Foes of Redskins stadium in Laurel seek to prohibit use of Arundel funds for it

May 08, 1994|By Katherine Richards | Katherine Richards,Sun Staff Writer

Opponents of a Redskins stadium in Laurel have launched a petition drive to block its construction by amending Anne Arundel County's charter to forbid spending on a professional sports stadium.

Citizens Against the Stadium II announced Friday it would try to gather 10,000 signatures to place a charter amendment on the November general election ballot.

The charter amendment CATS II has proposed would prohibit Anne Arundel County from issuing bonds or otherwise spending money on professional sports stadiums with a capacity of 25,000 people or more.

"We believe [Redskins owner Jack Kent] Cooke is misleading the public with visions of a free lunch, and if he gets approval for his special exception, then he will seek money from the taxpayers," Jeanne Mignon, CATS II president, wrote in a statement. "This charter amendment will protect the taxpayers from any possibility of Cooke dipping into the county coffer in the future."

The Redskins' plans for a 78,600-seat stadium in Laurel include raising $40 million to $50 million through county bonds to pay for sewer, water and road improvements, said Walter Lynch, the Redskins' project manager for the stadium. He said the team expects the county to recoup the money through tax revenues generated by the stadium.

"You know how many years that takes?" asked CATS II spokeswoman Mary Lehman. "Too long, as far as we're concerned."

Mr. Lynch said the charter amendment's chances are slim because it would be bad for business.

"What a terrible precedent it would set to businesses wanting to come to Anne Arundel County and the state of Maryland," he said, especially when the county is looking for new sources of income to compensate for the property tax cap.

County Executive Robert R. Neall was in Spain yesterday and could not be reached for comment.

Ms. Lehman acknowledged CATS II will be pressed to gather the signatures by the mid-August deadline.

"We're going to have to go anywhere and everywhere," she said. "We're going to have to get out and hustle every day of the week."

She said the organization estimates it can collect 2,000 to 3,000 signatures by going door to door in neighborhoods near the proposed stadium. But many stadium opponents live in Prince George's County and are not eligible to sign the Anne Arundel County petition.

CATS II hopes to make up the difference by seeking signatures at grocery stores, community festivals and other gathering places, and by asking churches for help, Ms. Lehman said.

Members of some churches near the proposed stadium site fear stadium traffic will make it impossible for worshipers to drive to church on game days.

"This interferes with a lot of people's freedom to worship in and around Laurel," Ms. Lehman said.

She said the Rev. Joseph F. Kitko, pastor at Resurrection of Our Lord Roman Catholic Church on Brock Bridge Road, has offered to help CATS II find other Catholic congregations in Anne Arundel to get signatures.

Even if CATS II collects enough signatures, the constitutionality of the proposed charter amendment is debatable.

The Maryland Court of Appeals has held that charter amendments may not be used for general legislative purposes, such as establishing a budget, explained Anne Arundel County Attorney Judson P. Garrett Jr. And this amendment may run afoul of that requirement.

"It is a legitimate legal question that we would have to research," he said.

The court, however, did give its blessing to the county's tax cap, which was adopted as a charter amendment.

If CATS II gets enough signatures, stadium supporters could try to get a court order to keep the amendment off the ballot, or they could wait to see whether it is approved in November before launching a challenge, he said.

Meanwhile, last week the group that owns Laurel Race Course asked Howard County to create a zoning category that would allow stadium parking, horse stables, barns, maintenance buildings and other structures associated with a sports complex.

Howard has no regulations for such land uses, but the County Council, acting as the zoning board, could create them.

The Laurel Racing Association Limited Partnership, which plans to move its stables to a 71-acre parcel inside the Howard County line to make way for stadium parking in Anne Arundel, submitted proposed regulations Wednesday for such a district.

The partnership has an agreement with Mr. Cooke to develop the property as part of the stadium project.

The parcel, which is next to the Midway Mobile Home Park, is used as an entrance to Laurel Race Course and for Race Course parking.

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