GSA: West Power Plant Unzoned, Will Go To Highest Bidder

Community members and developers may seek to secure zoning prior to the sale of the federal property near the intersection of 29th and K Streets.

The West Heating Plant, currently owned by the federal government, will be put up in an EBay-style online auction by late summer if everything goes according to plan. Tuesday, an official from the General Services Administration (GSA) addressed Georgetown's Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC2E) about the process by which the property would pass from the government to a private owner.

Currently, the property is not zoned, meaning there is no prescribed preferred use for the site, such as residential, commercial, etc. Additionally, GSA has no way of prescribing the future use of the site through its auction process.

"The use in any subsequent redevelopment will be essentially whatever the local planning and zoning authorities determine what it should be used for. Typically our sales are as is, where is," explained Tim Sheckler, the director of the real property utilization and disposal division as GSA.

Neighbors asked Sheckler about possibly stalling the auction of the site until the D.C. Office of Planning could prescribe a zoning category. Several neighbors at the meeting suggested that the community could then influence the use for the site and potential bidders would have a better idea of what they were getting into. The GSA representative did not commit to engaging the OP directly, but said community members and developers can certainly do so.

Christopher Mathews, a Georgetown resident and writer of the Georgetown Metropolitan blog, suggested that GSA could stand to lose if the OP zones the property prior to sale. Currently, the gamble is left to the developers to try their luck with zoning once they have paid for the property. But, if it is zoned prior to sale, the prescribed use might reduce the possible price the federal government could get for the property.

Commissioner Ron Lewis asked Sheckler about the negotiated sale process by which a local government could purchase the property for a public use, sidestepping an auction. Lewis wondered if a "financial angel" came forward to give the money to D.C., could the property then be sold to D.C. and used as the community sees fit. Sheckler said it was possible, but not typically something GSA did.

"Nothing in Georgetown is similar to any practice anywhere else," responded Lewis. 

Sheckler said the time line for the sale process would have the site possibly going to auction by late August. Before then, there will be a public scoping meeting Jan. 26, place and time to be determined. Thereafter the agency will release its environmental assessment for comment and wrap up its historic preservation review requirements. He expects the government to begin marketing the property by the spring and to begin the sales process mid-summer.

In a Patch poll, 61 percent of the 31 respondents said , with the remaining votes split between "park land" and "I don't care."


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