Letter to the Editor: West End Library’s public-private deal was bad for taxpayers

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The new West End Library is located within EastBanc's new mixed-use development, located along L Street NW between 23rd and 24th streets. (Brian Kapur/The Current/April 2017)

There was nothing “intricate” about the “partnership” for the West End Library, as described in the Nov. 29 article “New West End Library on track to open next week.”  Anyone can do the math.

EastBanc developers paid zero dollars for three parcels of publicly owned land — a library, firehouse and police station — valued by the city at $49 million (and surely worth more on the open market). “Payment” consisted of EastBanc’s providing a library and firehouse as part of two new private residential developments.

The need for revitalization of the properties — the only underbuilt property in the West End — was never disputed, but the decision to gift it to a developer instead of leasing it or selling it remains unfathomable. The decision was not economic but “political,” as characterized by the D.C. Court of Appeals. Adding insult to injury, EastBanc was given bonus density for building the public facilities it agreed to provide as the purchase “price,” when the zoning rules actually require the developer to provide amenities in exchange for added density.

The West End land deal was a pure giveaway. While city officials take credit for a new library and firehouse, taxpayers will absorb the cost of transformation of the rest of the library system. Any contributions from EastBanc will go not to the library but to those leaders’ campaign coffers — D.C.’s only true public-private partnerships.

Robin Diener, Library Renaissance Project