D.C. Council member Jack Evans yesterday abandoned for now legislation that would have directed the city to acquire land, hire a developer and make other preparations for building a baseball stadium near the Mall, saying the plan had generated "too much of an uproar."
Evans (D-Ward 2) said he was inundated over the Memorial Day weekend by telephone calls and e-mails from city residents opposed to the legislation, which would have elevated the site, known as the Banneker Overlook, over three other locations the city has proposed to Major League Baseball as potential homes for the financially struggling Montreal Expos.
The legislation also would have linked the stadium to Mayor Anthony A. Williams's $8 billion campaign to revitalize the long-neglected Anacostia waterfront, creating the possibility that profits from waterfront development could be used to pay for stadium construction.
"People in Southwest believed we were about to build a baseball stadium on Banneker tomorrow and that we were about to use all the money from the [Anacostia Waterfront Initiative] to do it. It isn't true. But there's nothing that we could have done today that would have dissuaded people," Evans said. "Consequently, it just didn't make any sense" to offer the legislation.
Evans said the move does not eliminate Banneker as a potential site for a stadium and should have no bearing on baseball's decision about relocating the Expos. Baseball officials have said they plan to choose in the next few months among six contenders: the District, Northern Virginia, Hampton Roads near Norfolk, Las Vegas, Portland, Ore., and Monterrey, Mexico.
"This has no effect on baseball one way or another," Evans said. "In case baseball came in, in case Banneker was chosen, this would have made it easier to move forward. That's all it would have done."
But other council members said the flap offers a taste of the battles to come if baseball chooses to return to the nation's capital after more than 30 years.
"There is huge neighborhood reaction to some of their possible sites. And I think this is a fairly standard challenge," said council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1). "If this had been RFK Stadium, there would have been a reaction there, too."
Council member Sharon Ambrose (D-Ward 6), whose district includes all four potential stadium sites, said she was relieved by Evans's decision.
"If at some point we were, by some miracle, to get a baseball team, we could take it back to the community and talk about it," Ambrose said. But wherever the city decides to build its ballpark, "we've got to get the buy-in of the neighbors," she said.
Administration officials had said Evans's legislation could detract from the core mission of the Anacostia waterfront project. But Williams (D) likes the idea of building a stadium on the Banneker site, so planning and economic development officials worked with council staffers through the weekend to draft language the administration would support.
The new version would have directed the city to acquire the Banneker site from the federal government, to seek funding to create an intermodal transportation facility there and to secure development rights to build over Interstate 395. But the new language did not mention baseball or specify that the development would include a stadium, said Stephen M. Green, a senior adviser to the mayor.
In the end, Evans did not offer the language, and the council's economic development committee approved the Anacostia waterfront bill without mention of the Banneker site. The bill was amended to specify that 30 percent of all housing built on publicly owned land along the riverfront would be set aside for low- and moderate-income households.
Evans's decision to back away from the stadium plan came on a busy day at City Hall. The council also approved legislation to require owners of scooters, minibikes and other small motorcycles for the first time to register their tiny rides with the Department of Motor Vehicles.
The bill, introduced by Graham and council member Adrian Fenty (D-Ward 4), is aimed at regulating the vehicles, which have figured in recent crimes, including an incident in the Petworth neighborhood in which a gunman opened fire from a small bike and struck a 12-year-old girl with a stray bullet. If Williams signs the bill, it will take effect within days.
Also yesterday, the council voted to endorse federal legislation that would give the District a vote in Congress but not the full complement of U.S. senators and representatives. The resolution was opposed by statehood advocates. But the council voted 11 to 2 to support proposals, such as one by Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), that would expand the U.S. House of Representatives by two seats, to 437, to permit a voting member from the District and a member from Utah.
The council also amended a bill that would have allowed liquor stores to apply for a license to extend their hours until midnight. In response to community pressure, the council voted to allow only large grocery stores to sell liquor until midnight. Liquor stores still will be required to close at 10 p.m.
Staff writers Debbi Wilgoren, Spencer S. Hsu and Del Quentin Wilber contributed to this report.