By Debbi Wilgoren
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 11, 2006
A D.C. judge yesterday ordered five landowners at the site of the proposed Washington Nationals baseball stadium to leave by March 27, bringing construction of the riverfront sports facility a step closer to reality.
The order by Superior Court Judge Joan Zeldon affects Southeast Land Development Associates, which owns about 1.5 acres leased to Metro for bus parking; an asphalt company; a warehouse; and several businesses that are on two additional properties. The owners of two other parcels -- containing a trash transfer station and several adult-oriented businesses -- were exempted by the judge because they are in a court-ordered mediation process with the city to decide where and how they should move.
The city controls most of the other parcels on the 20-acre stadium site. A review of land records and plans for the stadium shows that Zeldon's order vacating the additional five parcels -- covering 7.1 acres -- will leave empty just about all of the site south of O Street, which officials involved in the project said is crucial for them to break ground.
"We're going to work from the southern portion of the site, going north," said D.C. Development Director Stephen M. Green. He said that Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) will publicly unveil the design of the stadium Tuesday and that the city will move as quickly as possible after that to begin demolition of vacant buildings.
Williams has made construction of the stadium along the Anacostia River the centerpiece of his plan to bring Major League Baseball back to Washington and revitalize the long-neglected neighborhoods along the waterfront. But his willingness to spend up to $611 million in city funds on the project has infuriated many residents, and some members of the D.C. Council.
Zeldon had said she would not issue an order to vacate until Williams and baseball officials signed a stadium lease, and the council and D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi indicated that they were ready to begin the project. Those steps were taken this week, after months of acrimonious debate.
The city initially hoped to have control of the entire site by the end of last year, to start construction early this year. But officials say they can still complete the mammoth project by the March 2008 deadline.
"We're glad to see the judge's order since it allows our city to move forward," said Vince Morris, a spokesman for Williams.
Claude Bailey, general counsel for the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, said, "We can make a significant start toward demolishing the buildings on the site and beginning to prepare the site for construction."
Attorneys for the affected landowners either could not be reached for comment or declined to discuss the developments. They have the right to ask the D.C. Court of Appeals to hear the case, other land-use lawyers said, but would have to seek and secure an emergency stay to remain on the properties while the matter is pending.
Several landowners have filed separate litigation -- over how much their properties are worth or whether the Williams administration has the right to seize the properties through eminent domain.
Mediation between the remaining landowners and the city will continue, starting this morning, said lawyer Dale Cooter, whose client, Bob Siegel, owns a gay pornography shop and several other adult-themed businesses. Cooter said his discussions with the city had stalled until he met last week with Carol Mitten, D.C. director of property management. The ensuing conversation, he said, left him thinking that the city might be able to find a place for Siegel's businesses to move.
"I for the first time have some hopes for success here," Cooter said.
But M. Roy Goldberg, an attorney for the trash transfer company, said the city's relocation efforts remain tepid. "They have not given us a place to go," he said. "They have not done what we think is required to coordinate with other government agencies to help us."
Newsroom intranet editor Jacqueline Dupree contributed to this report.