Redskins stadium talks enter 4th quarter

August 14, 1994|By Katherine Richards | Katherine Richards,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer John Rivera contributed to this article.

It's the beginning of Week Six of the zoning hearing the Redskins thought would last a week.

Day after day, representatives of the National Football League team have put forward their arguments to convince Robert C. Wilcox, Anne Arundel County's administrative hearing officer, that there is a public need for their proposed 78,600-seat, $160 million stadium in Laurel. The team also must prove that the stadium won't adversely affect the public health, safety and welfare of the area's residents.

Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke needs a special exception to put the stadium in an industrial zone. He also wants variances from county codes on matters such as parking spaces, landscaping and the time in which to complete the project.

The Redskins have until Friday to make their case. After Aug. 19, Meade Senior High School, where the hearings are being held, needs its auditorium.

The bulk of the testimony has focused on the potentially monumental traffic problems posed by adding thousands of cars to crowded roads.

The team's plan simply "won't work," said Richard Talkin, a lawyer hired by Russett Center Ltd. Partnership, a group of developers who are building the nearby Russett development and who oppose the stadium.

Neil Pedersen, director of the State Highway Administration's Office of Planning and Preliminary Engineering, said the Redskins assumed vehicle occupancy rates of 3.5 fans per vehicle can be achieved, though the average at 14 similar stadiums is 3.2 fans per vehicle.

They hope to run 300 charter and shuttle buses. The average at similar stadiums is 76. Their figure for the number of people who will use mass transit, 18.7 percent, exceeds the 8 percent average at similar stadiums.

Mr. Pedersen suggested that Mr. Wilcox place six conditions on the special exception, if it is granted, including requiring the Redskins to put up $20 million to pay for extra road improvements if they do not meet their traffic goals.

Both sides hailed Mr. Pedersen's testimony as good news.

"This is saying the methods need to be extraordinary, and history has said it probably won't work," Mr. Talkin said.

Walter Lynch, the Redskins' project manager for the stadium, said Mr. Pedersen's testimony meant the SHA had endorsed the Redskins' plan to cut traffic by limiting the number of parking spaces to 20,077 -- a major change since March, when a study commissioned by the state and Anne Arundel County said 25,000 spaces would be needed.

That the site straddles the Anne Arundel County/Howard County line and borders Prince George's County complicates the case.

Traffic experts say at least six intersections in the Laurel area would fail as a result of stadium traffic. But all are in Prince George's County, outside Mr. Wilcox's jurisdiction.

However, Mr. Pedersen has said the SHA may be able to fill the regulatory void. Because the Redskins have to get SHA permits to build road improvements and access to Maryland Route 198, the SHA will have leverage to force the team to improve roads in Prince George's and Howard counties and Laurel.

Stadium opponents started presenting their arguments Tuesday.

With its limited budget, Citizens Against The Stadium II must rely volunteers, such as the astronomer who challenged the Redskins' report on light emissions from the stadium and the physicist who critiqued the team's auto occupancy calculations.

Peter Militch, an electronic systems engineer, used computer-generated images of the completed stadium, to bolster CATS II's argument that the stadium is incompatible with surrounding development.

This week, Russett will present a traffic expert to testify against the stadium.

Last week, Russett's planning expert, Diana Mendes, said the stadium is too large for its site. She said stadium traffic will interfere with the area's orderly development.

After the opponents finish, the Redskins will have a chance for rebuttal, then both sides will make closing arguments.

Meanwhile, participants have settled in for the long haul.

"No one ever thought this case would go this long," said Mr. Lynch, the Redskins' project manager.

Mr. Wilcox said: "It's the longest zoning hearing before a hearing officer [in Anne Arundel County], ever, by a factor of 10."

He commended both sides' preparation, and said the amount of information compiled by the Redskins for their traffic studies was "awesome."

Still, it is anyone's guess whether the Redskins have succeeded in convincing him the stadium is needed.

Thomas Dernoga, a lawyer for Citizens Against the Stadium II, doesn't think they have. "I think they [the Redskins] fumbled the need question," he said Monday.

But Redskins spokesman Alan Rifkin said the stadium would meet a variety of needs. An NFL team could unify a region riddled with political fault lines, he said. It would bring jobs and prestige to the area and provide a venue for community meetings and high school sports championships.

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