Testifying at a Nov. 18 public hearing before the D.C. Council’s Committee on Economic Development, D.C. Planning Director Alfred G. Dobbins III offered a withering critique of the New York Avenue Development Corp. (NYADC) proposed by Councilmember John Ray (D-At Large). While Dobbins testified that the Kelly administration “supports the intent” of the bill proposed to establish the corporation, his criticisms were wide-ranging and significant.
In general, Dobbins suggested that the proposal is overambitious and underfunded. The plan to revitalize New York Avenue is modeled on the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corp. (PADC), but Dobbins noted that PADC has taken 20 years and spent more than $300 million to revitalize “a corridor only one-third as long as New York Avenue.” It’s not clear that the city has the resources, he argued, to emulate PADC, whose work is still not finished. He also noted that “most of the [PADC-sparked] development occurred during the ’80s office boom—a phenomenon which is not expected to be seen again.”
On legal issues, Dobbins raised a number of telling points. Some provisions of the proposed NYADC bill would violate the D.C. charter, he noted. It would be illegal for the corporation to have, as the bill provides, councilmembers on its board; the bill also seems intended to limit the authority of the Zoning Commission, another breach of the charter.
The bill requires that the corporation be represented by the Corporation Counsel, which Dobbins finds “unworkable,” since the counsel would be representing both sides should the NYADC ever sue or be sued by a city agency.
The provision establishing a for-profit subsidiary of the corporation is also problematic. The subsidiary’s lack of financial controls would violate the charter, Dobbins warned, while “the Internal Revenue Service could find that the for-profit subsidiary corporation’s activities are so intertwined with the Corporation’s activities that the Corporation is not entitled to federal tax-exempt status.”
Dobbins also warned that efforts to redevelop New York Avenue for office uses “would significantly reduce the supply of industrially zoned land in the District.” In recent years, he noted, industrial tracts in “14th Street, Reed-Cooke, Howard Gateway, and the Anacostia Metrorail Station area” have been rezoned for commercial or residential use. The loss of such land, Dobbins suggested in an interview after his testimony, hampers the city’s attempts to diversify its economic base and provide entry-level jobs for residents unlikely to qualify for work in any of those new office buildings.
Finally, Dobbins questioned “why the development corporation concept is to be applied only to the New York Avenue corridor.” A 1982 consultant report, he noted, recommended the creation of a citywide public/private development corporation.
Malling Gallery Place Despite a lack of evidence that there’s a market for another inside-the-Beltway mall and plenty of evidence that downtown shopping malls on the suburban model don’t work, Ray and his co-sponsor, Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, continue their campaign to build a mall along 7th Street NW near Gallery Place Metro. On Nov. 17, the councilmembers introduced the“Downtown Shopping Mall Development Act of 1993”; the bill’s principal specific is the site, which would include city- and Metro-owned but also private property along 7th between E and H Streets NW. The bill directs the mayor to come up with a proposal for the mall.
The mall scheme is an indirect rejection of the existing shopping district between 10th and 15th Streets NW—and of the SHOP zoning designed to encourage more retail space in that area. Ray and Evans aren’t backing off from another tenet of the “Living Downtown,” however: housing. In a press release, Evans declared, “It’s my desire that a substantial housing development occur on this site.”
Introduced by Ray and Evans at the same time was the “Weekends in the City Sales Tax Reduction Act,” which would reduce the District’s sales tax from 6 to 3 percent for weekend and holiday shoppers. This proposal, along with the councilmembers’ insistence on more parking downtown, reflects their notion that downtown can compete directly with suburban malls, something virtually no American downtowns do. Instead of stressing stores that are one-of-a-kind (like the new Patagonia outlet in Georgetown or the planned Niketown store touted for the same neighborhood) or city-specific (like the new Olsson’s Books and Music one block south of the putative mall), Ray and Evans pursue the suburban grail. Next stop, Rockville Mall—if a retail consultant doesn’t blow away the duo’s downtown-mall assumptions first.
American Dream When V. Hector Rodriguez and Alejandro Moya, president and vice president of Las Americas Development Corp., addressed the Kalorama Citizens Association (KCA) Nov. 18, their plan to remake Adams Morgan, Mount Pleasant, and Columbia Heights into an “international enterprise zone” and Latino tourist attraction was vague. By the time they finished talking, it was much vaguer.
Faced with questioning that ranged from skeptical to highly skeptical, the duo emphasized the tentativeness of its plan, for which the corporation has already received a $100,000 feasibility-study grant from the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development. Making his first appearance before a community group in any of the potentially affected neighborhoods, Rodriguez backpedaled on his proposal to change the name of Columbia Road, and insisted that he was “not after more liquor licenses, not after more cars.” His admission that he did anticipate more tour buses in the neighborhood was not well received, however.
When KCA President Bill Scheirer argued that the community needs moderate-income housing and “daytime jobs with a future,” Rodriguez responded that “housing is something that is very definitely going to be looked at here.” Under pressure, Rodriguez backed off from such basic premises as the project’s emphasis on tourism, its appeal to Latinos, and its location. “Just because my name is Rodriguez doesn’t mean this is a Hispanic program,” he offered, while suggesting U Street, New York Avenue, and the Union Station area as neighborhoods that might be affected by his plan. “Tourism…is not going to give the full answer,” he said, and noted that Las Americas no longer plans just to attract Latin American visitors.
Rodriguez and Moya also downplayed their proposal to build a large soccer stadium in the area.“We are not interested in doing big developments here,” said the former.
All this, as some questioners noted, left some confusion as to what Las Americas is doing with that D.C. grant.“None of us have had $100,000 to do anything in this neighborhood,” remarked resident Grace Malakoff. “It’s our money too, which is fascinating. Enjoy yourselves.”
“Stay tuned,” suggested Rodriguez, by way of conclusion.
“There is no specific proposal,” added Moya.
High-Test Dave At Council Chairman Dave Clarke’s Nov. 18 appearance before a meeting of the Committee of 100 on the Federal City, the venerable ad hoc planning group, he emphasized the city’s financial plight; he even handed out copies of a paper that, despite being billed as “Chairman Dave Clarke’s Comprehensive Platform to Tackle Our Financial Crisis,” appeared to be a leftover campaign document.
In the question-and-answer period, however, planning issues came up, and Clarke proved as testy as ever. He suggested that the International Monetary Fund might leave the city and, if so, it would be the fault of community planning activists’ opposition to a plan to move Western Presbyterian Church (and its soup kitchen) into residential Foggy Bottom so that a new IMF office building can be erected on the site. Challenged on this interpretation, Clarke didn’t change his position, but just lowered his voice. “Yeah, you punished them,” he snapped in a stage whisper, without defending his version of the events.