Thursday, January 13, 2005

Owners of a solid waste transfer station located where the District wants to build a ballpark in Southeast filed a $2 million federal lawsuit this week that says D.C. officials sought to drive down property values and make it easier for the city to acquire the land by blocking minor renovation permits.

Eastern Trans-Waste of Maryland said the District has blocked routine permits for “minor but necessary” interior renovations at its transfer station since 2003. The company said D.C. officials did so because repairs would increase the property value and make it more expensive for the District to acquire the property through eminent domain.

“It’s a misuse of power,” M. Roy Goldberg, attorney for the waste transfer station, said yesterday.

The lawsuit appears to be the first litigation filed by a property owner at the stadium site in connection with plans for the 41,000-seat baseball stadium, which is supposed to be completed by 2008.

City officials say they are starting to set up meetings with the dozens of property owners at the proposed stadium site in hopes of avoiding a drawn-out and expensive court fight to acquire the land.

“We find we can do this in an amiable fashion,” said Chris Bender, spokesman for the D.C. Office of Planning and Economic Development.

Mr. Bender would not comment on the lawsuit or on plans to acquire the waste transfer station property. City tax records value the property at 1315 First St. SE, at a little more than $3 million — one of the most expensive parcels on the stadium site.

Mr. Bender said that in general, the District wants to stay out of the courts as much as possible.

“We’ll meet with them on an individual basis and tell them what we’re doing, and see if we can come to a mutual agreement to see if there is a way for the government to take control of that land,” Mr. Bender said.

District attorneys weren’t commenting on the lawsuit yesterday, either.

“The Attorney General’s Office is aware of the complaint and is taking time to review it and will respond accordingly in court,” said Traci Hughes, spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office.

The lawsuit does not seek to block the stadium from being built, but court records show that the company is seeking at least $2 million in compensation for what it says were lost earnings as result of its inability to perform routine facility upgrades.

Eastern Trans-Waste says the District sought to “artificially depress the value” of its property by refusing to allow the company to do $400,000 in renovation work in October 2003.

At the time, the land along South Capitol Street and the Anacostia River, where the waste transfer station is located, was one of five potential sites for the new baseball stadium. The station is located within the footprint of the stadium at N and 1st streets SE.

The company says it filed requests for permits at the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs to build a new weight scale and fix its roof, siding, doors and concrete floor, and add a bathroom.

The lack of upgrades has hurt business and property values at the company, one of five waste transfer stations in the District, Mr. Goldberg said.

“This is not to stop baseball, but it is to say that just because baseball is there doesn’t mean you can fail to comply with due process,” Mr. Goldberg said.

“We’re concerned that if it comes to eminent domain, they’ll come to us and say here’s the value, and we’ll come back and say it should have been higher. We think they unfairly tried to depress the price, and that’s not right” he said.

The company also said the District’s refusal to grant the permits may help the city eventually condemn the transfer station for health or safety reasons.

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