Black Flag for Harford Race Track?

April 03, 1995

After nearly a year of acrimonious debate and various conflicting or incomplete studies, the heads of Harford County and Havre de Grace governments have declared their opposition to a 550-acre motorsports race track proposed for west of the city.

Their rejection came even before the track developer purchased the land or applied for rezoning or annexation by Havre de Grace, which (for water and sewage facilities) is essential to his plans.

While neither County Executive Eileen Rehrmann nor Mayor Gunther Hirsch has power to veto the speedway plan -- the decision will be up to the city and county councils -- their opposition aims to stop the project dead in its tracks.

Mrs. Rehrmann says there are better, more productive uses for the land. Dr. Hirsch, seeking a fourth term as mayor, says he spoke out because the county executive did.

Certainly a number of unanswered questions remain about the impact of the racing facility, a fact that concerned the executive. As the developer moved ahead with a formal annexation proposal to Havre de Grace, however, they could well have been addressed in more detail.

There is no concrete alternative proposal. There hasn't been for years. This doesn't mean the community should leap at the first plan presented. But neither does it mean that this plot suddenly has become a prime site for light industry, as the county suggests. And in Harford, industrial development usually means another warehouse.

The more likely prospect, one of questionable benefit to Harford, is for hundreds of housing units to be built on the site, adding to demands for infrastructure and public services without commensurate revenue return to the county or city.

The fundamental issue for most people in the debate is the future of Havre de Grace -- a residential community living off home property taxes or a community with a broader economic base? Quiet tourism and boating fit the former vision, weekend auto racing crowds represent the latter.

While most of the proposed racetrack site is agricultural, it could easily be rezoned for housing or industry and public facilities built. Those are the realistic development options for the property, not continued use as open farmland.

The decision on the race track should, in any case, be left to Havre de Grace. It's an issue that will continue to encourage debate as residents vote for mayor and council in the city election May 2.

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