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Residents want retail, not homes at Camp Simms

(Published October 23, 2000)

By KATHRYN SINZINGER

Staff Writer

A huge pair of scissors awaits a ribbon-cutting ceremony Oct. 18 at the new 314-home Wheeler Creek housing development in Congress Heights. The $54 million project is a portion of the approximately 2,000 new homes being built east of the Anacostia River, prompting residents there to push for an all-commercial development at Camp Simms rather than the mixed-use project called for in the city's Master Plan.

More than 100 people turned out for a raucous public meeting Oct. 17 to tell Ward 8 Councilwoman Sandra Allen and other city officials that the 23-acre former Camp Simms site should be developed without delay and wholly for commercial, non-housing purposes.

"Currently, there is more housing being developed east of the Anacostia River than in all of the other wards combined," Retta Gilliam, executive director of the East of the River Community Development Corp., said during the meeting at Malcolm X Elementary School, a short distance away from the Alabama Avenue SE development site.

Gilliam forcefully told city officials in attendance, including Acting Department of Housing and Community Development Director Milton Bailey and Office of Planning Director Andrew Altman, that it is "imperative" that they do "whatever the city needs to do" to get the Camp Simms site developed expeditiously for retail businesses to serve the community.

"We canít wait. We are tired," she said. "The issue is, we want a place to shop, we want a place to sit down (to eat)...we cannot wait another two years. That is unacceptable."

Mayor Anthony A. Williams has asked the D.C. City Council to allow his administration to seek development bids for the Congress Heights site under a timetable that calls for completion by March 2002 of a mixed-use retail and single-family housing project. A council hearing on the mayorís request for development proposals and authorization to dispose of the city-owned site was scheduled for 6 p.m. Oct. 23.

Acting DHCD Director Bailey recently cancelled an exclusive marketing agreement the city had with Dominion Development Corp.for the site, even though developer Kevin Williams said his company and construction partner Manekin real estate services were nearing completion of a deal to build a Giant Food supermarket on the site. Williams read portions of letters from Giant Food and a financing company during the Oct. 17 community meeting to support his contention.

The developer, who is not related to the mayor, said his company "will not bid" on the cityís request for development proposals and is exploring legal action against the city for failing to follow through in working with his company.

The developer also cited city documents dating to 1994, when then-mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly and then-council chairman David Clarke sought the councilís approval to negotiate exclusive development rights with Dominion. And he questioned why the city no longer seems to have earmarked $6 million in federal funding it competitively sought and received from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1999 for the Camp Simms development.

Copyright © 2001 The Common Denominator