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Evans, Neighbors Lobby Behind the Scenes of West Heating Plant Disposition

Letters detail the efforts of Ward 2 Councilman Jack Evans and neighborhood organizations to influence the General Services Administration.

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 West Heating Plant is a surplus federal property at 29th and K Streets, NW adjacent to and the .

The property is not zoned, though GSA recently assumed in its draft (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.

Michael August 08, 2012 at 01:56 PM
As a neighbor in the Foxhall Village area, we see and hear all the time, especially in spring and fall in the park adjacent to the Lab School annex, the need for more green space for groups, like Stoddert (sp) Soccer league, to play and practice. As many know it has literally become a competition among groups to secure practice and game space. The heating plant complex, that is now federally owned, would be a GREAT, in the heart of the city, large piece of property that could be converted into a soccer plex, much like the ones you see in Montgomery County, or in Crystal City where the old Marriott was. With the city and federal government working together (a unique concept I know) a facility could be created with: - underground parking that could be both for the soccer crowds and for the Georgetown evening crowd - storage facilities and locker room facilities as needed - and on top of it all, a large area that could accommodate a number of fields, both regulation size and practice size. Right now this wouldn't be a loss to anyone with regard to the value of their property, the federal government has written the property off by now, and no individual or company owns it ... yet, and it would create a wonderful, useful and unique green space in the heart of densely populated Georgetown. I hope someone will share this idea with Mr. Evans, Delegate Norton, the Mayor and others who could make this happen. Michael
Shaun Courtney (Editor) August 08, 2012 at 02:54 PM
Thanks for your thoughtful suggestion, Michael! -SC
Walter Grosyk August 09, 2012 at 12:01 AM
The site is nowhere large enough for a soccer plex. Because of its uneven shape, it is not large enough for a high school soccer field. You could get a U-10 sized, half-field on the site, and that's it. The loss of tax revenue from having a U-10 soccer field (and little else) on the site would be enormous.
John M August 09, 2012 at 07:24 PM
Sorry Michael, if you wanted green space for a "soccerplex" you probably should've moved to NoVa or Maryland. This heating plant is in the middle of a dense urban environment and would cost the city millions to develop as a soccerplex in addition to the millions lost over the course of the soccerplex's existence on maintenance and lost tax revenue. Georgetown is literally surrounding on all sides by parks... I'm a proponent of green space, but this was already something.

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