Last night representatives of the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development met with a small group of Georgetown residents to discuss the proposed surplussing of the Hurt Home at 3050 R St. (the group was small because the DMPED didn’t do a particularly good job advertising the meeting. Although, GM will point out he did two separate posts on the meeting.)
As predicted by GM, this meeting essentially was a check-the-box procedure required by the recently effective Public Land Surplus Standards Amendment Act of 2009. In short: the DMPED office decided to surplus the Hurt Home last year, an RFP was issued, and only one party, the Argos Group, came forward with a bid. The process to dispose of the property to Argos was moving forward until this new law kicked in.
This new law is an attempt to decouple the decision to surplus a property from the process to actually dispose of the property. Thus, in the future properties will be identified for surplussing, the DMPED office will, among other steps, hold a public meeting to see if the public has any ideas for a public use for the building, and then recommend to the Council that it identify the property as surplus. Then, theoretically, DMPED would move forward with the RFP process and the ultimate disposition of the property will be determined. Before the law became effective, the surplus and disposition processes were joint.
Unfortunately, for this project (and other high profile projects like the West End Library and the Hine School in Eastern Market) the disposition has for all intents and purposes been determined already. Namely, the building will be sold to Argos Group to be converted into condos. In fact, Argos’s Best and Final Offer proposal has already been accepted by DMPED.
But last night was all about box checking. DMPED rep David Roberts all but said so. In fairness to him and his office, they have already decided that there is no public use for this building. A group of neighbors with zero knowledge of the facilities requirements of the DC government isn’t going to change DMPED’s mind on that (keep in mind that a “public use” is only use by the DC government itself, i.e. a DC agency, school, or library. Renting it out to a non-profit like the Jackson Art Center is not a “public use”.)
The fact is, the building is falling apart and the city doesn’t have the funds nor the desire to fix it up. The only party that came forward last year with a plan to develop the property into anything was the Argos Group. This new process certainly did not give the public enough time to actually search for a public use. But it’s not clear that the public even has the facilities to identify a public use for the property, other than to simply say, “sure we’d like a school to go there.” Assuming DMPED will now go forward and recommend the property be surplussed, the only way to stop the surplussing is to go to the Council next Wednesday at 2:00 and convince them that they shouldn’t accept DMPED’s recommendation.
While a charter school could be a nice addition, in GM’s opinion the only reasonably possible and desirable outcome for this building is condos. Concerns over the size of the project are valid, but some at the meeting treated “condo” like it was a four letter word.
It really all boils down to this: for Argos Group to be able to afford to renovate the building it will have to make up the costs either by making more money from the condos or buying it from the city for a reduced cost. Both of these factors have limitations. One way to make a lot of money from the condos is to make a lot of them. That angers the neighbors. Another way is to reduce the total number of units but make them larger. That risks pricing them out of any identifiable market (this is the problem that the Wormley Row condos faced). Alternatively, the price Argos pays the city for the building could be lowered, but at some point that becomes politically hazardous (“the city just gave away a building to a developer!?!”). Whether a sweet spot can be found between these poles is supposedly what DMPED is determining through the separate and on-going disposition discussions with Argos.
But talking about that sweet spot is not what last night was about. And for that reason the neighbors left frustrated and a box was checked.