Legislation Would Revive Condo and Garage Development

By David Nakamura and Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Several D.C. Council members were negotiating late yesterday to introduce emergency legislation today that would revive a plan to build condominiums and parking garages near a new baseball stadium in Southeast Washington.

Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) was leading the effort and had distributed a bill that seeks to alter the $611 million stadium cost cap approved by the council in March. The legislation would allow the city to spend money from the sale of development rights on stadium land to pay for the parking garages.

If approved at the council's legislative meeting today, Barry's bill would open the way for the District to resume negotiations with developer Herbert S. Miller. His proposal to build a mix of condominiums, shops and garages collapsed two weeks ago when he failed to reach agreement over financial terms with the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, which is building the ballpark.

The outcome of the negotiations could help determine the look and, ultimately, the success of the stadium district. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) had hailed Miller's plan as the cornerstone to a sweeping redevelopment of the Anacostia waterfront. But the Washington Nationals ownership group, headed by Bethesda developer Theodore N. Lerner, has vigorously opposed Miller's plan and has pushed the city to build free-standing garages.

Barry's bill set off a flurry of activity at the John A. Wilson Building yesterday afternoon as he lobbied colleagues for support. Emergency bills require the support of nine of the 13 council members, many of whom objected to several portions of Barry's legislation. For example, the bill says Miller would be paid $4 million if the city uses his designs without his involvement.

Still, some members said they might support an amended form of Barry's bill.

"Frankly, I was pleased when I learned Marion was going to do this," said Sharon Ambrose (D-Ward 6), who added that it is critical for the city to build more than just garages on the five acres it owns just north of the stadium.

But Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi sent a letter to council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) expressing "grave concerns" about Barry's legislation.

In the letter, Gandhi says the bill would "jeopardize the on-time and on-budget completion of the stadium facility."

Council members Adrian M. Fenty (Ward 4) and Vincent C. Gray (Ward 7), the Democratic nominees for mayor and council chairman, were studying the proposal yesterday afternoon.

Sports commission officials announced that they were dropping Miller's plan two weeks ago after he failed to sign a contract that included a clause stating that he would be paid $975,000 if the deal fell through. Commission officials said that because the stadium agreement allows the team owners to reject development proposals, they did not believe Miller's plan could go forward.

Since then, Miller has been lobbying Barry and other city officials. Among other points, Miller has stressed that the stadium agreement stipulates that the District must begin building mixed-use development by September 2007 or potentially lose the right to build.

Under Barry's bill, the sports commission would be stripped of some control over the five acres. Instead, the Anacostia Waterfront Corp., chartered by Williams to redevelop the area near the ballpark, would be allowed to negotiate with the Lerners. Corporation officials said yesterday that they would forward Miller's proposals to the Lerners within days, if the legislation is approved.

Staff writer Thomas Heath contributed to this report.

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