- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 28, 2006

City leaders and stadium architects have less than a week to respond to a series of critiques from residents and zoning officials regarding plans for the Washington Nationals new ballpark, including whether the massive environmental problems at the site can be overcome.

After hearing more than five hours of testimony, the D.C. Zoning Commission asked the city to show that it is using the “best environmental practices” in preparing the ballpark site for construction. Several non-profit groups cautioned that the city was not doing enough to filter the polluted groundwater that flows into the river.

The ballpark site was once populated by gas stations, an asphalt plant and a trash transfer facility, and the stadium construction team is preparing to excavate several underground gasoline tanks.

“I’d really like to see them show a reversal of this groundwater issue,” said Doug Siglin, director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Anacostia River Initiative. “We in the environmental community had believed that this would be one of the greenest stadiums in the world. Now we’re in the bottom of the ninth, and it’s not that at all. That’s fundamentally disappointing.”

Zoning commission members asked whether the stadium will achieve LEED Certification, a special designation from the U.S. Green Building Council awarded to buildings that meet certain criteria for environmentally sound construction.

As currently planned, the stadium would fall short of meeting LEED requirements, but the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission is working to make six changes that could result in a positive designation, said Claude Bailey, the commission’s general counsel. The certification is not required for zoning commission approval.

Meanwhile, the zoning commission asked stadium planners to submit a more thorough explanation of how they plan to mask two large parking garages to be built at the north side of the stadium site. The garages, to be built as part of a requirement to provide 1,225 parking spaces at the ballpark, must be approved by the commission before construction can begin.

Plans call for the garages to be covered on three sides by condominiums and a special glass and steel facade, but the side facing the inside of the ballpark would be covered by a special screen. Commission members said they were worried the screen would still allow for unattractive views of cars inside the garages.

City officials also presented an alternative parking plan, calling for garages without any attached development as a back-up plan in case the more complicated proposal were to fall through. The zoning commission is expected to rule on the stadium and parking plans at a public hearing on July 6.

Michael Turnbull, the commission member representing the Architect of the Capitol, also said he was skeptical of plans to extend pedestrian ramps in the ballpark above the surrounding streets. Ballpark architects said the ramp extensions were designed to allow for a view of the capitol.

“I’m suspicious of this,” said Turnbull, who noted that no other building in the city offered such a feature. “If you’re going to do that, it needs to not just be stuck out over the street.”

Using baseball metaphor, he said, “I feel like you’ve got a fastball with some Vaseline on it.”

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