Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The way development works

The Examiner reports, in "Link probed between D.C. councilman's support, developer dollars," that Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. is being investigated because of his support of a local development project and a subsequent donation to the Ward 5 Business Council by the developer.

Now this is a complicated thing.

First, for the most part Councilmembers ALWAYS support reasonably decent (and plenty of INDECENT) development proposals in their wards. ALWAYS.

There is no way that Councilmember Thomas wouldn't have supported this project, whether or not community benefits monies went to organizations and projects supported by the Councilmember.

And this is a pretty good project, that I would support. It's to put quality rowhouses on a piece of underused land, and it extends the street grid to do so. It's a bit crippled by not extending the street grid to 4th Street NE, but all in all, it's an excellent development. See this DC MUD blog entry from a couple years ago, "Brookland Eyes 10 Acres of Development at St. Paul's," for more detail.

Second, it does shed light on the reality that the community benefits process is under-structured, which is something I have been concerned about for many years. It's a system that is designed to be messy and unstructured and fraught with peril.

See "Community Benefits Agreements," an updated blog entry from last April, for an outline of how to improve the structure and process of negotiating and awarding community benefits in zoning issues.

By setting priorities for neighborhood and area improvements beforehand, and then by directing community benefits monies towards consensus priorities, the kind of seeming graft that is discussed in the Examiner article will be much less of an issue.

Third, I will admit that the Ward 5 Business Council won't accomplish very much. It has a diffuse agenda and the people involved don't know very much, therefore they will yield very little in real accomplishment, regardless of how much and who gives money to the organization.

So the fact that Councilmember Cheh is setting up a Ward 3 Business Council seems troubling.

DISCLOSURE: The Padous filed a complaint against me when I worked for the Brookland CDC, claiming that deliberately falsified reports were filed. I wrote and signed the reports, so the complaint was against me. (Each month, individual DC Main Streets programs have to file a voluminous report with the RestoreDC program in the Dept. of Small and Local Business Development.) So the Inspector General's office investigated. They never really tell you when they close the investigation, but I don't consider this to be hanging over me. But it sure does make me question Abigail Padou's motives.

DISCLOSURE 2: I have been involved in "seeking" community benefits in various matters in the past. My strategy for what became H Street Main Street meant that community benefits related to the first phase of the Dreyfus Station Place project near Union Station got those benefits awarded to facade improvement on H Street, rather than to the H Street Community Development Corporation for non-H Street related programs. This was about $200,000.

And Abdo Development provided $10,000 (I know, not very much) to historic preservation survey activities in the H Street neighborhood, in association with their redevelopment of the Children's Museum into the Landmark Lofts project on H Street. I was involved in securing that donation as well.

DISCLOSURE 3: When I was the program manager for Brookland Main Street, EYA did donate to the Brookland Festival in 2007, and had a booth at the festival. I don't remember the amount, it was maybe $2,500.

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