Deputy Mayor’s Office Cited Misleading Data Justifying Award to Hine Developer – FOIA Permits Closer Look at Manufactured Consensus for Stanton’s Hine Development

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Deputy Mayor’s Office Cited Misleading Data Justifying Award to Hine Developer – FOIA Permits Closer Look at Manufactured Consensus for Stanton’s Hine Development

by Larry Janezich

In a June 2010 email, Corey Lee, Deputy Mayor’s Office of Economic Development (DMPED) Project Manager for the Hine Jr. High development, listed community support as one of the five reasons the contract was awarded to Stanton-Eastbanc, i.e., “(v) the large amount of community support (none of the ten (10) teams documented more community support for its project than S-E).”

A Freedom of Information Act request reveals that, indeed, the Stanton/Eastbanc team garnered 119 emails of support during the public comment period, which ran from June through August of 2009, while its closest competitor, the Menkiti/Streetsense/DSF team, had only 34.

Yet a closer look at those emails supporting Stanton shows some startling results.  Of the 119 letters, 74 were form letters.  More troubling, research demonstrates that most emails, whether form letters or not, were written by someone who had a conflict of interest – realtors who work alongside one of the principals of Stanton Development, business associates, tenants, family members, or friends of the family.  But the Deputy Mayor’s Office solicitation of public comments required no disclosure of such conflicts, and in all cases but five no disclosure was given.  Nor was a supporter required to give an address; several letters supporting Stanton were written from outside Capitol Hill, or even outside the District of Columbia.  While the Deputy Mayor’s Office cited “documented” community support as one of the reasons it selected Stanton/Eastbanc, the office had no resident or conflict of interest screening mechanism by which to judge the letters of support that it received. 

If the pool of emails – both form letters and original letters – in support of Stanton is narrowed to those without a known business or personal connection to the developer and to those sent by Capitol Hill residents, then the support for Stanton is reduced to 28 letters, compared to 34 for Streetsense, all of which came from Capitol Hill residents, and none with obvious conflicts of interest.  To tally these results, each person whose name appeared on a letter in support of a developer was counted as one vote, regardless of the number of emails sent. 

As many readers will remember, the process of selecting a developer for the Hine project became controversial on June 17, 2010, with the endorsement of Stanton-Eastbanc by the CHRS on a perfunctory and nearly unanimous voice vote (there was one abstention) of the CHRS Board, without questions or debate, and based on the recommendation ad hoc committee comprised of a few board members.  (Then-Councilmember Kwame Brown subsequently said publicly that it was the CHRS decision which was the deciding factor in his vote for awarding the contract to Stanton.)  The first form letter supporting Stanton was sent to the Deputy Mayor’s office earlier that same day, originating with a Stanton business neighbor.  This first wave of support for Stanton was seemingly aimed at influencing the upcoming June 30 ANC6B vote on recommending a developer, since the letters in this first wave – both form letters and unique letters of support – copied ANC6B Commissioner Mary Wright (in whose Single Member District the project lies), and ANC6B Chair Dave Garrison. 

When the ANC met on June 30 in a small, overcrowded room in the Old Naval Hospital, it heard from the community members.  By the end of the meeting, it was clear that a strong majority of those present favored the StreetSense proposal.  The Commission avoided making a recommendation, and instead voted for a series of criteria which should be met by whichever developer was awarded the project.    

Following this public show of support in favor of Streetsense, between July 4 and July 10, a blizzard of form letters in support of Stanton arrived at the Deputy Mayor’s office inbox, no longer copied to ANC Commissioners.  The first of this second wave of form letters starts on July 4, from family friends of the developer.  Another set of form letters begins on July 6 from a realtor associated with the one of the principals of Stanton Development; this set is copied to the entire city council. 

Developers often have ties and relations to certain commercial or community interests, and it may well be that enumerating these connections provides a useful indicator or measure of something.  Whatever that something is, it is not community support.  Community members unfettered by conflict of interest issues have a role in naming their preferences among the finalists, whether as individuals or local groups.  This role extends to noting components of a design that spell trouble, and asking for benefits in return for the negatives the project brings to the community, including more crowded neighborhoods and streets.  

Almost a year ago, Capitol Hill resident Kathleen Frydl requested a meeting with the Deputy Mayor’s Office to discuss how it assesses community support since the selection of Stanton, but to date, the Office has not scheduled the meeting.

“I think a distinction needs to be drawn between documenting community connections,” Frydl says, “versus documenting community support.”  The former might be impressive, she notes, but compromised by sufficient conflict of interest questions so as to reduce the value of the input given.  “While it may be insightful and it may be heartfelt, input from people with a financial or personal relationship to the developer is just not the same as input spontaneously given by a neighbor who reviews the plans,” she said.  Frydl also believes that an open-ended and unscreened process might be the District’s preference, but, if so, she thinks that the Deputy Mayor’s Office should not rely upon it as a mechanism to help select a winning bid. 

On November 23, Stanton-Eastbanc filed an application for a Hine Planned Unit Development with the city’s Office of Planning.  That initiates a process under which a final design for the development will be agreed upon and amenities granted to the community to compensate it for the increased density the project will bring to the community.  The Office of Planning is organized under and reports to the DMPED, but as a practical matter it operates as a separate agency. 

DMPED tracks the project for the Mayor and, as the facilitator for the original Land Disposition and Development Agreement (LDDA), interprets the terms of the agreement on behalf of the Mayor.  In this sense, DMPED will likely continue to be a key stakeholder in the process, especially regarding definition of terms.

In this PUD process, the community will be represented to the Office of Planning and the Zoning Commission by a Subcommittee of ANC6B’s Planning and Zoning Committee.  The Subcommittee includes resident members representing CHRS, EMCAC, CHAMPS, EMMCA, Eyes on Hine, and the Eastern Market North Neighbors Association.  CHRS is participating with the understanding it will seek separate party status in the final hearing before the Zoning Commission, which will give it special status, time for a lengthier presentation, and the ability to call expert witnesses in support of its position.  In the last PUD process CHRS participated in, the group negotiated an $83,000 mitigation for the demolition of twelve historic buildings in the way of the new Dreyfuss development on H Street, NE.  CHRS then used those funds to conduct a survey for its “Beyond the Boundaries Project,” for the purpose of facilitating the expansion of the Historic District. 

Subcommittee Chairman Ivan Frishberg has stated that it is not the Subcommittee’s intent to preclude any organization from seeking party status, but rather to strengthen the ANC position in negotiations with Stanton-Eastbanc and the Office of Planning. 

CHRS will host a meeting for Stanton-Eastbanc to present its latest plans to the public on December 12.  The next meeting of the Subcommittee will be on December 14.

16 Comments

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16 responses to “Deputy Mayor’s Office Cited Misleading Data Justifying Award to Hine Developer – FOIA Permits Closer Look at Manufactured Consensus for Stanton’s Hine Development

  1. marika

    Thank you for digging in to the mysterious “letters of support” that came in to the Deputy Mayor’s office. The information you reveal here is stupefying. Beyond an utter lack of transparency, this is willful deceit.

    — One of the 34 letter writers from Capitol Hill, neighbor of Hine

  2. tylerstuartdc@gmail.com

    Get over it already, The best team was awarded the project. It was approved unanimously by council and now it’s going through the entitlement process. There are a number of factors why the team was picked, yet people keep searching for a way to turn back time. Not going to happen.

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  4. Kathleen

    Actually the best team was not awarded the project. Given that fact, it’s remarkable how silent and acquiescent the neighborhood has been. Also, I don’t have a “hit” for Tyler Stuart in DC. Does your identifying info perhaps reveal a connection we should know about as we weigh your remark?

  5. Leonard

    It is not true that there is no interest from neighboors, some of us are wprking with historically interested and nationally known organizations that are monitoring the Hine Development and petitions from immediate neighboors have been obtained and are still being gathered protesting the project. These are signatures with names and address ( all within 500 feet of Hine) that will carry weight at the proper time. So NO it is not over.

  6. Elissa

    Thanks for your great analysis and reporting on this heretofore inexplicable conclusion. DC really needs to modify its process to reflect true community input vs input from those who may benefit financially from the selection of one bidder over another. I concur with your view that both types of support may be worth considering in selecting a developer, but they have little to do with one another and should be taken into account quite differently.

  7. 13th Street

    Larry, thank you for digging this up. Those of us that watched the process know the street sense project with $200m in the bank to self finance was the better, more thought out proposal. Stanton was better at playing the DC game. The one that gets DC residents less for more by those connected using questionable political, business, and ethical tactics.

  8. nicky greene

    this is not surprising

  9. jdollop@gmail.com

    Can we please see the information Larry so we can come to our own conclusions.

    Also, I wonder how delaying the project at the behest of several neighbors benefits the greater Capitol Hill Community? We need to make the Hill a destination for the city to increase foot traffic, dollars spent. Let’s think about sustainability not NIMBY issues.

  10. Anyone interested in obtaining the data can file their own FOIA; the Deputy Mayor’s office should respond quickly, since they have already furnished this information once. I decline to do so, and have not shared any names, because the letters can be construed as embarrassing to Stanton in some specific instances. I wrote what I felt was the story, and excluded all gratuitious information. I encourage you to file your own FOIA and share your results.

    Thanks for your comment! Not sure what you mean by delaying, and not sure what you mean by NIMBY issues, but I’ll leave those up to the readers to decide.

  11. jdollop@gmail.com

    Thanks for the info Larry. What I meant is the site is across from a Metro. At a time when we are experiencing an influx of residents to the city – we need to be encouraging sustainable growth. The modest density seems to be an issue for several 8th st residents. However, the overall benefit of increased density (affordable housing/footraffic/more retail) is invaluable for the the neighborhood of Capitol Hill.

  12. Eric

    I’m not surprised to hear that there was at best a lack of scrutiny over the letters of support at worst out right corruption. No surprise CHRS had, basically, a closed door meeting on this matter or that their opinion had more a more significant weight than others. The oversight on this may simply be innocent or it could just be more of the DC old boys network and constant corruption that has become all too common with our city government.

  13. Eric

    … also anyone find it ironic that CHRS will fight tooth and nail to keep the shotgun house near the Safeway on E street from being torn down even though it doesn’t appear to be any more historic than an ill-maintained backyard shed YET will put it’s stamp of approval on the demolition of 12 historic buildings for (what amounts to a payoff of) $83,000?

  14. The eminent Harvard economist Edward Glaeser calls the immortal Jane Jacobs “NIMBY” in his book extolling high rise development for all cities. The ad hominem “NIMBY” card does not counter the well-thought-through arguments of Capitol Hill residents who object to the “un-smart” megalith being shoved through by Stanton-Eastbanc. We want truly smart growth — befitting an historic district. Not this.

  15. Leonard

    To answer some of the question regarding the participation of the CHRS. It was CHRS that fought at every hearing and finally went to court (which they lost) to prevent the addition of a THIRD FLOOR for the Heritage Foundation building. If you will check the membership home addresses of the present CHRS you will find a suprising number are not from Capitol Hill (the Historic District not the Real Estate Agents designation) and their interest is commission and profit not conservation and pride. Once they make their profit they will leave those of us who fought hard to make the neighboorhood what it is will remain and be stuck with this terrible blight on our and our childrens neingboorhood for the next 50 to 75 years.

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