- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 2, 2004

The visionaries of the National Capital Revitalization Corp. are attempting to eliminate that which is not broken with the Skyland Shopping Center in Southeast.

They should heed the lessons of Lexington Mall in Baltimore, where city leaders hatched a renewal project not unlike the one being imposed on the property owners and merchants of Skyland.

Baltimore’s movers and shakers exercised their eminent domain authority to drive out the owners and proprietors of the Lexington Mall, convinced that middle-class retailers would come in their stead.

The Lexington Mall, like Skyland, was a fully leased retail area that served the shopping needs of its fixed-income clientele. No matter. Baltimore’s movers and shakers — like those with the NCRC and the mostly out-of-the-loop D.C. Council — pressed ahead with the project, only to find that their kind of retailer was disinclined to relocate at Lexington Mall.

The project eventually was abandoned, and what was once a bustling marketplace is now a collection of empty buildings awaiting the next redevelopment plan.

This is one of the potential outcomes of the Skyland land grab, which has been empowered with a far-reaching amendment that threatens an untold number of property owners in the city.

The NCRC visionaries have an abundance of vacant properties east of the Anacostia River that they could be looking to restore.

But Skyland is not merely about redevelopment. Skyland is about politics and the middle-class activists of Hillcrest, the neighborhood that abuts the 60-year-old shopping center.

Skyland is about D.C. Council member Kevin P. Chavous responding to the complaints of his constituents in Hillcrest before his re-election bid in the fall.

Skyland is the jewel, if it acquires a “big box” as the NCRC envisions , that would put a big grin on the faces of Mr. Chavous, council member Harold Brazil and Mayor Anthony A. Williams.

Back in the real world, the visionaries of the NCRC have returned from yet another big box retail convention in Las Vegas without the precious commitments they so desperately want.

As it was in Baltimore, the visionaries are forever convinced that one day a Target, a Shoppers Food Warehouse and a sit-down restaurant, or a combination of the sort, will sit on the 16.5-acre Skyland site.

This is the gambit of the NCRC, and it hardly passes the smell test of the property owners and proprietors, many of whom have asked the city to work with them instead of against them.

All they have received from the NCRC and the council members elected to serve them are silence and fuzzy numbers. All they have received is a political leadership that has failed them.

This is the un-American proposition unfolding along one stretch of asphalt in the nation’s capital, the leader of the free world whose founders wrote the right to property into the Constitution to protect the individual and limit the power of government.

Yet more and more politicians at the local level across the nation, in seeking greater tax revenues, are trying to circumvent the Constitution with an expanded definition of eminent domain that allows them to force homeowners and business owners off their properties.

Skyland undoubtedly could use a makeover, the one point on which both sides agree.

Yet that also is hardly the point.

Pete DeSilva, one of the property owners, does not want to sell his building, which he leases to the proprietors of a liquor store. The proprietors do not want to leave, especially with a liquor license that does not extend beyond 400 yards of the building.

There is potentially one victim after another on a site that has more than 15 owners and 26 business operators, many of whom are suffering because of the uncertainty.

Yet the visionaries of the NCRC and city leaders seem not to care.

To them, it is a mixture of politics and business.

To the owners and merchants, it is so much more than that. It is deeply personal.

This is their land, their buildings, their livelihoods.

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