Howard County may get the ball

August 02, 1994|By Katherine Richards | Katherine Richards,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer James M. Coram contributed to this article.

The Redskins may have an ace in the hole if Anne Arundel County says no to their proposal for an NFL stadium in Laurel -- an alternative site in Howard County.

During cross-examination yesterday in a continuing public hearing on the stadium proposal, Walter Lynch, the Redskins' project manager, admitted that Redskins' traffic expert Martin Wells had prepared a traffic assessment of a Howard County site last year.

Mr. Lynch refused to identify the Howard County site, saying that if the Anne Arundel County site does not work out for some reason, "we may well be back at that site, or other sites."

A source close to the stadium proposal said yesterday that the Howard County site is the old Freestate racetrack, on the west side of U.S. 1, south of Route 32.

During a break in the hearing, Mr. Lynch said the Redskins also considered other sites in Howard and Anne Arundel counties.

"It was never our intention today to say that we had an ace in the hole," Mr. Lynch said. He said he would not have mentioned the Howard site if he had not been asked about the preliminary traffic assessment that had been done for it.

Howard County officials said they were unaware that the team had been looking at sites there.

"It's news to me," said Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker. "It may be right, it may be wrong. No one from the Redskins organization has talked to me about any site."

County Planning Director Joseph W. Rutter Jr. said he doubted the Redskins would seriously consider the Freestate site. "You're going to have traffic problems north and south" on U.S. 1, he said. "If you were going to build a stadium [in Howard County] there are several much better sites."

The Redskins are seeking a special exception in Anne Arundel County that would allow them to build a 78,600-seat, $160 million stadium on industrial land adjacent to the Laurel Race Course. They also are seeking several variances from county codes on matters such as parking and landscaping.

Thomas Dernoga, a lawyer for Citizens Against the Stadium II, said last night he does not think the Howard site is very important to the Anne Arundel zoning case.

The Redskins' main message was not that the team might choose to go to Howard County, but that, "We're going to take our ball and leave the state," he said.

To get their special exception, the Redskins must prove a need for the stadium in Anne Arundel County.

In testimony yesterday, Mr. Lynch said the Redskins may have to move out of the area or even fold if they cannot get permission to build a new stadium in Anne Arundel County. A Laurel stadium would promote tourism in the county and create spin-off revenue from increased patronage of motels, restaurants and other businesses, he said.

But if team officials are claiming that the region needs an NFL team that Anne Arundel residents can watch on television, "that doesn't sound like a whole lot of need to me," Mr. Dernoga said.

Stadium foes also cross-examined the Redskins about the percentage of season-ticket holders who live in Maryland.

The Redskins have said that 52 percent of their fans are from Maryland, but Mr. Dernoga produced a June 30 letter from Redskins parking expert Martin Wells to the State Highway Administration that said 43.93 percent of season-ticket holders are from Maryland.

Mr. Lynch said during a break in the hearing that the differences were not significant.

Stadium opponents also argued that the Redskins' traffic data were faulty because traffic counts were taken on holiday weekends and on storm days.

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