Council Eliminates AWC

D.C. Deputy Mayor Will Oversee Agencies’ Projects

Posted June 5, 2007 at 5:41pm

A three-year effort to spur development along the Anacostia River and on the edges of Capitol Hill changed course Tuesday when the City Council voted to eliminate the quasi-public agency tasked with the job.

For months, council members and residents have argued about whether to keep the Anacostia Waterfront Corp., which was created in 2004 to oversee the spread of parks, condos and retail along the polluted Anacostia River. Now, the agency will dissolve by October, when it will hand over all its properties to the Washington, D.C., Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development.

“We’ll ensure that this will work, and we’ll get these projects, some of which have not moved, moving,” said Ward 2 Councilman Jack Evans (D), who months ago introduced a bill similar to the one passed Tuesday.

The bill to eliminate the AWC was added Tuesday as an amendment to the fiscal 2008 budget, and all but one council member supported it. At-Large Councilman Kwame Brown (D) introduced the motion, which replaced a bill he slipped in before the council’s first reading of the budget on May 15. That bill created a new quasi-public agency to take over the big development projects of the AWC and the quasi-public National Capital Revitalization Corp. Now, both agencies will be eliminated and their responsibilities folded into the executive branch.

Some council members warned that putting $10 billion of development under the mayor could be overwhelming — especially when Mayor Adrian Fenty (D) is already taking on the city’s school system.

“I’m telling you folks, I fear we are biting off more than we can chew, at which point something is going to drop off,” said At-Large Councilwoman Carol Schwartz (R), who abstained from voting on Brown’s amendment.

But most council members expressed a desire to try something different from the AWC and the NCRC, which have been criticized for moving too slow on development projects. Brown said the Committee on Economic Development, which he heads up, would hold frequent hearings on the city’s progress with the projects. And Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development Neil Albert, who has been acting as the CEO of the AWC for a few months, has said that he wants the projects under his city purview.

The bill requires the city to follow the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative, a long-term plan to revitalize the waterfront. It also will have to keep the AWC’s environmental, work force and small-business requirements — all of which have been praised by residents and local community groups. The environmental standards, which the AWC board of directors passed Friday, require developers to follow some of the most stringent regulations in the country. The work force and small-business requirements ensure that a certain percentage of D.C. residents and local businesses reap jobs and deals from development projects.

Both Ward 6 Councilman Tommy Wells (D) and Ward 8 Councilman Marion Barry (D) emphasized that the council needed to keep a close watch on the projects. In just the past decade, the same projects have hopped between different entities, and both councilmen were worried that recent efforts could stall. Furthermore, residents have said they are worried that eliminating the AWC could delay projects they have been waiting on for years.

“This is one of the most important developments in our city, at least in our time,” Wells said, later adding: “Clearly, the City Council will have to step into the oversight role very aggressively.”