As the Foggy Bottom/West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission meeting was about to conclude Wednesday evening, Eastbanc President Anthony Lanier asked hopefully if the crowd wanted to see his company’s plans to remake two blocks in the West End. Derisive laughter provided the answer: No, the community did want to hear anything about development plans for Squares 37 and 50. What it wanted was for Lanier and the evening’s other guest, Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, to explain why public property on those blocks was approved for sale to Eastbanc in emergency legislation passed July 10 without a public hearing.
Evans took much of the heat and responded by being reasonably contrite. Although he insisted that the process was legal, he conceded that “notice should have been given” of the D.C. Council’s intent to vote on the proposal, which would convey the neighborhood’s library and fire station and a police department building to Eastbanc without a competitive-bidding process.
The councilmember suggested several times that the community might come to like Eastbanc’s scheme to incorporate a new library and fire station into two large structures that would include housing and perhaps some retail. But he vowed in the future to vote on the issue strictly as instructed by the area’s ANC and the Foggy Bottom Citizens’ Association. He even offered to support reconvening the city council in a special session to reconsider the land sale, although he cautioned that such a session was unlikely.
“I would not have done this today,” Evans said. “I don’t want to get myself in this mess again. This is the last thing I expected to happen.” (That seems disingenuous, especially since West End residents recently battled a bid to upzone Square 37, preventing much the sort of large-scale development the Eastbanc deal would bring.)
Asked why the survival of the Tiverton, a moderate-income apartment building on Square 37, was offered by several D.C. Council members as justification for the deal, Evans could only try to find cover in the fact that the Tiverton isn’t actually mentioned in the bill. And when questioned about his statement during the July 10 Council session that the project had been in the works for eight years—-long enough to schedule a public hearing, you’d think—-Evans asserted that he’d only said that “the property has been in play for eight years.” (But later Lanier said he’d discussed the scheme with both Mayors Anthony Williams and Marion Barry, which takes it back more than eight years.)
As the questioning proceeded, Evans continued to retreat. In response to Dupont Circle activist Dave Mallof, he agreed that other Ward 2 residents who are served by the West End’s library and fire station also have a stake in the issue. Evans maintained that he didn’t help draft the pro-Eastbanc legislation but backpedaled on other claims. He denied “lobbying” his colleagues to vote for the emergency legislation, but when Empower D.C.’s Parisa Norouzi noted that Councilmembers Barry and Harry Thomas Jr. said he did, Evans tried to locate some semantic difference between his admitted “support” and “lobbying.”
When he returns to the District Building, Evans ruefully cracked, “My colleagues will probably throw tomatoes at me for getting them into this.”
Midway through the meeting, Lanier interjected himself into the debate, but he was greeted as skeptically as Evans had been. Particularly at issue was the West End Ritz Carlton, a hulking architectural void that Eastbanc co-developed. Neighborhood residents charge that the building lacks the promised ground-level retail and other amenities. “It’s just not true” that Eastbanc didn’t keep its promises, Lanier protested.
The developer also insisted that he “was unaware that this would be introduced as emergency legislation. It was not our choice”
After the meeting, Lanier refused to comment when asked if he had tried to dissuade Mayor Adrian Fenty from proffering the land-transfer bill as emergency legislation. But he insisted on his good intentions, arguing that Eastbanc is “more a property manager for the city than we are a for-profit developer.”
Although he wouldn’t state what he thought of Fenty’s strategy, Lanier did comment on the effects of the emergency vote. “It makes it harder for us, yeah,” he said.