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If Baseball Is Out In Arlington, What About Springfield?

Arlington Board's decision could shine spotlight on EPG.

Arlington's decision last week to ask to be taken off the list of sites in consideration for a new baseball stadium may have implications for a proposed location in Springfield. With the Arlington sites off the table, the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority (VBSA), a state entity trying to woo a team to the region, may look at Fort Belvoir's Engineer Proving Grounds (EPG) in Springfield with renewed interest.

The EPG emerged in March as one of five possible stadium sites, along with three sites in Arlington.

But now that Arlington has joined Fairfax County, which last month passed a similar resolution in opposing a baseball stadium, it is unlikely local officials will agree to rezone several acres of land for a ballpark. One alternative to that, which might prove attractive, is to bypass local governments altogether and deal instead with another entity, such as the U.S. Army, which owns the EPG.

THE ARMY IS in the process of cleaning up the EPG land, which has in the past been used as a site for munitions training. Part of the EPG will be turned over to Fairfax County for the continuation of the Fairfax County Parkway. Another parcel in Mount Vernon District will be turned into parkland. But the Army is holding onto a third parcel of land with the intent of selling it, said Karen Baker, an Army spokesperson.

Supervisor Dana Kauffman (D-Lee), who represents the area, said that the county and the Army have agreed that any private developer who buys the land would have to abide by the Fairfax County's Comprehensive Plan in redeveloping it. Several years ago, the Board of Supervisors adopted Kauffman's suggestion to change the plan for the site so that it mandates a biomedical research facility as well as some residential units for the site.

But if a public entity buys the land, it would not have to abide by the county's plan. Because the Stadium Authority is an entity of the state, it could theoretically buy the land and put up a stadium without first getting the county's approval.

This has worried Kauffman, a vocal baseball opponent. That's why over the past several months he has worked to make Fairfax County "a bed of thorns" for baseball boosters, he said.

BRIAN HANNIGAN, a spokesman for the Stadium Authority, said that Arlington's decision has not changed the Authority's focus.

"We have deliberately not narrowed our options, because it would be premature to do that," he said.

Over the past several months, the three Arlington sites garnered the most attention, but VBSA officials refused to take the EPG site out of consideration.

That has not reassured Kauffman. To him, the Stadium Authority is holding onto the Army site as a location of last resort if local officials reject all the other sites, which appears increasingly likely.

"It was predictable, and that's why I've been so aggressively and repeatedly involved in working with my colleagues on the Board and area state-elected officials to just say 'no,'" he said. "The loss of other sites doesn't make this site any better from a community perspective."

If the Stadium Authority circumvents the county and places a stadium in Springfield, it would still need the county to sign off on aspects of the financing plan, such as the proposal to oppose a hotel tax in surrounding neighborhoods. The Stadium Authority would also need the county's help to improve roads around the stadium.

Kauffman vowed to resist any such request. "It's their responsibility," he said.

Hannigan refused to comment specifically on the EPG site. "We're not focusing on any particular site."

"We're confident that when we get to that point that any land-use proposal will receive a fair and open hearing before the local authorities," he said.

THE AUTHORITY is focusing its energy on getting Major League Baseball to commit to Northern Virginia as the next permanent home of the Montreal Expos, which is targeted for relocation. Originally, baseball boosters had expected a decision to come at last week's all-star game. It now appears unlikely that baseball officials will announce a decision before Labor Day.

"We have made it clear to them that we are facing a challenging political situation here and we need them to a make a decision here," said Hannigan.

The window of opportunity may be closing. Arlington County Board members have expressed interest in putting a conference center and hotels on one of the potential baseball stadium sites.

For Lon Caldwell, a West Springfield resident, who has been active in opposing a stadium, Arlington's decision is a reason to pay close attention to federal legislation concerning the conveyance of the Proving Grounds.

"Strange things could happen," he said. "It ain't over till it's over."