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Some Tempers Revved Up Over D.C. Auto Race

In June, Goldwater said, he, Lencheski and other Grand Prix officials gave a 40-minute presentation on the event to about 30 residents who live in neighborhoods around the stadium. However, Kingman Park Civic Association leaders were not present at the meeting, one of several quarterly gatherings the sports commission has held since January last year to discuss projects and upcoming events. That particular meeting was not billed as one at which the Grand Prix event would be specifically discussed.

"We informed our community leaders at the first opportunity when we realized there was a real possibility that this event could happen," Goldwater said. "And I would do it the same way again."

Mayor Anthony A. Williams signed a 10-year deal that will bring Grand Prix auto racing to the District and then predicted that the event could pump an estimated $350 million into the local economy. (Sarah L. Voisin - The Post)

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He said he left the meeting that night pleased, if not surprised, that those in attendance expressed support for the event. Since then, he said, some residents have requested tickets. He added that after the meeting, the commission tried repeatedly to contact Walton, but that he did not respond for several weeks.

During subsequent telephone conversations, Walton complained to the commission about the Grand Prix, and a meeting was set up. But Goldwater said Walton canceled after he learned that the District planned to announce the contract with racing officials Aug. 9.

Walton later voiced his opposition to the event at two quarterly community meetings with the commission, the most recent April 30, when he brought about 15 angry Kingman Park residents.

Eric W. Price, the deputy mayor for economic development, said he talked with Goldwater after the June presentation and asked whether he needed assistance in handling community concerns. But Price said Goldwater told him he thought the matter was under control.

"If we had known there were any significant community issues, we would have gotten the Office of Planning more actively engaged to work with the sports commission and work through those issues with the residents," Price said. He added that he will now decide on how best to address the community's objections, as will Goldwater.

Some residents of Kingman Park say they learned of the Grand Prix only last month when construction workers began building the 1.7-mile course through parking lots 6 and 7. The lots are technically on National Park Service property, but management of the land was previously transferred to the District under a long-term lease.

"This event is a tremendous intrusion that they really did not tell us about in advance, and now we are upset after the fact while they are almost done laying down the track," said Edward Wells, 68, whose home on Oklahoma Avenue NE is across the street from where cars could hit a top speed of 180 mph during the races.

Also unhappy are the vendors of the D.C. open-air farmers market, who had been operating out of RFK parking lot 6 since 1980. Because of the race, they and flea market merchants were moved to different lots April 13, losing their beneficial location near Benning Road until their expected return in August. Al Smith, executive director of the farmers market, said overall business has been down about 50 percent since the move but is slowly recovering.

As for the residents of Kingman Park, few of those interviewed last week knew that their neighborhood will host the Grand Prix for the next 10 years, or that the contract gives organizers the option to exclusively negotiate a five-year extension during a period of up to 90 days between Nov. 1, 2009, and Feb. 28, 2010.

"They should have knocked on our doors and gotten our opinions before they started on such a long project," said Anay Powell, 18, who lives on Oklahoma Avenue.

Kingman Park has waged battles against projects before. In the early 1990s, residents helped derail plans by Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke to build a new stadium next to RFK. They also thwarted the proposed Barney Circle Freeway, which would have heavily increased traffic in their neighborhood.

As for the Grand Prix, residents say the deal is signed and they have few options short of appealing to the mayor, the D.C. Council and the sports commission -- which they have been doing.

Unlike most stock car races, in which cars circle an oval track, Grand Prix auto racing typically features courses in which straightaways are interspersed with hairpin turns.

In the Washington event, about 40 cars will compete in each of the five races. Goldwater said crash and noise barriers will be erected around the course, which will be fenced off. Regarding concerns about harmful emissions from the race cars, he said the automobiles are fuel-efficient and use unleaded gas. Furthermore, none of the stadium's 9,000 or so parking spaces will be available for use by the general public during the event, offsetting any emissions from the race cars. New drainage and other measures will be put in place to better protect the river, he said.

Opponents have appealed to D.C. Council member Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7), who represents Kingman Park under the redistricting that took effect in January. But they say Chavous has not been responsive. He did not return two calls seeking comment.

Council member Sharon Ambrose (D-Ward 6), who represented Kingman Park before redistricting, said the sports commission never told her the deal spanned 10 years.

"Looking back on it, they were not eager to apprise the community," she said. "How would you like that in your front yard for three days on a hot weekend, for 10 or 15 years? It is inconceivable to me."

Metro researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.

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