Legislation to rezone 1,000 acres in Middle River for an Asian theme park and trade center met stiff opposition from residents who said Baltimore County officials were moving too fast and that proposed zoning changes for the developer were too flexible.
More than 200 county residents jammed the County Council chambers last night for a Planning Board hearing on proposed broad zoning for Worldbridge Centre, a $1 billion project planned by New York developer Dean Gitter.
County Executive Dennis Rasmussen, who yesterday appointed an advisory committee for Worldbridge, favors the project because it could bring 4,000 jobs during construction, Frank Robey the county administrative officer, told the audience.
But John Walker of Perry Hall said he wondered whether officials had paid attention to the Sept. 11 primary election, when two incumbent councilmen lost re-election bids.
"The message was, go slow on development," Walker said. "Gentlemen, you're not going slow on this project. You're putting it on the fast track."
Walker and other residents said they were upset that the developer could get zoning changes before revealing the final plans for the park. He urged officials to wait until the new council takes office before taking action on the measure.
"If this is a good project, it will float on its own. If it is not, it will sink on its own. This is Baltimore County, not the state of Maryland. You don't have to do it now," Walker said, twisting a phrase that has come to define Gov. William Donald Schaefer.
Lori Illuminati of Middle River said she was worried that the
project would cause irreversible environmental and traffic problems in the area.
"Please be cautious in passing this zoning, especially since it's the first of its kind in Baltimore County," Illuminati told the panel. "Don't turn our community into the Bronx Zoo."
Other residents complained that the proposed mixed-use zoning gives Gitter the option to use the land for too many purposes -- light manufacturing, hotels, nightclubs, stadiums, golf courses, housing for the elderly, pawn shops, hospitals.
The zoning would prohibit open dumps, junk yards, explosives, poultry processing, oil refineries and the manufacture of chemical or organic fertilizers.
Some speakers said the proposal gives Gitter too much time -- 15 years -- to develop Worldbridge and gives residents too little time to review the plan before it goes to the council.
The Planning Board could recommend approval of the legislation to the council at a special meeting next Thursday. Arnold E. Jablon, the county attorney, assured residents that there would be other opportunities to discuss the measure and that the council also would hold hearings before it took action.
The proposal did get some support. George E. Gavrelis of the Baltimore County Chamber of Commerce said it provided a "responsible zoning framework."
Chris Delaporte, director of development for the Worldbridge Corp., said planning for the project is 80 percent complete and that a number of studies, including environmental studies, are being done.