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Government and People
November 3, 2003
Honorable Linda W. Cropp
RE: Report PR 15-381 (Whitehaven Parkway Transfer for Mayor's Mansion)
Dear Chairman Cropp:
Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3D, Friends of Whitehaven Park, Defenders of Wildlife and the Audubon Naturalist Society want to call your and the Council's attention to several issues raised by the above report and to recommend Council action to address these issues. We believe our comments and recommendations will assist the Council in its deliberations and actions regarding unresolved issues related to the mayor's mansion project, consistent with the Council's action on October 21.
1. We recommend the Council stimulate the creation of more public green space by encouraging the Casey Mansion Foundation to permanently set aside a major Dart of its 16.5-acre tract on Foxhall Road as public parkland to be named for former Mayor Walter E. Washington. The Council moves in this direction by recommending the foundation and the mayor "should consider providing unimpeded public access to at least 1.8 acres of the foundation's tract. The report indicates provision of this acreage would compensate for the 1.8 acres" of Whitehaven national parkland the District intends to lease to the foundation, which plans to fence the land from public access.
An appropriate portion of the foundation's large tract could be reserved for the mayor's mansion and immediate grounds with the balance made a true public park. On January 17, 2003, Councilmember Patterson stated, "In the District and in upper northwest in particular, we have far too little parkland available for recreational use."
The Council should take advantage of its crucial role in the lease review and approval process to encourage a significant addition to the city's parks. Naming the park 'for Walter E. Washington would be appropriate because he was the chairman of the Mayor's Official Residence Commission.
Our recommendation does not mean we no longer oppose the taking of almost half of Whitehaven Parkway for the mansion - a position we have made clear to you and the other Council members_ We still believe the transfer of jurisdiction of this land from the National Park Service to the District is illegal and harmful to the environment and wildlife habitat. But we believe the achievement of a large new park may help to balance the loss of Whitehaven parkland and would be an acceptable political compromise.
2. The Council should create a statutory commission to advise on and review the planning, development and operational policies of the mayor's mansion. This commission would be a logical follow to the former Mayor's Official Residence Commission, which ended in 2001 after recommending the Foxhall Road site for the mansion. The proposed commission, whose members would be appointed by the Mayor and the Council, would include architects, land-use planners and other citizens, would help to balance the situation in which the foundation will develop and own the mansion and grounds, and would provide a formal public vehicle for continuing public participation in this major public venture. This commission would provide authority to DC official Code §1-331.10 enacted by the Council on June 5, 2001 which intended that "...the general public and the surrounding neighborhood are fully consulted in the planning, design, construction and ongoing future operations of the Mayor's official residence." As you know, a crucial decision regarding the mansion - its actual location on the 16.5-acre tract - has already been made, solely by the foundation, with absolutely no public or District government participation, contrary to your clear legislative intent. Moreover, as you know from testimony at the September 30 hearing of the Committee of the Whole, the foundation and government agency officials have disregarded reasonable suggestions regarding the mansion project and the District government has denied public access to government records on this matter. The proposed commission would help as sure the next stages of the mansion project are carried out as the Council intended.
We do not believe the Large Tract Review Process cited in the report will achieve this continuing meaningful public participation. The Large Tract Review Process, as we understand it would not exercise any significant part in this instance because it is intended for multi-unit development rather than a single unit, the mansion in this case.
3. The foundation should be strongly encouraged to make an annual payment to the District in lieu of foregone property taxes. We support the Council's efforts to determine the true cost to the District of the proposed mayor's mansion, The report states that the mansion, "which is a valuable asset with significant open space, at no cost to the taxpayers of the District." Yet the report notes that the tax-exempt foundation's ownership of the 16.5acre tract "will result in foregone annual property tax revenues of approximately $100,000 a year." Over a decade that amounts to $1 million. This report assumes the foundation could sell its land to another tax-exempt organization, thus, generating no property taxes. But it also can be reasonably assumed the foundation could sell at least part of its land for an upscale residential development. Such development with 30 homes would generate an estimated $924,000 in property income and sales taxes, according to Richard B. Westbrook, who spent more than 20 years as a tax expert for the National Capital Planning Commission.
We call your attention to the fact that the foundation was prepared to pay $2.9 million for property it planned to exchange for title to Whitehaven Parkway to add to the mansion tract. Now the foundation stands to obtain by lease virtually the same public land it sought earlier for a reported $1 a year. Under the above circumstances, it is not unreasonable for the foundation to make an in lieu payment to the District. Such payment could be substantially adjusted or perhaps foregone if the foundation were to dedicate permanently a major portion of its tract for public parkland.
4. The Council should require District officials and the foundation to submit a time line for the mansion project as part of the lease review and approval process. Months will be needed for programmatic planning even before the actual design of the mansion can begin according to experienced architects. Still more months will be needed for preparation of the plans for the mansion and grounds. No fencing or other construction should be allowed on the Whitehaven parkland until justified by the actual needs of the mansion development.
We anticipate your providing us with copies of all documents, including the proposed lease and written response to questions you and Councilmembers Patterson and Schwartz posed to foundation and government witnesses on September 30 so that we can comment in time for a subsequent public hewing. We wish to be effective participants in this matter, in keeping with the spirit and intent of your June 5, 2001 resolution. In this regard, we express our dismay that the report presents the "security concerns" submitted by Mayor Williams to Councilmember Patterson but makes no reference to the four page critical analysis of these concerns. Councilmember Patterson requested District officials to provide their written response to this analysis and we anticipate you will provide us with a copy so we might comment at a public hearing or by other appropriate means.
We appreciate your consideration of our concerns.
John W. Finney
William Snape III
cc: Members of Council
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