With Angelos standing in way, eminent domain might not be imminent

September 26, 2004|By PETER SCHMUCK

IF YOU BELIEVE everything that you read, it's time to start putting a few bucks aside each week to pay for your PSL at Citizens Don't Want To Bank This Ballpark in Washington.

The Battle of Anacostia is over, and Peter Angelos might as well sue for peace, because he has no chance if he tries to sue for anything else.

If you believe everything you read.

Now, if you know anything about Peter Angelos, you probably know the folly of underestimating him. If not, you can contact the bankrupt asbestos industry, Big Tobacco or the Maryland Stadium Authority - all of whom have tangled with him and lost.

No one thought he had a chance to defeat the combined might of the asbestos manufacturers, but they have been nice enough to buy him a city block in downtown Baltimore and a baseball team (among other things).

There was a time when no one had much stomach for battling the tobacco industry, but Angelos signed up to wage Maryland's fight to recoup health care costs associated with tobacco-related illnesses. The state ended up getting $4 billion in a huge federal tobacco settlement that happened so quickly that state officials refused to pay Angelos the whole contingency fee.

Angelos also won millions in Oriole Park improvements in a parity dispute after the Maryland Stadium Authority supposedly gave a better stadium deal to the Ravens.

So, when everybody says the deal is all but done and the Expos are landing in the District and Angelos has no legal standing to oppose the move, well, keep in mind that it is the supposedly unwinnable fight that really gets his juices flowing.

He lives for this kind of stuff.

We're talking about a guy who started out scraping the barnicles off boat hulls and ended up flying around in a private jet. His whole life has been about proving people wrong. Don't count him out just yet.

It's not like there are not any soft spots in the D.C. package. The stadium deal has to be finalized by the end of the year or a new city council might throw this baby out with the Anacostia backwater.

There also are 27 landowners to satisfy to acquire the acreage that will sit under the new ballpark, and some of them already are indicating that they may resist the city's attempt to buy them out.

Washington probably will be able to use eminent domain to roll over the reluctant property owners, but even that raises some interesting issues that Angelos - and Washington's anti-stadium forces - might be able to exploit.

The use of eminent domain is based on the concept that there are times when an individual's property rights must be overridden to satisfy the greater good of the community. Though a publicly financed stadium likely would meet the "public good" requirement -because eminent domain has been employed in many previous stadium construction projects around the country - it would only take one open-minded judge to throw the District proposal into doubt.

The city may have trouble supporting its case that the stadium project is in the best interests of the public when polls have shown feeble support for the financing proposal and several incoming council members have made it clear that the plan would not be approved after they take office.

Meanwhile, there still is that pesky anti-racketeering lawsuit in Miami, where a federal judge also could grant an injunction that would prevent the Expos from being moved. Angelos only needs to buy a couple of months and the whole Washington baseball venture might fall apart, because the Northern Virginia financing plan expires on Jan. 1 and government officials there see little hope of reviving it.

Sure, if you believe everything you read, the D.C. proposal is very close to being a done deal, but if you think that the Expos are coming ashore at Anacostia without a fight, then you don't have a very good read on Angelos.

Contact Peter Schmuck at peter.schmuck@baltsun.com.

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