Executive candidates give a qualified OK to stadium

September 29, 1994|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,Sun Staff Writer

An NFL stadium proposed for Laurel by the Washington Redskins received lukewarm support from both candidates for county executive yesterday.

Dels. John G. Gary, a Millersville Republican, and Theodore J. Sophocleus, a Linthicum Democrat, said they would support the 78,600-seat stadium if the county's administrative hearing officer approved it. But both said team owner Jack Kent Cooke would have to lessen its impact on West County neighborhoods without the help of county taxpayers.

During a two-hour forum with Mr. Sophocleus before the West County Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Gary showed the greater affection for the stadium.

Mr. Gary said he would offer the team "incentives" to build in Anne Arundel, including using the county's good credit rating to get low-cost financing for the stadium's estimated $160 million cost.

Mr. Sophocleus emphasized only that he opposed spending tax dollars on expanded roads and other public improvements required by the stadium. The Redskins have estimated the cost of the needed improvements at $43 million.

The candidates, during the breakfast meeting at Rick's Cafe in Odenton, clashed over County Executive Robert R. Neall's plan to build a $27 million jail on Ordnance Road in Glen Burnie, trash disposal and the selection of the county school board.

Mr. Gary supports the new Detention Center, saying it is necessary to alleviate crowding at the Annapolis jail on Jennifer Road. Mr. Sophocleus opposes it; he said he would take the first three to five months of his administration to study alternatives measures such as home detention.

Mr. Gary described Mr. Sophocleus' opposition to the jail as "pandering."

MA He said Mr. Sophocleus, who served on the County Council from

1982 to 1990, "doesn't want to offend the voters from North County where he's from."

Mr. Sophocleus assailed Mr. Gary who, he said, has used "scare tactics." Mr. Gary said yesterday he wanted to protect residents from prisoners, referring to them as "bad people."

"We aren't talking about people robbing, murdering or raping," Mr. Sophocleus said. "We're talking about the DWI or maybe the first drug offense."

Mr. Gary said the next executive will have to find a site for a new county landfill to replace the Millersville dump on Burns Crossing Road. Although questions have arisen about whether Millersville is properly licensed under county law, Mr. Gary said "we have to have that landfill open . . . whether legally or illegally" until a new one is dug.

Mr. Sophocleus agreed, but stressed the need to recruit new industries to the county to create a market for recycled materials, making alternatives to burying trash more feasible.

The candidates disagreed over the selection of the county school board. Mr. Sophocleus favored the existing nominating convention, which recommends candidates to the governor for appointment. Problems only arise, he said, when the executive intervenes and circumvents the convention.

Mr. Gary said interest groups, including religious organizations and the teachers union, have stacked past conventions. He said he wants to appoint the school board himself. "If I don't do a good job with the appointments, then unseat me," he said.

The West County Chamber of Commerce supports the Redskins' stadium proposal, the Ordnance Road jail and changing the school board selection process.

Chamber President Geoffrey Johnson said the stadium would bring hundreds of administrative jobs and millions of dollars in tax revenues to the county to finance schools and other government services.

Mr. Sophocleus said he would support the stadium if Administrative Hearing Officer Robert C. Wilcox approved the project with conditions to protect the surrounding neighborhood from environmental disturbances, noise, traffic and parking overflow.

Mr. Sophocleus said the Redskins should pay directly from their pockets to expand the roads around the stadium to handle the increased traffic. The Redskins have proposed using the $5.5 million the stadium would generate in property and amusement taxes and other assessments to pay for the improvements.

But Mr. Sophocleus said the $5.5 million in taxes belong to taxpayers countywide, not just the Redskins, and should not be counted as the team's contribution.

Mr. Gary agreed, but said the county could offer the team other incentives.

"It's foolish for us to turn them away. If we can bring them in, I think we should," he said.

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