Deputy Mayor’s Office (DMPED) Stonewalls Access to Public Documents on Hine
Hine Issue Before CM Bowser’s Economic Development Roundtable Next Week
by Larry Janezich
One complaint common to both District residents and ANC6b is the lack of responsiveness by DC government agencies to their queries and concerns. The attitude of dismissiveness spans the Office of Planning, to the Historic Preservation Review Board, to the Zoning Commission, to the Department of Transportation.
The failure of the office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) to respond to repeated requests for the final documents concerning the transfer of the Hine site from the city to Stanton-Eastbanc is the latest example of the trend. According to Oliver Hall, the attorney representing Capitol Hill residents who are appealing the Zoning Commission’s approval of the Hine project, Ayesha Abbasi, DMPED Freedom of Information (FOIA) officer, failed to produce documents requested under a FOIA request to the office of DMPED.
According to Hall, these documents are public contracts dealing with the receipt or expenditure of public or other funds by public bodies, and DMPED is required to make such documents publicly available. Hall said that with very few exceptions, DMPED appears to have withheld public records he had requested and further had failed to provide any written explanation for the reasons, as required by law.
Hall said that an initial review of the documents DMPED produced suggests that DMPED omitted many public records without any indication or explanation whatsoever. He cited, for example, several DMPED email communications responsive to his request which expressly refer to attached documents, which Abassi did not attach.
Hall claims that Abbasi has ignored three follow up requests from him asking whether DMPED intends to produce any additional documentation.
The issue is timely, since next Tuesday, CM Muriel Bowser, will chair an Economic Development Roundtable on Major Economic Development Projects to discuss developments throughout the city, including the Hine Project. The purpose of this public oversight roundtable is to hear from the Deputy Mayor about the status of these projects and to identify next steps. Two days later, the DC Court of Appeals holds a hearing on the Hine Coalition’s appeal of the Zoning Commission’s ruling.
Capitol Hill Corner contacted Corey Lee, DMPED Project Manager for Hine, to ask about the availability of Hine documents. We were referred to DMPED Chief of Staff, Rich Nichols, who referred us to Director of Communications, Chanda Washington. After Capitol Hill Corner outlined the claim that DMPED was not being responsive to requests for the closing documents on the Hine project, Ms. Washington responded as follows:
“I cannot speak to the specifics of the request. That is the responsibility of the FOIA officer who must speak directly with the requester.
The policy of the District of Columbia is to share documents with the public detailing government operations. There are however, under the Freedom of Information Act, certain categories of documents that may be exempted. Those exemptions are not intended to hide from the public but to ensure that there is a free exchange of ideas with the full intention of the final document being produced to the public when requested.”
In a follow-up discussion, Ms. Washington said she was unable to speak to the timeline for the project or milestones the city expects the developer to meet since the project is currently in litigation. With respect to the LDDA – one of the documents sought by Hall – she said it was her understanding that it had been made public and was available on line. Asked for clarification, Washington in a later conversation said that “there was a LDDA in 2010, which was amended in 2011. There are documents associated with the July 13, 2013 closing which are made public with the Recorder of Deeds after closing.” Asked if this meant that DMPED had no responsibility to make documents available, Washington called back to say that “Generally, within 30 days after closing [July 12, 2013, in this case] documents are filed with the Recorder of Deeds and anyone can access them on line.” She went on to say that documents are also available from DMPED, but stipulated that DMPED usually deals with requests for information through Freedom of Information requests.
After visiting the website of the recorder of Deeds, and registering, a search was conducted using search prompts “East Banc Inc”, “Stanton Development Cor” – the formatting having been determined by the website’s available list of grantees and grantors – and by lot and square number (Lot 801, Square 901). Of the verified data (processed deeds), and processing queue (unprocessed deeds from July 15, 2013, until September 19, 2013) no records on Hine appeared as the result of any of these searches. If these documents are indeed public, then they are not being made publicly available.
The approaching hearing date for the appeal of the Zoning Commission’s ruling has initiated some activity. After filing an appeal of the Zoning Commission’s approval of the Hine project with the DC Court of appeals, (as reported on Capitol Hill Corner http://bit.ly/1doatJi) Stanton-Eastbanc (SEB) filed a reply, to which the Hine Coalition responded. Copies of these documents can be found by clicking on the link in the Library at the top of the CHC homepage.
According to a press release from the Hine Coalition, the group is asking the court to send the PUD back to the Zoning Commission “because the agency improperly decided the case on an incomplete record, because the agency failed to address the PUD’s excessive height – it will be more than twice as tall as any development currently permitted at the historic site – and because SEB failed to disclose the extent to which taxpayers are subsidizing the PUD, by paying for many of the ‘public benefits’ it claims the project will provide.”
“There is a complete lack of transparency in this PUD,” said Attorney Oliver Hall. “SEB has not disclosed the Land Disposition and Development Agreement or the affordable housing covenant, which state the terms by which SEB will acquire the valuable Hine Junior High School property from District taxpayers.”
The Hine Coalition raised funds from the community to pay for a three-quarter page ad in the current issue of City Paper summarizing the financial issues which they maintain shows why the Hine Project is a bad deal for the city.
The Committee on Economic Development Roundtable on Major Economic Development Projects will meet next Tuesday, September 24, 2013, at 11:00am in Room 500 in the Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW.