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'No Commanders Clause' could threaten DC's push to gain control of RFK site

The DC Council and mayor are at odds over whether federal legislation to give District land will prohibit sports stadium.

WASHINGTON — There is growing concern among some D.C. leaders that a standoff between Mayor Muriel Bowser and the DC Council could cost the city one of the most valuable undeveloped pieces of land in the District. 

The dispute is over keeping the dream of a Commanders return to D.C. alive.

You wouldn’t think it by looking at them, but a group of locked languishing parking lots in the heart of the city have untapped potential.

“A stadium that's falling apart, that can be redeveloped for other uses to reactivate and reinvigorate that part of town, especially on the riverfront,” At-Large Councilmember Christina Henderson said of the 200-acre RFK stadium site in Southeast.

The site is owned by the federal government and leased to D.C. solely for use of the stadium. But the District cannot do anything to redevelop the RFK site, which has sat mostly unused since 2017, without Congress passing legislation to hand over the federally controlled land.

Henderson said with Democrats in danger of losing control of one or both houses in Congress during the midterm elections, time is running out for the District to get the bill passed.

“But frankly, this is the easiest time for us to get this land,” Henderson said. “And so, time is of the essence.”

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton told WUSA9 she is waiting for city leaders to come to an agreement on the terms of the legislation before she introduces it. Without an agreement, Norton said she will not introduce a bill.

RELATED: 'The debate is done' | DC Council won't support Commanders stadium at RFK

WUSA9 obtained a letter from Council Chair Phil Mendelson to Bowser demanding the legislation include a rider stating: “the land not be used for a professional sports stadium.” That would include a stadium for the Washington Commanders, which Mendelson, and at least seven other council members, including Henderson and Councilmember Charles Allen, oppose.

But the mayor has refused to agree to the no Commanders clause, as she continues to hold out hope for the team's return to D.C. At a press conference Thursday, Bowser said she’s not going to let Congress, or anyone else, dictate what the city can or cannot do with the land.

 “What I am unwilling to do is include the Mendelson rider that says to Congress you decide what’s good for the District of Columbia,” Bowser said. “I am the Mayor of D.C. The Council is the elected legislature of D.C. And we should decide what’s good for us.”

Because of the ongoing House Oversight investigation into sexual harassment and financial impropriates by Commanders owner Dan Snyder, Norton said she is already having trouble, even within her own party, gathering support for an agreement to return the land to the District, mostly due to concerns it could benefit Snyder.

Henderson said she agrees with the principle of not allowing Congress to dictate terms to the District, but believes gaining control of the land is essential, regardless of the conditions.

“My preference is that we just have no restrictions and just get the land,” Henderson said. “And that would allow for D.C. leaders and D.C. government to have conversations with the community to negotiate in terms of what we want to see, what the neighborhood wants to see, what the community wants to see on that land. I am of the belief that Congress shouldn't be dictating that for us. But I recognize that [Norton] probably has some particular politics at play might make it more palatable for the to be restriction use language.”

Allen said the mayor’s hard line could cost the city any chance at regaining control of the land, and allowing it to remain, a wasteland.

“I think that the longer we hold out this idea that it maybe if we just wait long enough, there will be an NFL stadium...it's just not going to happen,” Allen said. “And I think that it would be a really wasted opportunity for us to pass this to just take a hard pass on not getting the land.”

Del. Norton said any legislation to give control of the RFK site to D.C. would be more likely to pass if it included guarantees it would not result in a new stadium for Snyder. She has the right to introduce legislation without a consensus from city leaders, she just is choosing not to when it comes to that RFK Site thus far.

RELATED: Commanders owner Dan Snyder 'unavailable' on deposition date provided by Oversight Committee

RELATED: Goodell testifies to 'unprofessional, toxic' Commanders workplace; Snyder to be subpoenaed

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