EMMCA Lawsuit Brings Transparency to City’s Real Estate Deals with Developers
by Larry Janezich
Eastern Market Metro Community Association (EMMCA), today claimed victory in their effort to force the city to publicly disclose contracts with private developers for the lease or sale of public properties.
In September 2014, Attorney Oliver Hall filed a lawsuit in DC Superior Court on behalf of EMMCA as represented by its steering committee – Marci Hilt, Carl Reeverts and Gerald Sroufe – to require DMPED to comply with DC’s Freedom of Information Act which provides for public disclosure of any contract dealing with the receipt of expenditure of public funds. Although the requirement took effect in November 2001, DMPED has apparently failed to comply with it. Known as Land Disposition Agreements (LDAs), the contracts reveal the tax breaks, subsidies and incentives that DMPED gives developers who take possession of former public properties around the District.
DMPED initially opposed the lawsuit, but eventually reversed its position and agreed to disclose the contracts on its website. EMMCA subsequently dismissed its claims pursuant to a settlement agreement executed earlier this month.
“EMMCA has done a great service for all District residents,” said Hall. “DMPED has been willfully flouting its disclosure obligations under the FOIA for the past 15 years, leaving District residents in the dark about the terms by which it leases or sells valuable public properties like schools, libraries, police and fire stations to private developers at rates far below their fair market value.”
DMPED now has dedicated a section of its website which provides links to electronic files of contracts executed with developers since 2001. Also, a new DMPED policy requires that DMPED project managers ensure that contracts for their projects are posted on the agency’s website.
EMMCA Steering Committee member Marci Hilt said, “People in the Eastern Market neighborhood know all too well that when DMPED is allowed to negotiate these deals without disclosing the terms to the public, taxpayers often lose. We saw that in the Hine Junior High School deal, where taxpayers will pay millions for benefits and amenities the developer took credit for providing. This includes $50,000 to improve the Eastern Market Metro Plaza and $75,000 to finance building a playground.”
Hall noted, “The public needs to be vigilant to ensure that all District agencies, not just DMPED, disclose the information required by law.” If DMPED fails to post these documents in the future, EMMCA, or any other organization or person, can file suit to bring the agency back into compliance.
EMMCA is an unincorporated non-profit organization founded in 2008 to promote the civic interests and enhance the quality of life for DC residents who live in the area near the Eastern Market Metro.
The DMPED website listing contracts can be found here: http://dmped.dc.gov/node/1019962