The clock winds down on Redskins' hearing

August 19, 1994|By Katherine Richards | Katherine Richards,Sun Staff Writer

Today is Day 27, the last day of a public hearing on whether the Redskins should be allowed to build a $160 million football stadium next to the Laurel Race Course.

The hearing was supposed to last two weeks, but today marks the end of Week Six of the longest administrative hearing ever held in Anne Arundel County.

What took so long?

A stadium seating 78,600 people generates complex zoning questions, said Robert Dvorak, Anne Arundel County director of planning and code enforcement.

As with more routine zoning cases, he said, the stadium has raised environmental and storm-water management issues. But this proposal is unique because it also poses the problem of heavy traffic -- traffic that is more difficult to plan for because it will occur only intermittently for several hours 12 to 18 times a year.

"It was such a tremendous amount of information, and even to qualify the expert witnesses, that took a very long time," said Mimi Kelly, chief of subdivision activities with the county Department of Planning and Code Enforcement.

Experts in many scientific and engineering disciplines and subdisciplines have testified for both sides, said Redskins lawyer Harry Blumenthal. Sometimes it has taken 20 minutes just to demonstrate that a witness is qualified in a particular specialty.

Administrative Hearing Officer Robert Wilcox has also made every opportunity for citizens to speak, Mr. Dvorak said.

"He has pretty much let not only the kitchen sink, but the whole kitchen, in," Mr. Blumenthal said.

Mr. Wilcox set aside one evening hearing and several daytime sessions for citizen comment -- lengths not taken for Marley Station Mall or the Annapolis Mall, the only other projects of comparable size built in Anne Arundel County, Mr. Dvorak said.

Stadium opponents and supporters alike concede that whatever Mr. Wilcox decides, the decision is likely to be appealed.

Therefore, both sides have used this hearing as a kind of pretrial discovery process, to learn what the other side knows and what their strategy will be.

Often, cases destined for appeal are presented in truncated form, said Kevin Dooley, the county zoning analyst handling the Redskins' application. Many applicants save their best arguments for the appeal. But the Redskins presented their case in an extremely detailed, thorough way.

"We have put on as full a case as we know how," Mr. Blumenthal said.

He said the Redskins could have presented a minimal case, saving money and reserving their best arguments for later. But he said his client decided it would be unfair to Anne Arundel County not to give the best presentation. The Redskins also wanted people to believe they are serious about making Anne Arundel home.

"They mean it," Mr. Blumenthal said. "This is not a ploy."

Redskins spokesman Alan M. Rifkin said a victory at this level would carry some weight with the appeals board and that is one reason the Redskins are out to win.

Mr. Dvorak said it is also in the Redskins' interest to fully satisfy the hearing officer, in the hope he will hold down restrictions on any approval.

"The lawyers involved are among the best," said Mr. Wilcox, who added that the high-powered lawyers may have lengthened the case with their painstaking arguments.

But, Mr. Wilcox said, the lawyers also made the case easier for him to decide.

"They're able to identify the legal issues and the factual issues," he said.

County regulations say the hearing officer has 30 days to rule, but Mr. Wilcox says he may take longer because of the case's complexity.

All things considered, Ms. Kelly said, the hearing could have taken longer.

"What took engineers and lawyers months to put together and months to review -- six weeks isn't a very long time," she said.

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