Yes, it is effective, stadium group says

June 21, 1994|By Katherine Richards | Katherine Richards,Sun Staff Writer

Five months after its formation as a link between planners of a Laurel football stadium and area residents, the Redskins' Community Outreach Group has had sporadic meetings with scant attendance -- and one of its six community seats has gone unfilled.

The group, formed in January, was to have two members each from Anne Arundel County -- the jurisdiction where the proposed stadium site is situated -- and Howard and Prince George's counties, which are nearby.

But only the Anne Arundel delegates and the Redskins' representative have attended regularly.

A lead opponent of the stadium says the group has failed to do anything meaningful, but its members -- scheduled to meet officially tonight, for the first time since May 31 -- say they have found new ways to press local concerns.

The premise of the group was to help the Redskins avoid mistakes they had made in 1992, when planning a stadium for Alexandria, Va. The team did little to build a relationship with residents, and local opposition was one factor in the Redskins' decision to go elsewhere.

"We're there to make sure our community gets the best, regardless of what happens," said Ray Smallwood, president of the Maryland City Civic Association and one of Anne Arundel County's representatives on the outreach group.

Dixie Law, an outreach group member from Howard County and stadium supporter, said she had not attended a meeting for three months. She said illness and work have kept her away.

Mark Stielper, the other Howard County representative, has attended a few meetings, as has former Laurel Mayor Robert DiPietro, the Prince George's County representative.

Walter Lynch, the Redskins' project manager for the stadium, said Mr. DiPietro is in close touch with the outreach group and that there are plans to appoint a second member from Prince George's and new representatives from Howard County.

Stadium opponent Thomas Dernoga, a lawyer for Citizens Against the Stadium II, said the outreach group has achieved some minor goals, such as persuading the Redskins to agree to place a wall between the parking area and the Laurel Highlands development.

"There have been a lot of those little things," he said, "but were they really meaningful? No."

He said the group has not persuaded the Redskins to build any major traffic improvements, such as extra lanes or dedicated exits on Interstate 95 or the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.

In the group's defense, Mr. Smallwood said members have had some success presenting local concerns to the Redskins.

He said the group persuaded the Redskins to shift the stadium site to cut the noise level in a nearby neighborhood, to build restrooms in stadium parking lots and to limit tailgate parties to specified areas.

But as far as distributing information to the community on parking or local traffic plans, Mr. Smallwood said, "they [the Redskins] haven't given us anything."

Joe Cannon, a Maryland City resident who is the other Anne Arundel representative, said the amount of information from the Redskins has decreased but that he was not sure whether it was a deliberate move by the Redskins or whether the planning process has reached a temporary lull and little new information is available.

"I think [the group] was an honest effort to try to get some community input," Mr. Cannon said.

"I'm not sure it's worked out that way."

The Redskins' Mr. Lynch said the outreach group has not received some information -- such as a regional traffic study and details on how the Redskins plan to handle wetlands on the stadium site -- because it is not ready. "I truly believe that we get the information out as quickly and honestly as we can get it," he said.

The drawn-out nature of the development process frustrates members because plans change and information comes out piecemeal, Mr. Lynch said, adding, "They want to see the whole painting, but a painting takes many strokes."

Mr. DiPietro said he believes the outreach group's primary purpose is to bring community concerns to the Redskins, not to take information from the Redskins to the community.

It is typical for a major development, such as the stadium, to go through periods of frantic activity, followed by periods when planners and engineers work on their reports, said Mr. DiPietro, a developer of shopping malls.

Meanwhile, Mr. Smallwood said the outreach group is entering a new phase.

Instead of holding open meetings every week, group members are meeting with Redskins officials one or two at a time, over lunch or dinner, to negotiate particular items. He said these meetings are more effective than open meetings, where the presence of reporters may tempt people to grandstand.

He said outreach group members are negotiating to get the Redskins to give the community some influence over whether concerts, conventions and other events would be held at the proposed stadium.

Outreach group members also are trying to persuade the Redskins to build a new road or improve roads between the stadium area and Route 32 to the north.

Mr. Lynch said a "flurry of information" will be coming out in the next two weeks, and that the group will have more material to discuss once the public hearing begins July 11 on the Redskins' request for a special exception allowing a stadium in an industrial zone.

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