By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
The D.C. Council approved a plan yesterday to build parking garages next to the new baseball stadium in Southeast, resolving a months-long deadlock with the Washington Nationals and putting the ballpark on track to open in 2008.
The council's action represents the first legislative victory for Mayor-elect Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4), who, over the past several weeks, had convinced his colleagues that moving the stadium parking project forward is critical to its success.
But the victory came with a price. Council members voted 10 to 3 to override a ruling in July by the D.C. Zoning Commission that banned the city from building free-standing garages on the basis that such structures could hamper economic development.
Under the plan approved yesterday, two three-story garages will be built just north of the ballpark, which will be near South Capitol Street and the Navy Yard along the Anacostia River. A two-story garage will be built south of the stadium.
The new plan could make it more difficult for the District to build a mix of condominiums, shops and restaurants next to the stadium, as envisioned by Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D). Council members said they had little choice, because the city is required to provide 1,225 parking spaces to the Nationals by March 1, 2008 -- or risk potentially severe financial penalties.
"The decision made not only allows the project to go forward without any further risk of damages or liability but also continues to encourage a lot of economic development in the area," Fenty said. "The land in question on the stadium site is a small percentage of the area around the stadium that is already being developed."
Williams had hoped that development on the ballpark site would jump-start a sweeping revitalization of the Anacostia River waterfront and help the city reap dividends from the investment of public money in the stadium project.
The Nationals' ownership group, headed by Bethesda developer Theodore N. Lerner, opposed the mayor's plan because it feared that the garages would not be finished on time and that the site would be filled with construction equipment beyond Opening Day in 2008. Lerner representatives, who have declined repeatedly to speak publicly about the parking issue, did not return messages yesterday.
"Although I wish we could have found a plan that provides an immediate blueprint for development that raises tax revenue that benefits the District, we may still revisit that issue in the future," Williams said in a statement. "Today's vote allows the entire project to continue moving forward in a way that should satisfy all sides, including the Lerner family."
The three council members who voted against the plan -- David A. Catania (I-At Large), Carol Schwartz (R-At Large) and Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) -- blasted their colleagues for giving up the city's push to build separate development on the site.
They scoffed at Fenty's pledge that the Lerner group has agreed to consider tearing down the garages and work with the city to develop the site in a few years.
"This bill will give the team what it bargained for -- parking," Schwartz said. "But it will not give me and many of my colleagues what we bargained for -- separate development on the ballpark site. . . . Once the stadium is up and running, the team will never give permission to start a big demolition project that overlaps with the baseball season."
Williams had reached an agreement with developer Herbert S. Miller to build two 13-story condominium towers on the site. But that plan fell through in September after the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission and the District's chief financial officer raised objections about the project's financing.
After winning the Democratic mayoral primary in September, Fenty promoted a plan that would have authorized construction of parking garages reinforced with structural steel, to allow for additional development on top. But that plan fell two votes short last month because council members said it would have violated the stadium cost cap.
Fenty, with help from council Chairman-elect Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7) and council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), worked out the plan approved yesterday, which calls for cheaper garages that will not be reinforced.
The council's decision solves only a portion of a larger problem for the team and city of finding space for as many as 9,000 vehicles at the 41,000-seat stadium. City planners have said that they have identified more than a dozen potential parking sites, but some are not within city control, and some are more than 10 blocks away.
Staff writers Thomas Heath and Nikita Stewart contributed to this report.