Of­fi­cial blasts Bowser on Ana­cos­tia prop­erty plans

The Washington Times Daily - - METRO - BY RYAN MCDER­MOTT

The power strug­gle over sev­eral blighted prop­er­ties in Ana­cos­tia boiled over this week with the chair­man of the D.C. Coun­cil ac­cus­ing Mayor Muriel Bowser of il­le­gally award­ing con­tracts to re­de­velop the sites.

“The city’s an­nounce­ment that it has awarded $1.6 mil­lion and six prop­er­ties in His­toric Ana­cos­tia to two in­ex­pe­ri­enced non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tions is a waste of money and vi­o­lates the law,” Coun­cil Chair­man Phil Men­del­son, at-large Demo­crat, said in a scathing state­ment Wed­nes­day evening.

On Tues­day, the Demo­cratic mayor had touted a deal to re­ha­bil­i­tate the six prop­er­ties in Ward 8 in an ef­fort to cre­ate cheaper hous­ing op­tions for low-in­come res­i­dents. Two of the prop­er­ties are va­cant lots and the other four are the site of his­toric but di­lap­i­dated homes.

Mr. Men­del­son charged that the four sites with houses should have been turned over for re­de­vel­op­ment to the L’En­fant Trust, a non­profit that spe­cial­izes in pre­serv­ing his­toric ar­chi­tec­ture, in line with a city law passed late last year.

It was an unusu­ally open clash be­tween two of the city’s most pow­er­ful politi­cians. The chair­man, who has gen­er­ally been averse to pub­lic fights with Miss Bowser, also dinged the mayor for cost­ing the city what he said was more than $1 mil­lion dol­lars af­ter the trust promised to do the work for free.

Res­i­dents in Ana­cos­tia have long con­sid­ered the run­down, city-owned prop­er­ties to be an eye­sore in a com­mu­nity look­ing for more eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties. That prompted Mr. Men­del­son last sum­mer to push leg­is­la­tion to give to prop­er­ties to the L’En­fant Trust. Ac­cord­ing to its web­site, the trust “ac­quires and re­ha­bil­i­tates dis­tressed his­toric build­ings where such re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion will have a pos­i­tive im­pact on com­mu­nity re­vi­tal­iza­tion.”

The law was passed unan­i­mously in De­cem­ber by the city coun­cil at the urg­ing of Mr. Men­del­son and Coun­cil mem­ber Anita Bonds, the at-large Demo­crat who heads the Hous­ing Com­mit­tee. It went into ef­fect with­out the mayor’s sig­na­ture in March.

But the Bowser ad­min­is­tra­tion ig­nored the law, say­ing the coun­cil had over­stepped its bounds by not only telling the ex­ec­u­tive what to do with the prop­er­ties, but also by dic­tat­ing who should get the con­tracts. The mayor in­stead handed over the four prop­er­ties in ques­tion to the De­vel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion of Columbia Heights (DCCH), a pri­vate, non­profit com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment cor­po­ra­tion.

It’s un­clear whether DCCH has done any work on his­toric prop­er­ties, but the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s web­site says its goal is to boost eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment in the city by “in­creas­ing com­mer­cial, busi­ness, in­dus­trial and hous­ing de­vel­op­ment with a par­tic­u­lar fo­cus on op­por­tu­ni­ties for so­cially or eco­nom­i­cally dis­ad­van­taged per­sons.”

De­spite the chair­man’s charges this week, the Bowser ad­min­is­tra­tion main­tained that un­der the Home Rule Act that set up the city gov­ern­ment nearly 45 years ago, the coun­cil has no right to tell the mayor how to dis­pose of city-owned prop­erty.

The rel­e­vant sec­tion of the act says the “ex­ec­u­tive power of the Dis­trict shall be vested in the mayor” and that all func­tions that had been granted to Dis­trict’s com­mis­sioner — an ex­ec­u­tive po­si­tion anal­o­gous to mayor in the city’s pre-home rule days — will con­tinue to be ex­er­cised by the mayor.” That in­cludes dis­pen­sa­tion of Dis­trict gov­ern­ment prop­erty.

“This is in the purview of the mayor. We’re con­fi­dent that we’ve done noth­ing that vi­o­lates the law,” ad­min­is­tra­tion spokesman Joaquin McPeek said Thurs­day.

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