Cooke isn't ending Laurel site battle

April 05, 1995|By John Rivera and Andrea F. Siegel | John Rivera and Andrea F. Siegel,Sun Staff Writers Sun staff writers Shirley Leung and Jon Morgan contributed to this article.

Although he has turned his sights to Prince George's County, Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke said yesterday he has not completely given up on building an NFL stadium for his team in Anne Arundel.

Mr. Cooke said he will not withdraw his appeal of a zoning decision denying him permission to build the 78,600-seat stadium on 382 acres next to Laurel Park racecourse. The hearing before the Anne Arundel Board of Appeals is set for June 6.

"Not abandoned, no," Mr. Cooke said from his office in Middleburg, Va. "There's always a possibility this hearing will turn out to be fine. We're going to appear there. I don't know whether we're going to have any luck there or not."

Mr. Cooke said Monday at a news conference in Annapolis that he was "pretty sure" he would give up his attempt to build the $160 million stadium in Laurel and concentrate instead on Prince George's County. Yesterday, he said he is considering four sites the county, but he has not focused on any one location.

One of the sites that has emerged as a likely candidate in recent days is Wilson Farm, just inside the Capital Beltway in Landover. But the Prince George's County Council voted yesterday to buy the land for $6 million. And members made it clear that it is to be used for a recreation area, not a stadium. "The council members, in fact, made that very clear, that it is for the purpose of parks and recreation for the inside-the-Beltway communities," said Royce Holloway, a spokesman for Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry.

County Councilman Walter Maloney, a stadium opponent who represents the Prince George's part of Laurel, said he was incredulous when he heard that Mr. Cooke planned to continue with his Anne Arundel appeal.

"If he hasn't formally withdrawn his appeal, then what are we talking about?" Mr. Maloney asked. "That's really absurd. I mean, he's toying with us."

If Mr. Cooke has plans for a site in Prince George's, he has kept them to himself, Mr. Maloney added. "He has talked with nobody in Prince George's County," he said.

Mr. Holloway said Mr. Curry has not heard from the Redskins owner, but he would welcome the team "with the right conditions being met, which is primarily community acceptance."

Edward Clement, head of the Columbia Park Civic Association, which represents an area abutting the 260-acre Wilson Farm site, said his group supports only plans for a recreation area.

"Right now we generally oppose it [a Redskins stadium] because of the congestion," Mr. Clement said. "My eyes just about popped out when I saw it in the paper."

The Redskins have made clear their frustration at the delays in Anne Arundel County. Their application for a special exception was rejected in October by a hearing officer after a six-week hearing and the Board of Appeals would take even longer, with an uncertain result.

In addition, the county executive and council never embracethe project. County Executive John G. Gary offered Mr. Cooke a $2 million break on his property taxes and the ability to use the county's credit to borrow money, but offered no help in paying for infrastructure improvements and insisted the team adhere to the county's protracted zoning process.

"The County Council and executive were not out front on the issue," said Gerard E. Evans, a Redskins lobbyist. "I think that kind of spills out into the community. And then there was this arduous zoning process."

Anne Arundel officials said they are sorry, although not surprised, that Mr. Cooke is looking elsewhere. The stadium would have generated between $5 million and $6 million in tax revenue annually for the county.

But don't expect a counter-offer from Anne Arundel to lure the project back to Laurel.

"If Mr. Cooke goes elsewhere because he thinks he can get into some sort of sweetheart deal with someone, that's his right," said Larry R. Telford, a spokesman for Mr. Gary.

Members of Anne Arundel's business community, the most visible constituency to fight for the stadium, expressed disappointment at Mr. Cooke's announcement.

"I just think when you've got a bird in the hand and that bird can lay golden eggs, it's sure a shame to kick those eggs across the border," said Jeanette D. Wessel, executive director of the Anne Arundel Trade Council.

Those who fought to block the stadium aren't ready to say the fight is over. Anne Arundel Councilman Bert L. Rice said he is not about to let his guard down. "They are looking at another site," the retired Army colonel said. "But I view the Laurel site as still a potential."

Jeanne Mignon, president of Citizens Against the Stadium II, said she was delaying any victory celebration.

"He still hasn't withdrawn his appeal," she said.

But the Rev. Joseph Kitko, pastor of the Resurrection of Our Lord Catholic Church on Brock Bridge Road, said he believed that the proposal for a stadium near the church was all but dead, and he was delighted.

"They would have closed us down, definitely," Father Kitko said.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.