Stadium end run unlikely

November 17, 1994|By Katherine Richards and John Rivera | Katherine Richards and John Rivera,Sun Staff Writers

If Jack Kent Cooke hopes to speed approval of his 78,600-seat football stadium in Laurel by going directly to the Anne Arundel County Council, he'd better think again.

Four of seven council members say they would not vote to bypass the appeals process and change the county zoning law for the Redskins owner.

"We should not circumvent the Board of Appeals because the next thing is someone will say, 'Hey, you did it for the stadium, now let's do it for an umpty squat or some kind of facility out here,' " said Bert L. Rice, who was elected last week to represent the district that includes the stadium site.

"It's not a good way for the council to start out," he said.

The Redskins can't look for support from the next governor, either. Parris N. Glendening vowed yesterday to fight any attempt to put the stadium in Laurel.

Finding a way around the appeals process would give the Redskins something of which they have a limited amount -- time. Team owner Jack Kent Cooke is 82 and has repeatedly said he wants the Redskins to be playing in a new stadium in the fall of 1996. A hearing before the part-time county Board of Appeals could drag on for months.

Adding to the sense of urgency are Orioles owner Peter Angelos' attempts to woo the Los Angeles Rams to Baltimore or to buy the Tampa Bay franchise, which would put an NFL team less than 20 miles from Laurel.

There are signs that the Redskins and county business leaders believe they have found an alternative that puts the stadium plan on a fast track to approval: rewriting a portion of the zoning law.

In a surprising move, Redskins representatives, who wasted no time appealing the rejection of their plan, asked the Board of Appeals this week to delay the hearing until April. Redskins lawyer Harry C. Blumenthal said the team needs more time to complete studies.

Meanwhile, the Anne Arundel Trade Council hopes to unveil a study touting the project and outlining what the county should do to make it a reality in time for Executive-elect John G. Gary's swearing-in Dec. 5.

County officials say that scenario most likely involves asking the council to amend the zoning law to allow a stadium in an industrial zone as a permitted use -- which would not require a public hearing. All the Redskins would have to do is apply for regular grading and building permits, which would be granted by the Planning and Code Enforcement department.

"If litigation doesn't look desirable, or if the hearing process doesn't look desirable, there's always the option of trying to convince the legislature to change the rules of the game," said Frederick C. Sussman, a former Annapolis city attorney who frequently handles zoning cases. "It's an option that has always been available to landowners, but has rarely been used."

There is a precedent for such a change. In 1986, Philadelphia-based Rouse and Associates had plans to put a conference center in Davidsonville. Administrative Hearing Officer Robert C. Wilcox -- the man who turned down the Redskins' zoning request last month -- also said no to Rouse because county law did not allow such facilities in rural areas. While the case was being heard by the Board of Appeals, the County Council changed the law to accommodate the Rouse plan. The developer eventually lost interest and the project died.

Mr. Sussman acknowledged that such a move in behalf of the stadium would have its pitfalls. A bill that would change the zoning status of stadiums, coming so soon after the proposal for the $160 million stadium was rejected by Mr. Wilcox, would smack of special interest legislation.

"I think the administration and the council may have to look at what rules they have to follow in adopting the legislation," Mr. Sussman said.

"The bottom line is, conceptually it can be done and, legally, there is nothing wrong with it."

Walter Maloney, a lawyer who represented the Citizens Against the Stadium II during the zoning hearing and who was elected last week to the Prince George's County Council, said stadium opponents might sue if the zoning law is changed, because that could be considered special interest legislation.

Redskins officials yesterday would not comment about their strategy.

Whether the Anne Arundel County Council -- with five new members -- would be prepared to vote for the Redskins' plan while facing intense community pressure is another matter. In addition to Mr. Rice, council members George F. Bachman, James "Ed" DeGrange and Thomas Redmond, all Democrats, are opposed to giving the Redskins a fast-track zoning change.

"I wouldn't support anything that would circumvent the Board of Appeals," Mr. Bachman said. "I hope they can count numbers and not even try to attempt this."

The widespread impression that the Republican majority on the council would automatically extend their pro-business embrace to any Redskins proposal is mistaken, council members say.

John J. Klocko III, who represents Crofton and South County, said he would oppose rewriting the law unless it could be demonstrated that not building the stadium would be "senseless and dangerous" to the county economy.

Diane Evans and William C. Mulford II said they haven't formed an opinion about rewriting the zoning.

And, even if the business community and Redskins could persuade the County Council that the stadium would help offset the effects of reduced state aid and the county tax, Mr. Glendening would still stand in the way.

If the Redskins come to the state for road-improvement money, Mr. Glendening said, he will send them away empty-handed.

"I will block it,' " he said. "It has to be in the budget, and I will block it."

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