With the end near in a 14-year campaign by Adams Morgans residents to establish a park where developers want to build townhouses, community activists see the outcome as crucial to the future cohesiveness and stability of the neighborhood.
"This issue is going to determine the balance in the community," said Walter Pierce, who has been a leader in the drive for city acquisition of the 4.2 acres of land, known as the Shapiro Tract and as Community Park West, since he moved to Adams Morgan more than a decade ago.
"I think that the struggle to save the Shapiro Tract is representative of the spirit of Adams Morgan," said Frank Smith, acting chairman of the Adams Morgan Organization. "It's had volunteer participation from all ages and racial groups. If we lose the park it'll diminish our spirit of struggle. It points out once again the helpless situation that this city is in. We are colonists subject to the outside will of Congress."
The Shapiro Tract, on Adams Mill Road near 18th Street and Columbia Road NW, is the last large undeveloped piece of land in Adams Morgan. The National Capital Planning Commission has repeatedly said that the Adams Morgan area, with a population of 30,000, should have at least 53 acres of recreation space.It now has about 10 acres.
The City Council has asked Congress on three occasions for money to buy the land for use as a park. Congress has never approved the request.
Since 1964, neighborhood residents have installed playground equipment, maintained the grounds and supervised sports activities for area children. Maurice Shapiro, the owner, has rented the lot to the community for $1 a year.
But nearly two years ago, the Holladay Corporation began negotiating with Shapiro to purchase the tract for $2 million, according to a spokesman for the firm. The sale will become final March 30 unless Congress intervenes and releases funds to the city to buy the land.
Holladay plans to buil"156 toen-house condominiums selling from $39.000 for an efficiency to $100.000 for a three-bedroom unit," the spokesman said. The value of the land after the townhouses are completed would be about $12 million and the property would generate about $200,000 a year in real estate tax revenues, an informed source said.
Community leaders in Adams Morgan said they will urge the city to declare eminent domain if the sale goes through. But Ward 1 City Council Member David Clarke, whose ward includes the Shapiro Tract, said, "Once the property starts being develop, the cost will go up and it will be more expensive for the city." Declaring eminent domain is a means to force an owner to sell property to the city.
During the past 14 years, local residents have campaigned to get the city and Congress to appropriate money for the purchase. They have held rallies demonstrations and marches, testified before the City Council and Congress and condicted letter-writing campaigns.
Steve Klein, a proponent of the park for many years and a former Advisory Neihbourhood Commissioner in Adams Morgan, said, "If the city government sets its priorities, the Congress ought to honor them." Klein added that the council voted 13-0 in favor of buying the land for a park each of the three times the council asked Congress for the money.
A decision on buying the land has been delayed in the current budget by the controversy between the city and Congress over building a convention centre; the dispute has held up all appropriations for the District.
"Early in 1977 the City Council passed a reprogramming of surplus funds and set aside $1.1 million" for purchase of the site, said Clarke. "In the meantime the property is now worth more than it was in 1975 and it will cost the city more." It is that $1.1 million that the city must receive before March 30 to buy the tract.
The city can spend reprogrammed funds if both the House and Senate Appropriations subcommittees on D.C. give their consent Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt), chairman of the Senate subcommittee, already has given his approval in a letter to District officials, but no word has come yet from Rep. William Natcher (D-Ky), chairman of the House Subcommittee.
Clarke said he will continue to push for the purchase even if Holladay buys the land.
He said that in order for the city to take the land by eminent domain it "will have to appraise the property and then get other (private) appraisals. The city then offers the money to the owner and if he rejects it then, the city deposits the money in the registry of court. The title is transferred to the city and the court decides what the sity will have to pay for the property."
Eminent domain cannot be invoked, however, unless the city has the money for the purchase, Clarke said.
"The cost of that land is estimated at $8 per square foot," Klein said. "There are people who complain about the price, but in 1973 or 1974 the city paid $25 per square foot for one acre of land at 17th and U streets NW for a city government garage for police cars.
"I feel that this may be one last chance for Adams Morgan to avoid a lot of deep-seated racial problems. We may get into a situation like the South-west area with barriers between low and high-income people.
"Kids who don't have anything to do to crime. It's an established socioeconomic fact. If these kids don't have what will happen."
The Ontario Lakes, a sports club for teen-ages organized by Pierce, and other community groups will sponsor a clean-up at the tract at 10 a.m. Saturday. There will be food, bands and a chance for residents to get together and enjoy what may be one of the neighborhood'last festivals on the Shapiro Tract&Community Park West.