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Mayor asks council to OK mansion

(Published May 21, 2001)

By KATHRYN SINZINGER

Staff Writer

Mayor Anthony A. Williams has asked the D.C. City Council to accept philanthropist Betty Brown Casey’s offer of an official residence for the District’s mayor.

The site of the proposed Casey Mansion is a secluded 17-acre estate at 1801 Foxhall Road NW, which the Eugene B. Casey Foundation purchased for $16.5 million in January. Casey selected the site for the proposed mansion, to be named in her husband’s memory, after city officials helped her over a period of several months to locate an appropriate site.

The council has scheduled a public hearing on a resolution to approve Casey’s offer for May 29. The hearing, beginning at 2 p.m., will be held in the council chamber at One Judiciary Square, 441 Fourth St. NW.

In a May 4 letter to council Chairman Linda Cropp, a commission chaired by former mayor Walter E. Washington recommended acceptance of the Casey offer.

Inexplicably, the mayor’s letter to Chairman Cropp which seeks the council’s approval of the commission’s recommendation was dated May 3, the day before the council-created commission delivered its report to the council.

"The mayor of the District of Columbia should have a residence suitable to entertain and honor citizens, businesses, local and federal officials, and the many official guests and distinguished persons who visit the District each year from other cities, states and nations," concluded the Mayor’s Official Residence Commission.

The commission said the Casey Mansion offer is "the best opportunity to realize a residence that achieves the maximum programmatic goals at the least expense to the citizens of the District."

The council created the special commission last June 26 to make recommendations "on the most appropriate site in the District to establish the Mayor’s official residence and on the most cost-effective methods of financing the acquisition, renovation and maintenance" of the home.

Casey has offered to design and build the mansion at no cost to the city and to cover all maintenance expenses for the mansion in perpetuity.

While the special commission’s report indicates it considered a number of sites before making its recommendation, Casey’s attorney indicated in an interview with The Common Denominator in April that the listed sites were among those visited and considered by Casey before her foundation purchased the Foxhall Road property.

Casey officially made her offer in a Feb. 26 letter to the mayor, although Steve Green of the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development, who worked with the special commission, said Casey initially contacted city officials about her offer last June.

Brendan V. Sullivan, Casey’s attorney, said the foundation intends to create a charitable organization expressly to own and maintain the mansion as the mayor’s residence. The arrangement would be similar to one that supports Gracie Mansion, the official residence of New York City’s mayor.

While the proposed resolution accepting Casey’s offer states there will be "no fiscal impact on the District government" in doing so, neither the council’s budget director nor the Office of the Chief Financial Officer has been asked to draw up a fiscal impact statement.

Among items not addressed in the special commission’s report or the proposed resolution of acceptance is the issue of potential legal liability to D.C. taxpayers for property damage or personal injuries that might occur at the mayor’s official residence.

Several members of the corporation counsel’s staff said they are unaware of any official investigation or report on potential taxpayer liability issues.

Casey attorney Sullivan said it is Casey’s intent that the mansion not cost D.C. taxpayers, but he acknowledged that all of the details have not yet been worked out.

The Casey Foundation was issued demolition permits May 11 to tear down the old Valley View manor house on the Foxhall Road estate. While the D.C. Preservation League made an attempt to block demolition by proposing landmark status for the existing mansion, Sullivan said the building was torn down before the league’s application was completed.

Copyright 2001, The Common Denominator