- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 30, 2003

The Arlington ballpark debate, already contentious, tilted toward the extreme last night.

Local stadium advocates, furious with Arlington County’s surprise request to remove the jurisdiction from ballpark site consideration, staged a noisy rally before last night’s county board meeting complete with their new mascot, NIMBY the County Board Chicken.

The fowl mascot represented the silliest — but by no means first or last — sign of each side in the stadium debate digging in its heels and preparing for further battles. The board decision earlier this month, made in a letter sent to the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority, was designed largely to quell raging divisions on the ballpark issue. Instead, the move has backfired and only widened the factions.

The stadium authority made the first major step to keep the battle alive last week when it said it would defy the county board request and keep the three proposed ballpark sites in Arlington County — including a particularly coveted spot in Pentagon City — on its short list.

“This decision by the county board was shocking in its audacity,” said Tom Brooke, co-chairman of the Arlington Baseball Coalition. “It went against every notion of open government we stand for and ignored the great number of people who are out there and support this stadium. So we’re going to keep fighting, and the first step is to get the board to be at least receptive to the idea of a ballpark.”

Stadium opponents are similarly heightening their activity. There was no counterprotest last night. But the No Arlington Stadium Coalition continues to pepper the stadium authority with Freedom of Information Act requests for documents and minutes of meetings. Also in the works is a lobbying effort to legislators in Richmond to have the stadium authority abolished.

“We are entering phase two,” said Sarah Summerville, chairman of the No Arlington Stadium Coalition. “Phase one was getting a position from the county board, which we got, though I’d like to see a [formal] board vote on this. But just because somebody says this is over doesn’t mean it’s really over. We’re not in a position to stop our activities when the stadium authority says Arlington County is still on the [site] list.”

County board chair Paul Ferguson has said the decision is “not reversible.”

Nothing on last night’s board agenda had anything to do with the ballpark debate. Rather, the meeting presented the first opportunity since the board decision for stadium advocates to present an organized protest, and more than 200 supporters packed the board hearing room, causing Ferguson to respond, “We hear you.”

Among those organizing and participating in the effort last night were the Virginians for Baseball fan group and members of the Virginia Baseball Club, the prospective ownership group led by William Collins.

The county board continues to press ahead on its plans to develop a conference center at the Pentagon City site preferred by the stadium authority and owned by the Morris & Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation and its partners.

The foundation and its partners, meanwhile, also have applied with Arlington County to develop a set of large mixed-use, high-rise buildings on the site that would sit adjacent to the conference center.

This proposed development only has fueled the ballpark debate further. While a county-commissioned economic impact study found tax revenue from this development would beat that from a ballpark by as much as $7 million annually, opponents point to the project as a bland, overly dense replication of what already is prevalent throughout Northern Virginia.

“A lot of people against this ballpark don’t realize what they’re asking for,” Brooke said. “What they’re asking for is for far more traffic, congestion and demand on public services.”

Meanwhile, Virginia Gov. Mark Warner lashed out yesterday at Major League Baseball about its protracted process to find a new home for the MLB-owned Montreal Expos. After originally targeting and then missing the All-Star break to render a decision, MLB executives are eyeing a period between late August and the end of the season to move forward on the club’s future.

Members of MLB’s relocation committee will meet later this week with commissioner Bud Selig to review its work to date. Selig already has received a written briefing, but it is not known exactly when a formal recommendation from the committee on the Expos will be forthcoming.

“I’m frustrated with Major League Baseball,” Warner told WTOP-Radio (AM-1500) yesterday. “They keep moving the finish line as to when the process is going to be complete. … If they keep stringing out the process, there may be no suitor at the end of the day. And baseball will have basically shot itself in the foot or other parts of its body by not moving more aggressively and partnering with a community.”

MLB senior vice president for communications Rich Levin declined to comment on Warner’s remarks yesterday. But historically, baseball generally has been successful in resisting political demands and proceeding with its business on its own schedule.

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