Undaunted, Redskins' lawyers plan to change stadium proposal for appeal

October 14, 1994|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Sun Staff Writer

The day after their plan to build a NFL stadium in Laurel was rejected, Redskins' lawyers said they will use the stinging zoning opinion as a road map to fix their proposal. But it is unclear whether they legally can make significant changes.

Anne Arundel Circuit Judge Martin J. Wolff ruled last month that a Silver Spring developer should have submitted substantially the same plan to the county Board of Appeals that was before the administrative hearing officer.

Harry C. Blumenthal, the Redskins' lawyer and one of the most respected practitioners of zoning and land use law in Anne Arundel, saw no problem with the decision in a case involving a proposed rubble landfill near Crofton.

In that case, the developer included new property in his proposal, Mr. Blumenthal explained. The judge "didn't say you ,, could not reconfigure within the property limits," he added.

"Once you've filed the appeal, it's as if the decision of the administrative hearing officer was never issued. You start from scratch," he said.

But Frederick C. Sussman, a former Annapolis city attorney who has argued many cases before the board, contradicted Mr. Blumenthal. "What should be before the Board of Appeals is the application that was before the administrative hearing officer," he said. "There should be no material change in the application."

Administrative Hearing Officer Robert C. Wilcox turned down seven of the Redskins' eight zoning requests and only partly granted the last, saying that "this was not a close case."

He said the team "vastly understated" its traffic estimates and that the property is too small for a $160 million, 78,600-seat stadium.

The stadium would draw at least 4,000 more vehicles than the Redskins had forecast, he said, and traffic would clog several intersections.

"Mr. Wilcox basically said he thought there ought to be more parking," Mr. Blumenthal said. "If they can provide that off-site, through acceptable means, I think that is also acceptable because they had off-site parking as part of their scheme."

Despite the rejection, Redskins officials said their plans to open the stadium in time for the 1996 football stadium remain on track and are a little ahead of schedule.

"We appealed the same day [the decision was reached], so we picked up 30 days in the process," said Walter Lynch, stadium project manager.

And Alan Rifkin, the Redskins' lobbyist, called the appeal "a great opportunity to recraft, where recrafting is required."

The seven-member Board of Appeals theoretically could hear the case as early as mid-December, but most observers believe it will be put off until early next year after a new board takes office. The board is appointed by the County Council and its composition is likely to change after November, when at least four new council members will be elected.

A new board takes office in January.

Because the board is made up of business owners and residents who have full-time jobs, it would be impossible to schedule hearings day after day for six weeks, as Mr. Wilcox did. The hearings probably would be spread out over several months.

Mr. Blumenthal recalled that the first set of appeals hearings for Marley Station mall took nearly a year. The circuit court overturned the board's decision and sent the case back for another set of hearings.

The Redskins have one advantage in the appeals hearings. Mr. Wilcox's decision cannot be entered as evidence, and the board is not allowed to consider the decision in making its own ruling.

In addition, the Redskins and their opponents are allowed to introduce new evidence.

But it is unclear whether the team could make changes to its site plan, for example, to accommodate the additional parking Mr. Wilcox said was needed.

The Redskins say they can make the changes, but Thomas Dernoga, the lawyer for Citizens Against the Stadium II, insisted the team is "stuck with this dog."

"They've got to basically live and die by that proposal unless they go back and start over," he said.

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