Middle River neighbors due say on Asian cultural theme park

September 27, 1990|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Evening Sun Staff

Oscar Evans, a Middle River auto mechanic, says he isn't against progress, but is wary of the mammoth Asian cultural theme park and trade center proposed near his eastern Baltimore County home.

"A lot of people are against it," said Evans, who lives on Bird River Road. "It's going to raise our property taxes through the roof."

Many of his neighbors say they wonder whether the ambitious $1 billion project will overburden Middle River, still a relatively sleepy place beyond the suburban spread of White Marsh. They also fret about its effect on the Back River sewage plant and on schools that are already crowded.

The so-called Worldbridge Centre project, the brainchild of New York developer Dean L. Gitter, has been described as a combination Pacific Trade Center and 100-acre Asian theme park and hotel conference center. The concept has been mostly a curiosity since proposed a few years ago, but gained steam recently with the announcement that the Westinghouse Electronics Systems Group, an offshoot of the internationally known appliance company, was joining the project as a partner.

Many of the details haven't been revealed yet and the people in Middle River don't know what to make of it.

"We're going to be devastated by traffic," said Mary Berdych, who lives off of Ebenezer Road.

Vincent Gardina, who this month won the Democratic nomination for the area's seat on Baltimore County Council over Norman Lauenstein, the incumbent since 1974, probably said it best: "It's hard to really say whether you're for it or against it, because you really don't know what's proposed."

The public will get a chance to comment at 7 tonight at a public hearing of the county planning board over zoning regulations designed to accommodate a cultural theme park such as Worldbridge. The meeting is in the County Council chambers in the county courthouse in Towson.

John B. Howard, a Towson attorney hired by the developer, and County Attorney Arnold Jablon spent the last two years drafting zoning regulations that would cover the theme park, Howard said.

Getting proper zoning for the 1,000 acres, which are situated off Eastern Boulevard across from the Glenn L. Martin State Airport, is crucial to the progress of the development, Howard said. Most of the land is now zoned industrial. Gitter needs the zoning to secure financing, he said. The project's first phase isn't slated to open until 1993.

Pat Keller, a county planner who had input on the proposed zoning regulations, said they call for a highly detailed "conceptual authorization plan" and two public hearings before Worldbridge could even get to the County Review Group for approval.

The authorization plan must show the location of woods, floodplains and wetlands and include a "cost-benefit" analysis, contrasting any negative impact on the community with the expected benefits: jobs, tax revenue and the like, Keller said.

"People don't make those kind of commitments without the zoning," Howard said. He added that the extension of Md. 43 east from Interstate 95 is also a vital part of the project because it will provide the link to visitors traveling up and down the East Coast.

So far, the greatest criticism of the zoning regulations has been aimed at provisions that allow such uses as dog, car and horse racing, fortune telling and pawn shops.

Michael J. Davis, a Middle River engineer who's running for the state House of Delegates, was an early critic of the project. He criticized the proposed zoning changes as "a blank check."

"People are worried that if Worldbridge fails, the zoning will stay and they'll end up with a sleaze bag operation on their lands," Davis said.

But Howard said the provisions for dog racing and other uses of that nature are already permitted on industrially zoned land.

"We don't know what the scope of the uses will be," Howard said. "But they're not going to spend a billion dollars, or even $500 million, to have pawn shops and fortune telling."

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