The District government filed court papers yesterday to seize $84 million worth of property from 16 owners in Southeast, giving them 90 days to leave and make way for a baseball stadium.
By invoking eminent domain, city officials said last week, they hope to keep construction of the Washington Nationals' ballpark on schedule to open in March 2008. The city exercised its "quick take" authority, in which it takes immediate control of the titles to the properties.
Under law, the property owners and their tenants must vacate the land within three months unless a judge declares the seizure unconstitutional.
In papers filed in D.C. Superior Court, city attorneys said: "The Properties subject of this action . . . are taken for an authorized municipal use, namely the construction and operation of a publicly owned baseball stadium complex."
A spokeswoman from the D.C. attorney general's office did not respond to a message left for her yesterday evening.
In all, 23 property owners control 14 acres at the stadium site near South Capitol Street and the Navy Yard along the Anacostia River.
City officials said they have agreed to buy land from seven owners, who were not named in the court filing. The city had offered them a total of $13 million, but it is not known whether that was the final sale price.
The other 16 property owners have not agreed to sell, and their holdings include some of the largest and most expensive properties: an asphalt plant, a trash transfer station and adult-oriented businesses.
Negotiations are continuing, city officials said. But M. Roy Goldberg, an attorney for Eastern Trans-Waste, the trash transfer station that the city valued at $8.7 million, said the company intends to fight.
The company's owners have told the city their property is worth $14.3 million, plus $18 million if they cannot find another site.
"We're going to fight the amount of the taking and the way they've gone about doing it," Goldberg said. "I don't think they've been negotiating in good faith since Day One."
The city deposited the $84 million in a court-monitored trust. Property owners have 20 days to challenge the constitutionality of the takeover. As long as the District can show that the land was taken for a legitimate public purpose, the court probably will have no objections, land-use lawyers said.
Some activists have argued that the stadium is a private project for Major League Baseball, but District leaders say the $535 million project will create significant tax revenue. Developers have snatched up land just outside the stadium plot in anticipation of a waterfront revival.
If the court does not block the city's action, property owners can continue to negotiate with the city, but a jury would ultimately decide the sale prices.
The city's offers for the land are about 21/2 times as high as the amounts that it had assessed the properties to be worth for tax purposes last year. But some owners said they want more money because owners of property just outside the stadium land have received higher offers from developers.