Privatizing C Street Emerges As Key Hine Development Issue: FOIA Shows City Asked Developer to Define Ownership Deal
by Larry Janezich
The privatization of the to-be-reopened C Street between 7th and 8th Streets, SE, has emerged as a thorny issue for Hine Project developers, Stanton/Eastbanc.
The developers have listed the re-opening of C Street at their expense – and restoration of the L’Enfant Plan for the city – as one of the main benefits for the city associated with the Hine project. Yet members of the ANC 6B Hine Subcommittee, which met last Thursday night at the Hill Center, questioned both the appropriateness of the privatization and the procedures under which this portion of C Street was placed in the developer’s hands.
The privatization of the street has several ramifications for the community, including control of the weekend flea markets, loss of revenue for Eastern Market, loss of public space and the use of that space as a revenue raising measure for the developer. In addition, Stanton[Eastbanc’s ability to unilaterally program the street, including its stated intent to use the space for “special events and programs such as lunch time concerts, holiday – or evening – events” raises concerns regarding noise and traffic issues for the nearby neighbors.
The core of the issue as expressed by Subcommittee member Bill Pate (no relation to ANC6B Commissioner Brian Pate) is the privatization of a public resource, allowing the raising of revenue by and for the benefit of the developer. “The privatization of the street does not benefit the community,” Pate observed, and therefore it is an issue that “needs mitigation.”
Eastern Market Community Advisory Committee (EMCAC) Chair Donna Scheeder who was in the audience, noted that the community wanted the street reopened, but was surprised when it learned that the street would be privatized and the connection between 7th and 8th Street would not happen the way they envisioned. Jose Sousa of the Deputy Mayor’s Office for Economic Development (DMPED) has stated – and it is the conventional wisdom – that the privatization of C Street came about as a condition of the Land Disposition Agreement, passed by the City Council July 13, 2010.
The reopening of the street was a condition of the Deputy Mayor’s request for proposals for developing the site (RFP), and therefore a feature common to all final proposals considered by DMPED.
Yet FOIA documents obtained by emmcablog show that it was the developer who approached DDOT discuss questions of ownership, maintenance, and management of the to-be-reopened street in December 2009, three months after they were awarded the Hine development project, and that the privatization of C Street was not the only or most obvious answer to these questions.
DDOT responded to Stanton/Eastbanc’s questions by asking Stanton to “recommend a course of action on how to deal with the C Street SE as it crosses the Hine School site…,” essentially inviting the interested party to chart the policy framework under which the disposition of C Street would be considered. Apparently, no community members or representatives were present at any of the meetings convened to discuss the questions.
“How should the space be owned?” Stanton/Eastbanc’s memorandum written in response to the DDOT request inquired. The developer’s answer to the question they posed was included in its final recommendation: “Stanton-Eastbanc is committed to permanently expanding the public market area around Eastern Market onto the Hine Site and to raising the quality and attractiveness of the Saturday Arts and Crafts- and Sunday-Flea Markets… To this end it makes most sense to design C Street and the plaza for pedestrians and the markets while enabling vehicle traffic as a secondary design use.” Accordingly, the developer concluded that “it makes most sense to manage the street and plaza privately.”
As has been previously reported on this blog, space in the Hine Development for the weekend flea market has been significantly curtailed to roughly half of its current size. This seems to call into question the first and presumably paramount reason cited by Stanton Eastbanc as a reason to manage the street privately.
Moreover, the component of the City Council-passed Land Disposition Agreement which provides for the privatization of C Street refers particulars of reconstruction of the street to a “DDOT Apreement.” Although all relevant documents are supposed to be included in the public record (however incomplete they are at the time of City Council approval), no such document appears in the Disposition Agreement as passed by the Council, and one source at DDOT surmised that the reference was to a prospective agreement.
Under the current agreement with the developer, the developer will finance the rebuilding and continuous maintenance of the 700 block of C Street, SE. The agreement provides that the developer will grant an easement to the DC government to permit vehicular access through the reopened C Street, including emergency vehicles, except when the street is closed on weekends for vendors.
ANC6B’s Hine Subcommittee is considering what to recommend to the full ANC6B regarding what the community should ask for from Stanton/Eastbanc to mitigate or alleviate the impact of the developer’s private ownership of C Street. It appears to be the consensus of the Subcommittee that giving the developer complete control over public use of the street has the potential to create undue hardships for surrounding neighbors and businesses. Further, there appears to be wide agreement among members of the Subcommittee that the current plan grants the developer too much authority over what is ostensibly public space.
Some options regarding mitigation which the Subcommittee is considering include modifying the ground lease to provide for appropriate management and programming of the street, use of the Open Space Management Plan to require inclusion of community members and business interests in management of the street, and having the city retain legal authority over the street and grant an easement to Stanton/Eastbanc to close and manage the street on weekends during flea market hours.
ANC6B Hine Subcommittee will meet Thursday, April 5 at 7:00pm in Hill Center, Room TBA, to consider design issues for the proposed development at the Hine School site. The meeting will include a presentation by the architects and consideration of recommendations for both the PUD negotiation and the ANC position before the April 26th Historic Preservation Review Board.