- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 12, 2007

Patricia Ghiglino says the site of her sculpture studio will be “second or third base” of the Washington Nationals baseball stadium when it opens next year.

When the District’s eminent domain action pushed her and other landowners out, seven accepted settlements for their buildings and the costs to resume business elsewhere.

Mrs. Ghiglino and 15 other owners refused to settle their claims so easily and sued, saying they want compensation for the customers and income that disappeared when they moved.

Some say they are losing money daily as they search for somewhere to put their asphalt plant, waste-transfer station and adult entertainment shops, which local zoning ordinances prohibit in most other locations.

Once a school for about 200 students, the tools and equipment for Mrs. Ghiglino’s 19,000-square-foot Washington Sculpture Center now sit in a storage vault while she and her husband try to build a new studio in Anne Arundel County.

“I couldn’t afford anything in the D.C. area that was similar in space,” she said. Also uncertain is whether her students will return.

Some owners who searched for new business locations found that “nobody wants them,” said Dale Cooter, an attorney for three of the business owners.

The biggest customer for an auto-repair shop owner whom he represents was the General Services Administration. The owner, Joseph Lukaesko, operated his business at the same location for about 30 years.

“He ended up with a place that was half as big, not as convenient and more expensive,” Mr. Cooter said. “It’s not as simple as moving down the street.”

The lawsuit in D.C. Superior Court filed by the District to condemn the business owners’ land is testing the limits of “just compensation” at a time of massive redevelopment projects in the city.

The District compensates for “the bricks and the sticks and the land underneath it, but they do not recognize the value of a going business,” said Joseph T. Waldo, a lawyer specializing in eminent domain in Virginia and the District.

The District has used eminent domain, or the taking of private property for public projects, for the Skyland Shopping Center redevelopment and the Southeast Waterfront redevelopment.

Seizing the property was made easier by a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said local governments could use eminent domain for privately owned economic development projects. Previously, eminent domain was used mainly for public projects.

The District typically does not compensate claims for loss of business because they are “speculative” or “too difficult to calculate,” Mr. Waldo said.

The city used a condemnation lawsuit to seize the property of 23 business owners and 521,025 square feet of land to be used for the new baseball stadium.

The Fifth Amendment requires that each of them be paid “just compensation.”

The District’s appraisers estimated the value of the all the property at $98 million. Landowners who settled have been paid more than $11 million.

“The city hired an independent appraiser to assess the value of the property,” said Traci Hughes, spokeswoman for the D.C. Attorney General’s Office. “The city has done its best to compensate these landowners. We’re not just coming up with an arbitrary number to settle with the landowners.”

The business owners’ suit against the District is still in the fact-finding stage with no trial date set.

The landowners said the court should follow the example of California, Colorado, Florida and Georgia, which have paid for lost business.

Neither Virginia nor Maryland pays for loss of customers and their business income, also known as “good will.”

In Maryland, the General Assembly considered a bill in the session that ended Monday that would have raised the compensation limits for business owners whose property is seized, but it never won approval.

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