Foes rally to protest Laurel stadium plan

March 08, 1994|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer Robert Timberg contributed to this article.

Bellowing the lyrics to the Ray Charles' classic "Hit the Road, Jack," about 150 Laurel-area residents marched on the State House last night to protest Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke's plan to build a 78,600-seat football stadium in their midst.

"Jack, We're Doing Fine Without You," read one of several dozen handwritten placards. "1 Man's Dream -- 5,000 People's Nightmare," read another. "Laurel Needs a Library -- Not a Stadium," said another.

Speakers, including Laurel residents, a local PTA president and several area legislators, raised questions about the stadium's effects on the safety of students at a pair of nearby elementary schools, the Patuxent River watershed, area roads and the pocketbooks of taxpayers.

They predicted that a stadium would leave their residential neighborhoods littered, crowded on stadium event days, crime-ridden and forever changed.

"It begins the slow destruction of the community as a whole," said Judith Klein, a Laurel resident and owner of a paint and wallpaper company.

Bill Smith, a Defense Department employee who moved to Maryland City in 1964, said he fears he and his family will be unable to get to church or even to drive into Laurel because of the heavy traffic on game days.

Many protesters said they feared star-struck public officials would be bowled over by the millions of dollars Mr. Cooke has pledged to pour into the project and might therefore give him preferential treatment.

"We want to make sure that Mr. Cooke has to meet the same tests any developer would have to meet," said Mary Lehman, a spokeswoman for the opponents, who call themselves Citizens Against the Stadium.

The General Assembly -- at this stage -- has little say over Mr. Cooke's plans.

The 81-year-old multimillionaire eventually might ask the state to contribute toward the cost of road improvements near the stadium, but he has yet to ask for any financial help. Mr. Cooke plans to pay the $160 million construction cost himself and has asked only that state officials not interfere with his building plans.

The Redskins and state legislators are awaiting the release tomorrow of a consultant's study of road needs and costs. Once that report is made public, Mr. Cooke must decide whether to seek a building permit from Anne Arundel County.

If he does, the question will become a county zoning matter -- a stage of the process that many of the opponents who marched on the State House last night vowed to drag out as long as possible.

Walter H. Maloney, a Beltsville lawyer and stadium opponent, told the demonstrators that the final decision was not going to be made by state legislators. Rather, he said, the fight will unfold before Anne Arundel's zoning officer, then the zoning board of appeals, then the Circuit Court.

"And, two and a half years from now," he said as if addressing Mr. Cooke directly, "when you're 84, we'll see you on the steps of the Court of Appeals" -- the state's highest appellate court.

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