- The Washington Times - Monday, September 27, 2004

The push to remake the Anacostia River waterfront with a ballpark is steeped in the well-meaning spirit of revitalization.

The proposed ballpark is the carrot that is galvanizing the social engineers of change: the politicians, developers and assorted attorneys. This urban cocktail is an old favorite, ready to intoxicate the masses, except those being sentenced to lose their stake in the American Dream.

This is the fundamental flaw in the ballyhooed proposition, no small impingement if you believe in the Fifth Amendment and the vision of our Founders who wrote the right to property into the Constitution.

Their intent was clear. No property owner should be bound to the demands of the majority.

The majority, this space included, wants a baseball team. We deserve a baseball team.

Yet we do not deserve the right to tell the various little people who hold the deeds to the proposed 20-acre site to turn over their properties so we can hear the crack of the bat again.

There is no doubt that a ballpark at Half and N streets in Southeast would serve as a beacon of light in a forgotten corridor of the city. There is no doubt that Mayor Anthony A. Williams is working at a feverish pace to reinvent the demographics of the nation’s capital, and that a ballpark in the new location is part of a larger effort to bring Southeast more in economic line with the rest of the city.

The Southeast is the new frontier of the city, a potential jewel that investors and developers already are touting. The mayor’s ambitious goal of increasing the city’s population by 100,000 in 10 years is predicated in part on restoring previously unfashionable precincts of the city. There is nowhere to stuff another 100,000 in the elite neighborhoods of Ward3.

The mayor and his minions have to go to Southeast if their long-range plans are to be achieved. A ballpark undoubtedly would have a positive effect on the Southwest neighborhood abutting South Capitol Street.

There, you find neatly arranged townhouses whose owners are probably praying to the skies for a ballpark, knowing that if the city builds it, their property values are certain to rise. In some cases, they might even be able to remove the bars on their windows.

Everyone can agree that this would be a good thing. One of the ironies of living in a free society is that the free sometimes are forced to live behind self-imposed bars, if only to have a modicum of make-believe security on streets overrun with drug dealers, car jockeys and smash-and-snatch artists.

Yet for all the explicit good, there is the unacceptable provision of ordering property owners to part with their land and businesses or else. Several business owners in the neighborhood already have objected to the notion of having to relinquish their businesses for a larger good.

Some have been in the neighborhood for years when few others wanted to be there. They made a living out of the wasteland and paid taxes for the privilege. Now an impending vacate-or-else offer is the thanks they are about to receive from their public servants.

If this were the First Amendment instead of the Fifth Amendment, it is doubtful the chattering class would be so effusive in its support of the proposal. No, they would be all indignant, clutching the wisdom of our wig-wearing Founders.

The intellectual vapidity of picking and choosing your amendments is obvious. The site of the proposed ballpark is merely one that appeals to the limousine liberals ensconced behind their gated communities.

Here’s an appeal to city leaders: Give the property owners offers that are significantly above market value and just pump it back into the cost of building the ballpark.

This previously $340million ballpark already has jumped to $440million before the first spade of dirt has been turned. What is an additional $100million among desperate baseball fans?

The Fifth Amendment merits such care.

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