- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 11, 2003

The Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority, still wrestling with significant opposition to a potential ballpark in Arlington County, is negotiating to hire a conflict resolution specialist to aid its efforts.

The authority will seek to lean on the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution (ICAR), based at George Mason University, which will attempt to forge some agreement between bitterly divided stadium advocates and opponents.

“We realize that we need to foster better communication with the residents of Northern Virginia in order to make this [stadium] work and make it a true community asset,” said Gabe Paul Jr., authority executive director. “Sometimes passions can get inflamed, and we want to get away from that. This is going to be a very unique relationship, and something that will go well beyond the normal zoning process.”

Paul will negotiate a contract with ICAR and ideally begin community dialogues within several months. Part of the timetable will depend on Major League Baseball, which is now deliberating on the future home of the Montreal Expos. A decision was intended to be made by July15, but that date is now in significant doubt.

The focal point for the Virginia stadium debate is Pentagon City, where the authority has identified two potential stadium sites near Army-Navy Drive. The owners of those sites have not shown any willingness to sell their land, but the authority continues to covet the sites and their proximity to Metro, Interstate 395 and downtown Washington.

Meanwhile, a growing contingent of neighborhood activists is concerned over a stadium’s effects on local traffic, noise and public infrastructure, as well as the $285million in public stadium financing proposed by the authority.

The authority has played host to three public forums on its stadium development efforts since mid-May, and those sessions drew large, generally pro-stadium crowds. And a survey commissioned by the authority and taken during the winter indicated 55 percent of polled Arlingtonians favored a stadium in the county.

But the often hostile dialogue during those stadium forums and public rallies by stadium opponents indicate the issue is more divided than ever. While concern is present toward the $338.7million in public financing in the District’s rival ballpark effort, no such outcry has surfaced regarding the city’s preferred stadium site along New York Avenue NE.

ICAR will seek to bring together Virginia stadium advocates and opponents, and much like many conflict negotiations, aim to foster agreement on several core principles, and then use those to bridge the gap between the two sides.

“We understand the context of this issue and that there are a lot of folks still undecided that need to be engaged,” said Frank Blechman, a former ICAR professor who will assist in the mediation effort. “The objective is certainly to get this done in a reasonable amount of time.”

ICAR, primarily a research operation, does resolution work all over the world, including deadly guerilla conflicts in Colombia and Kashmir. The outfit also has worked locally in numerous development debates, including Mount Pleasant in the District and Southern Maryland.

“Mediation is always good, but I still don’t know exactly what they have in mind to mediate,” said Sarah Summerville, chairman of the No Arlington Stadium Coalition, the lead anti-stadium entity.

Summerville, meanwhile, filed Tuesday to be a candidate for the Arlington County board, running as an independent. The candidacy promises to help keep the Virginia stadium debate active.

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