City for sale?

November 15, 1990

All right. The city is in desperate financial straits. But is leadership so devoid of commitment to urban culture that it would consider selling part Redwood Street to a private developer?

It might. Five months ago a bill was introduced in the city council to allow Leonard Attman to buy two lanes of Redwood Street -- between Charles and Light -- so he can proceed with plans for a new, 34-story office building. Today the planning commission hearing is scheduled. This thing has already gone too far.

The city has sold alleys and small parcels before, but the vast majority have been for incidental rights of way. When they weren't, the sale was part of a larger plan that had clear public benefit. The proposed Redwood Street deal differs significantly in that it asks the city to sell public land to a private developer for purely private purposes.

The developer's claims that the project will enhance the Redwood Street area are dubious. Regardless of how aesthetically impressive the project might be, building on two lanes of busy Redwood Street will almost certainly cause traffic problems -- particularly one block north on Baltimore Street, which would be the logical alternative route and which already is a log-jam at rush hour. More than that, neighboring property owners openly scorn Attman's claim -- saying their businesses could be hurt by new traffic patterns. But there is a larger issue -- precedent: Once the city has relinquished the public-benefit criteria for selling public land, where -- and how -- will such sales stop?

No matter how hungry the city might be for an increased revenue base, selling Redwood Street would be a serious mistake.

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