Talk of the Washington Redskins considering the Freestate development near U.S. 1 in North Laurel as a site for a new 78,600-seat stadium has angered area residents, who would prefer seeing a long-planned shopping center built on the land.
"You tell them I want a nice food store, maybe a clothing store, maybe a pet store," said Toni Johns, who lives in the Huntington community, near the former Freestate Raceway.
This week, an official with the Redskins said the football team had placed the Freestate site, on the west side of U.S. 1 and south of Route 32, on its list of alternatives to the proposed stadium site in Anne Arundel County.
The Anne Arundel County site is north of the Laurel Race Course and would share parking with the track.
The Redskins decided to build a $160 million stadium in Laurel after failing to reach an agreement on a new stadium with Washington, D.C., officials last year. Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke expressed interest in the Laurel area about nine months ago.
The Freestate site is one of several locations the team has explored.
Some area residents say it's the wrong site.
"I personally would be livid," said Rori Haynes, a North Laurelresident who lives next to the Freestate development.
Even those closest to the Freestate project were surprised to learn that the site was on the Redskins' list of possible locations.
"I've never heard that," said Paul Price, senior vice president for Lincoln Property Co., a Dallas-based company that became the property manager of the Freestate development two months ago. "We are focused on getting a shopping center there."
Savage and North Laurel residents have waited for nearly a year for the workers to finish developing the land at Freestate and start construction of a shopping center.
But no company has signed a lease agreement, even though several have expressed interest.
Two months ago, Bruce Jaffe of the Silver Spring-based Sanford companies and Freestate's former developer and manager, left the project, parting from Freestate owner New York-based Skopbank.
Mr. Jaffe was on vacation yesterday and could not be reached for comment.
"I do know that Mr. Jaffe left the Freestate project over philosophical differences with Skopbank," said John Breitenberg, Freestate's owner and an attorney who worked on the project.
Formerly a harness racetrack, the Freestate development is on 112 acres. During the past several months, workers have graded the land, paved roads and set up storm-water management.
The layout of the land would have to be changed to accommodate a stadium. But even then it would lack sufficient space for a stadium and parking, said Marsha McLaughlin, deputy director of the Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning.
"It's really not big enough," Ms. McLaughlin said.
And that's what local residents are banking on.
"We probably won't even get together on this issue," said Bill Waff, president of the Savage Community Association.
The stadium issue will be discussed at the association's next meeting, scheduled for Sept. 13. However, Mr. Waff said he would call an emergency meeting if the possibility of a stadium in his community became more than just talk.
When Freestate was a racetrack, Mr. Waff said, he could hear the noise from the crowds of 5,000 to 10,000 people.
A stadium with 78,600 fans would be even worse, he said, the main problem being traffic passing through the community of about 2,200 people.
"In general, I think the community would be very concerned about it being that close," Mr. Waff said. "It would be impossible ++ to get out of Savage."