- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 4, 2003

For years, Virginia baseball advocates resisted naming any potential stadium sites for fear of encouraging heavy local opposition.Now, barely a month after the announcement of five potential sites in Northern Virginia, that anti-ballpark activism is alive and well.No Arlington Stadium Coalition, a grassroots organization recently formed to fight efforts to put a ballpark there, attracted more than 200 people Wednesday night to a meeting in Pentagon City designed to rally ballpark opposition and raise money.At the same time, Arlington Baseball Coalition, a citizen group backing the commonwealth’s pursuit of a major league baseball team, held a competing meeting in Ballston with models of the proposed stadium and a keynote address from Virginia Baseball Club chairman William Collins. The session drew about two dozen people.Northern Virginia citizens are well known for rallying in large numbers against major development projects. And the two competing forces are expected to keep butting heads as Major League Baseball continues its deliberations on the future home of the Montreal Expos. MLB officials are expected to select a new home from the long-struggling and MLB-owned Expos by July. Northern Virginia is competing with the District and Portland, Ore.The No Arlington Stadium Coalition has enlisted the help of a lawyer and economist, both working pro bono, to help with its efforts and sent the attendees home Wednesday with anti-stadium yard signs. Several neighborhood groups near each of the five potential sites — two in Pentagon City, one near Dulles International Airport, one in Rosslyn and one in Springfield — have similarly come out publicly against a ballpark near their subdivisions. Most of the stadium opposition stems from concerns about traffic, parking, noise and public financing; two-thirds of the $400 million needed at a minimum to build a Virginia ballpark would come from public sources, though not out of any general funds.Conversely, the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority, lead group for Virginia’s pursuit of baseball, is planning several public meetings to make its case to local residents for a local team and stadium. Groups like the Arlington Baseball Coalition similarly have been speaking to many business and citizen groups and distributing pro-Virginia baseball literature.”We are organizing as quickly as we can and ensuring our voices be heard,” said Sarah Summerville, chairman of No Arlington Stadium Coalition. “We do not intend to be taken lightly.”Michael Frey, stadium authority chairman, says the growing opposition has long been anticipated.”This is all 100 percent expected,” Frey said. “Nobody immediately welcomes a huge construction project like this right near them. I think what we’re seeing now is some healthy skepticism. But that’s why it’s so important we continue to reach out to individuals and groups and give them the full scope of what we’re trying to do. A lot of people haven’t seen the newer ballparks around the league and what they’ve done for their communities.”The Virginia stadium fight stands in stark contrast to the District, where no organized opposition has developed against the city’s leading site candidate, a spot along New York Avenue near North Capitol Street. Citizen opposition to two previous ballpark site candidates between Mount Vernon Square and Union Station helped remove those areas from further consideration.Collins was more aggressive in his comments Wednesday night about the stadium opponents. He called the group “small but vocal” and insisted a far greater — but to date silent — majority existed in favor of Virginia baseball.”We’ve always recognized there will be local opposition to any [construction] project or facility of this size,” Collins said. “But we are not going to be building 20-story, sterile skyscrapers. We’re talking about building a true community and entertainment venue, one that is less than eight stories high.”The skyscraper comment refers to a site in Pentagon City near Army-Navy Drive and Fern Street that is the favorite among many Virginia baseball boosters. The 12-acre site, owned by the Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation, is mostly undeveloped. But representatives of the foundation are applying with county officials to build several mixed-use high-rises on the site over the next decade and have no plans to sell the land for ballpark use.Arlington County Board of Supervisors chairman Paul Ferguson, reiterating an earlier statement, has not taken an official position on the issue.”There is clearly a high degree of interest for and against a stadium,” Ferguson said. “But the issue is not yet ripe. We need to know more about baseball’s plans, and if they remain interested in Virginia, there obviously will need to be a public process for input. My job is to ensure that process remains fair.”

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