intuitively, but in fact library use in DC and around the county continues to rise by every measure.  We are also experiencing significant population increases, keeping DC on a secure financial footing that far outpaces any other US city, according to the Urban Land Institute.

Libraries are the ultimate institution of public access to information.  Public input to planning for such an institution is fundamental and must come first. It is worrisome that the DC Council does not understand this.

Further distressing news is their confirmation of Neil Albert to the Board of Trustees last week. This means plans are already being made to privatize at least parts of the MLK central library building without public consent.  Albert helped put together the West End Parcels deal (which cheated the city of a potential $100 million in land value) and oversaw the Tenley Library debacle (which engendered years of divisive community backlash).  After leaving city government, Albert went to work at Holland and Knight, the city’s leading land use firm, the same one that originally represented the West End developer EastBanc in the Parcels deal.

With so many examples of what not to do, it is unfortunate that we can’t learn from them.  How easy it would be just to involve everyone from the beginning, especially with the $3.8 million planning appropriation that the Council has given the Library.

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.

MLK Library Friends Meeting

Tuesday June 18, 6:30 PM
MLK Library, Lower level – room A3

Agenda includes:

  • Booksale series launch
  • “Books & Brews” get-togethers
  • National Building Museum lecture by Freelon Group — MLK’s architect of record

Beware the Budget Support Act

The Budget Support Act is a little known legislative document that accompanies the Budget. It outlines actions to be taken with certain allocations. It becomes law.

Look Out!                                                                                                          Regarding the District’s central library Martin Luther King Jr Memorial, the proposed Act puts in place actions that have not received public discussion:

” that by October of 2013, DCPL is to report upon the following:
(1)  A detailed update on design plans;
(2) A description of the project’s financing including any and all public-private partnerships or use of financing other than District capital funds;
(3) A detailed timeline on the steps that will be taken leading up to the start of construction in FY17 and through to completion in FY18; and
(4) A description of the project’s community and stakeholder engagement plan with an explanation of how the project will reflect the needs and perspectives of District residents.”

See excerpt of Budget Support Act pdf

This is exactly backwards!!  If we haven’t established what is wanted for a transformed central library including, among other things, public-private or public-pubic partnerships, how can we design it or draw up a financial plan or construction timeline to achieve it? When will communities be consulted — over the summer when no one is around?

Library Renaissance Project has been asking for a Citizens Task Force on the Future of MLK since the central library debacle in 2006 (incidentally, also precipitated by a Budget Support Act which gave Mayor Anthony Williams authority to enter into negotiations to dispose of MLK. Library advocates caught it just in time and that action was deleted).

Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2B, in Dupont Circle, which does not have a neighborhood library but where MLK is in walking distance, has twice called for a Citizens Task Force:  in 2008 and in March of this year. The first time, the ANC was told a task force would be premature; the second request has simply been ignored.

Had the city conducted a task force in the interim since 2006, we could have had genuine citizen participation; perhaps even intellectual discussion, such as people who use libraries would welcome, and such as other communities provide their citizen stakeholders. We could have created anticipation about something good that government does.

Solution: Put Number 4 First: Move 1, 2 and 3 to the following year.   There is still plenty of time to convene a task force to conduct an inclusive and meaningful process, which would set the parameters for points 1, 2 and 3.  In fact, until 4 is done, 1,2 and 3 can’t be undertaken. The 2014 budget contains $4M in planning for MLK. The money for actual renovation  does not become available until 2017 and 18. The Budget Support Act  should be changed to put item 4 first, and items 1-3 should be pushed back until the next budget cycle.

The final vote on the Budget Support Act will take place June 18th. Between now and then, please call upon DC Council to use some of the $4M provided for Library planning in the FY 2014 capital budget to  convene a Citizens Task Force on MLK Library. 

And change the Budget Support Act of 2013 to read as follows:   

by October of 2013, DCPL is to report upon the following:
(1) A description of the project’s community and stakeholder engagement plan, including a Citizens Task Force on the Future of MLK central Library, to identify the needs and perspectives of District residents.

by October of 2014, DCPL is to report upon the following:
(1)  An update on design plans;
(2) A description of the project’s financing including any and all public-private, public-public partnerships or use of financing other than District capital funds;
(3) A detailed timeline on the steps that will be taken leading up to the start of construction in FY17 and through to completion in FY18;  and
(4) An explanation of how the project plans reflect the needs and perspectives of District residents.




Tenley Library Friends To Host Book Talk and Discussion: The Orange Tree

On Wednesday April 10 at 7 PM

The Friends of Tenley-Friendship Library will host an evening with Martin Ganzglass as he talks about his book, The Orange Tree, Wednesday, April 10 at 7:00 p.m. at the Tenley Library.

Set in the metropolitan Washington, DC, area, The Orange Tree is the story of the unlikely friendship between an elderly Jewish woman and a young Somali Muslim woman who cares for her in a Bethesda nursing home. Both women are haunted by the prejudice and violence in their lives. The book will be on sale after the discussion for $15. Cash and checks accepted. Tenley-Friendship Library is on Wisconsin Avenue at Albemarle Street, NW Take the red line to Tenleytown.

Tenley-Friendship Neighborhood Library
4450 Wisconsin Ave. N.W.
Washington, DC 20016
[email protected]

Friends Contact:  Mary Alice Levine, [email protected]

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.