Bill Targets Anacostia Corp.

Revitalization Group Would Be Eliminated

Posted January 19, 2007 at 4:20pm

Just three years after it was created to oversee development along the Anacostia River, the Anacostia Waterfront Corp. may soon face its own demise — in the form of a bill that would eliminate the corporation and funnel its duties directly to the office of Washington, D.C., Mayor Adrian Fenty (D).

“It’s just never worked,” said D.C. Council Chairman Pro Tem Jack Evans, who co-sponsored the bill with At-Large Councilman David Catania. After hearing complaints and watching the quasi-government agency flounder in a bureaucratic mess, he said he decided enough was enough. “I just thought, ‘This is ridiculous.’”


As proof, Evans pointed to the years-long — and very public — fight between the AWC and the National Capital Revitalization Corp. over which agency would control a profitable chunk of Southwest waterfront property. The dispute is just now coming to an end, after the D.C. Council intervened and mediated.


The NCRC, another quasi-public group that oversees development projects throughout the city, also is slated for dissolution in Evans’ bill.


“You have the city really unable to control what’s happening,” Evans said, adding that everyone he’s talked to seems to agree with his bill. “There’s absolutely not one person who says that’s a bad idea.”


On Wednesday, the Committee on Economic Development will hold a public roundtable on the progress of development projects in the city. And although officials won’t say whether this meeting will focus on Evans’ bill, the AWC has been invited.


The feeling in Capitol Hill, which neighbors the areas the AWC oversees, is mixed. Some view the AWC as big business: an agency that puts making money, not fostering community, at the top of its list. But others say the organization is open and easy to work with. Eliminating the group, they say, could have more consequences than rewards.


“I know that there are people who are upset with the AWC squabbling over the waterside mall … but I just don’t see where that level of unhappiness rises to the realm of doing away with the organization, and I don’t see what would take its place,” said Kenan Jarboe, an Advisory Neighborhood commissioner for Capitol Hill’s Ward 6 who has worked extensively with the AWC.


Leaving an entire agency’s work up to one man — slated to be Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development Neil Albert — could stall progress, he said.


“Even under the best or most perfect situations, it will be disruptive and hold things up,” he said.


Even Adrian Washington, who took up the post of AWC president a little more than a year ago, concedes that some improvement may be necessary. But he supports another fix: a task force to look into the agency and possible solutions, as outlined in Fenty’s 100-day plan, released just days after Evans proposed his bill to the council.


“If there are things we can do to improve, we’re happy to do those. Obviously, we think we’re doing good work,” Washington said. “Let the study come out. … Let’s just sort of analyze this in a calm and rational way.”


Evans said he is “open to suggestions” but scoffed at the idea of a study.


“We don’t need to do a study,” he said. “What are we going to study?”


Both the AWC and the NCRC were modeled after the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corp., a group conceived during the presidency of John F. Kennedy and praised for its success at turning the then-blighted avenue into a more stately presence. But critics say the two organizations have strayed far from their lofty goals, stalling development and partially ignoring the community atmosphere.


“We as residents … look at it as, ‘What are you going to do in the long term to create strong residential values for the city and this neighborhood?’” said Richard Wolf, president of the Capitol Hill Restoration Society. “You have to have good people doing this, and right now I don’t see that. I just see it as another lumpy condo development.”


Jarboe has had a different experience with the AWC. He has worked with the agency since its inception, most recently on the development of Reservation 13, a 57-acre piece of federal land in Southeast D.C. that is in the process of being turned over to the city.


“It’s been great,” Jarboe said of working with the AWC. “They are very receptive to ideas.”


Jarboe and Washington also stressed that the AWC has been working continuously to lay the background work for the site — an important job that sometimes goes unnoticed by the public. And since the extensive plan to revitalize the neglected waterfront, called the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative, spans over a long 25 years, obvious development is slow in coming.


“It’s a long way off,” Washington said, “and I think that people are looking for results too quickly.”