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Taking note . . .

Observations about public affairs in the nation’s capital
by the editor of The Common Denominator

JUMPING THE GUN: The Washington Post got it wrong Aug. 5, when it reported that the National Capital Planning Commission had changed the District's zoning regulations to allow construction of a baseball stadium near South Capitol Street in Southeast Washington. What the NCPC actually did at its monthly meeting on Aug. 4 was approve recommendations to the D.C. Zoning Commission, which is currently considering changes in the Capitol Gateway Overlay District that would permit stadium construction as a legal use of the land chosen by the mayor and Major League Baseball for the new ballpark.

A final decision on the proposed zoning change, which was published in the D.C. Register on July 29, will be made by the zoning commission sometime after the required 30-day public comment period ends on Aug. 28.

The Post's mistake isn't surprising, though, considering the steamroller-like tactics being used by government officials to counter any opposition to the mayor making good on the taxpayer giveaway that he signed with MLB's millionaires to bring the former Montreal Expos to Washington, reborn as the Nationals. The new stadium, which the District's chief financial officer has said could cost taxpayers as much as $1 billion by the time its financing is paid off, was among the mayor's promises.

Many disgruntled D.C. residents and business owners – especially those slated to be displaced by use of eminent domain to take control of their property for the stadium's construction – believe the ink was nearly dry on this "done deal" before the public even heard about it at the end of last year.

The District's zoning process, which by law must give "great weight" to official opinions expressed by elected Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, appears in this case to be running roughshod over ANC 6D, which is unanimously opposed to the stadium's construction within its boundaries and testified to that effect during a zoning commission hearing earlier this year.

The behind-the-scenes drama isn't receiving much attention from local news organizations, many of which seem to have signed on as cheerleaders for the new home team.

The stadium debate is renewing concerns in such neighborhoods as Tenleytown, Foggy Bottom and Georgetown over the fairly obvious conflict of interest in which zoning commission Chairman Carol Mitten is caught in her dual role as the Williams administration's Office of Property Management director. Could Mitten keep her day job at OPM if she sided with neighborhood residents against the stadium – and also against the desires of her boss, Mayor Williams?

It's also not surprising to find Daniel Rezneck, who served as the federally imposed financial control board's legal counsel, now representing the D.C. government in its court fight against residents who stand to lose their property for the stadium's construction. Rezneck is in familiar territory by siding against city residents, a role he also played when he represented the control board and Mayor Williams in their successful effort to shut down D.C. General Hospital.

Meanwhile, Metropolitan Police Chief Charles Ramsey expressed his own concerns earlier this summer during a community meeting in the Fifth Police District about his department not yet having been contacted by anyone regarding post-9/11 security considerations in building a new ballpark at the proposed site.

The NCPC, which oversees land use in the federal core of the nation's capital, determined that building a stadium along South Capitol Street would "not adversely affect the identified federal interests and that it is not inconsistent with the Comprehensive Plan for the National Capital."

However, the NCPC's eight recommendations – which primarily address parking and potential obstruction of Capitol views – also seek "due consideration during the Ballpark design process" for "security concerns of the Architect of the Capitol and the Capitol Police Board."

The Capitol Police Board, which includes Architect of the Capitol Alan M. Hantman, recently persuaded Congress to intervene by legislatively overruling a D.C. Zoning Commission decision involving construction of a Capitol Hill office building.

SPECIAL THANKS: Many thanks to our supportive readers, led by Dupont Circle resident Debby Hanrahan, who put together a successful rummage sale at 17th and Q streets NW on July 31 to raise funds toward helping The Common Denominator pay off its substantial debt. The sale, which included antique furniture and an eclectic mix of donated items, generated about $2,100 for the cause. Many thanks, as well, to readers – new and old – who made purchases or donations during the sale.

Copyright 2005 The Common Denominator