De Francis' plans clear hurdle

March 02, 1994|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Sun Staff Writer

RICHMOND, VA — RICHMOND, Va. -- Joe De Francis received the green light yesterday to continue with the Maryland Jockey Club's plans to develop a racetrack in Loudoun County.

The Virginia Racing Commission voted unanimously to dismiss a protest by one of De Francis' competitors, who objected to the Maryland Jockey Club's proposed site near Dulles Airport and had petitioned the board to halt the De Francis project.

The move clears the way for the board to devote its attention to six applicants vying to build Virginia's first pari-mutuel racetrack when they present their plans during a series of hearings and site visits over the next several months. One group is expected to be awarded the franchise, probably by the end of the summer.

The Maryland Jockey Club wants to incorporate a year-round Maryland/Virginia circuit, integrating Laurel/Pimlico live racing schedules with its proposed Virginia plant.

Yesterday's action was prompted by Jim Wilson, whose Virginia Jockey Club is planning to build a track in Prince William County. His attorney, Lawrence Framme, said that De Francis had, in essence, submitted a new application, and not an amendment, when he announced he was switching track locations Jan. 3.

De Francis had chosen a site in New Kent County near Richmond and an alternative location in Loudoun County when original applications were submitted Oct. 1, 1993. But after residents in Arlington and Alexandria rejected a proposal last fall to allow off-track betting parlors in their jurisdictions and the owner of the Loudoun County site withdrew his land for the track, De Francis settled on a new tract in the county, located across the road from the original property.

He submitted the change on the Jan. 3 deadline for making amendments to original plans.

Bill Thomas, De Francis' attorney, told the commission that Wilson filed the protest because "he didn't want any competition in northern Virginia. He wanted the area all to himself."

Commissioner Ernest Oare Jr. said the board in voting down the protest "acted on the advice of the Virginia attorney general's office. No laws were broken. No material change had been made."

Commission chairman John Shenefield said that "maximum flexibility" had been given all applicants during the amendment process and that De Francis' move fell within the bounds. "They went as far as they could, but they didn't cross the line," he said.

Framme said afterward that Wilson will hold off on any possible legal recourse until after the commission awards the license. "If the Maryland Jockey Club is not awarded the license, then any legal action taken now would be moot," he said.

The commission begins its public hearings and site visits next week.

Starting June 6, the board will hold three days of informal meetings in Richmond, when all applicants will present their plans in detail. The board has hired the accounting firm of Deloitte and Touche to study the financial packages of the applicants and to give recommendations.

When the June hearings end, the board is to award the license within 90 days.

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