As time ticks down to the General Services Administration (GSA) auction of the West Heating Plant later this fall, Georgetown civic groups and Ward 2 Councilman Jack Evans are lobbying for zoning restrictions and possibly a set-aside of park land on the federally-owned property.
The property is not zoned, though GSA recently assumed in its draft Environmental Asessment (EA) that a W-2 mixed-use zoning would be most likely. In that document, the agency estimated that a future developer might expect to include 181 new residential units and as much as 181,210 square feet of commercial and retail space on the site.
In a letter to Dan Tangherlini, the acting GSA administrator, the Citizens Association of Georgetown (CAG) and the Friends of the Georgetown Waterfront Park (FOGWP) requested that future development on the site be limited to the current 13-story structure and perhaps an underground parking garage beneath a public park that they hope will replace the existing tank farm. Additionally a parcel of land at the north of the property would ideally become park land or possibly even returned to the National Park Service's (NPS) C&O Canal.
Councilman Evans, a Georgetown resident, has also gotten in on the lobbying effort. He has sent letters to the DC Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED), OP, GSA and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton.
In his letter to GSA, Evans echoed many of the suggestions from CAG and FOGWP, encouraging the agency to make accomodations for park land, even by possibly sub-dividing the parcel to remove the desired park land from the auction parcel.
Julia Hudson, the GSA regional administrator, dismissed the two neighborhood groups' suggestion that that National Park Service or the District of Columbia might want the property for park land, in a letter dated July 23.
"We believe that NPS's lack of interest in aquiring the property during the recent Federal screening process obviates the proposal," wrote Hudson. Likewise the District did not express a desire in the property or any subset thereof.
Bob vom Eigen, the president of the FOGWP, told Patch that GSA mischaracterized the situation. NPS would not have the use or means to maintain the entire property, he argued; that's not to say the agency would not welcome the return of a small section of the whole parcel that was once part of the C&O Canal.
And yet, GSA maintains that its sales are "as is, where is," as a matter of course. The agency leaves it to local zoning authorities to decide how any former federal land should be used once it is sold.
While the GSA maintains its current course, community groups are also meeting with District agencies to discuss their concerns and preferences for the site
In early July, CAG and FOGWP met with staff at the D.C. Office of Planning, whom Vom Eigen said seemed "very sympathetic" to their efforts.
But, he noted, just because "we get a warm and fuzzy feeling" does not mean the community's goal of having zoning restrictions in place before the auction will be met.
Evans urged District officials to consider the role their agencies would need to play once the site is sold.
"I believe the city needs to be prepared with a plan for the site that recognized the benefits of developing the existing building, while creating substantial public parkland on the site as well," he wrote in a letter to Victor Hoskins, the DMPED.
Later this month Evans, the Georgetown Advisory Neighborhood Commission and community organizations will meet with Hoskins and representative from the Office of Planning to discuss the property.
The community organizations have not submitted their official stance on the project, pending discussions with local agencies. "We are doing our best," vom Eigen said, to get something in place before the sale.
A spokesman for Evans, Andrew Huff, said Evans "agrees that getting something in place before the sale would be ideal."
But Georgetowners are not the only ones putting pressure on the GSA.
A congressional subcommittee held a 90-minute hearing "Sitting on Our Assets: The Georgetown Heating Plant" on-site in June in Georgetown. Members of Congress criticized the agency for not moving quickly or efficiently enough to sell the property. Amidst much finger-wagging, congressman made it clear that tomorrow would not be soon enough for the auction to take place.
Still GSA must go through a federally mandated process for property disposal, which includes seeking public input. The draft EA has a deadline of Aug. 29 for public comments. Continued congressional pressure might mean a tight turn-around for the auction date and a small window for Georgetown's community lobbyists.