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The Dripby Mark Reutter10:28 amApr 12, 20120

Mount Vernon Place privatization approved by city

As expected, the Board of Estimates signed off yesterday on an agreement to place management of Mount Vernon Place and the Washington Monument into private hands.

The five-year-agreement allows Mount Vernon Place Conservancy Inc. to proceed with a $12 million plan to refurbish one of the city’s most iconic parks in time for the 200-year anniversary of the laying of the Washington Monument cornerstone in 2015.

With 20 supporters in attendance at yesterday’s meeting and no opponents in sight, the panel unanimously approved the agreement. (Previously reported in The Brew here and here.)

A Milestone or Bad Precedent?

Andrew B. Frank, the conservancy’s spokesman and an official at Johns Hopkins University, said the lack of discord was a sign that significant progress has been made to build a consensus for the restoration.

“We still have a lot of work do to,” he said yesterday, “but I think we managed to build some trust. This agreement does not resolve the tree and perimeter sidewalk issues, but it is a milestone, 10 years in the making.”

He added, “We worked overtime after the Mount Vernon-Belvedere Association meeting to spend time with every group. We amended the agreement after receiving concerns about transparency and governance.”

But the privatization agreement – in particular a proposal by the group’s architect to cut down many of the park’s existing trees – remains the subject of intense criticism in some quarters.

“It was a done deal at the Board [of Estimates],” Mount Vernon Place resident Arthur Kutcher told The Brew, explaining why he thinks most critics skipped the meeting.

Another opponent of the Conservancy’s plan, Hugh C. Ronalds, said residents should oppose the city’s agreement not just because of the tree-cutting but because the public-private partnership sets “a bad precedent.”

“There is no oversight – this private group has a free hand to do whatever they want,” said Ronalds who, together with Kutcher, has sent an op-ed on the subject to The Brew.

Under today’s agreement, the city would allocate $1 million in bond funds for park restoration, pay the conservancy $35,000 a year, and maintain “basic services” such as grass mowing, bench repair, graffiti removal, tree pruning and park lighting.

– Fern Shen contributed to this story

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