Judge won’t block ballpark land acquisition

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The Washington Nationals’ planned stadium in Southeast survived another legal challenge yesterday when a U.S. District Court judge denied an attempt by three property owners to stop the city’s land acquisition efforts at the ballpark site.

Judge Richard Roberts declined to impose a temporary injunction on the city that would have blocked developing efforts to acquire property from 33 landowners in the stadium footprint.

The three landowners — representing a diverse collection of residential and commercial interests — sued the District and Mayor Anthony Williams last month claiming their civil rights were being violated by the impending land assemblage and that the city used an improper study to calculate the cost of acquiring the property.

“There’s no reason for me to believe the public would be better served by locking up these [land acquisition] efforts,” Roberts said, adding that the plaintiffs are still supported by just compensation statutes that surround any public taking of private property.

District officials intend to make formal offers to the landowners later this month, with a goal of acquiring and rezoning all the land by the end of the year. If those offers do not result in deals by mid- to late September, the city intends to seize the land through eminent domain.

Natwar Gandhi, the District’s chief financial officer, estimates those land acquisition efforts will cost $161.4 million, just under the $165 million cap established by the D.C. Council.

Homeowner Kenneth Wyban and two investment partnerships argued unsuccessfully that the $161.4 million figure is artificially low and as a result gave rise to an illegal effort to take their property.

The city’s legal win joins one from last month in which Robert Siegel, a prominent businessman and landowner located within the stadium site, similarly attacked the Gandhi estimate but failed to block the stadium effort.

With yesterday’s hearing simply on the request for the temporary injunction, the plaintiffs still have the option to bring the lawsuit itself to trial. It is not certain whether that will happen, but if it does it will happen without Wyban.

“I’m done. This was my one shot,” he said. “I’m obviously disappointed. The city is treating us like they already own the property. But this stadium is going to be far costlier than anyone in the government there is saying. If anyone does their homework, they’ll find it’s going to cost the city a billion dollars.”

Gandhi currently pegs the total stadium development bill, including bond issuance costs, at $607 million. The burden on the District’s business community to help pay that tab, however, is now set to be lowered by nearly half through an impending deal between the District and Deutsche Bank to inject $246 million in private financing into the project.

The city will get that sum in an upfront payment in exchange for the German financial giant acquiring revenue streams from the Nationals’ stadium lease payments and concession tax receipts.

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