BMX track is racing to find new home Owners want to stay, but Rouse subsidiary plans to build Safeway

June 12, 1996|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,SUN STAFF

Operators of Maryland's only BMX bicycle race course -- Columbia BMX Supertrack -- are looking for a new home now that a Rouse Co. subsidiary has told them to make way for a Safeway supermarket to be built in a west Columbia village center.

"I was pretty devastated and hurt," said co-owner Darrin Alexander, whose quarter-mile bicycle course behind the Harper's Choice Village Center has been given until July 31 to clear out. "I was just shocked more than anything."

Rouse says it is working to help find an alternative site for Alexander and his partner, Sandy Chang. Officials would like to start construction on the supermarket by this fall.

"It's a popular enough activity. I think with some work on the part of a lot of people a new location can be found," said Cathy Lickteig, a Rouse spokeswoman.

Meanwhile, parents of youths who use the popular track are rallying to its defense. The track draws about 150 racers to its bumps and twists each Sunday, at an annual fee of $35 each.

On Sunday they started a petition drive aimed at persuading Rouse to leave the track alone. They also have written letters to the Columbia Association and to President Clinton.

Dena Taylor of Harper's Choice, who has two children who use the track, is a member of the parents committee board for the track and worries about what the young thrill-seekers will do once the 18-year-old track closes.

"I'm just a parent who's really shocked they are trying to destroy an outlet" for young people, Taylor said.

Originated in '70s

BMX (bicycle motocross) originated in the 1970s. Competitors ride light bicycles across dirt banks and hills.

The track behind the west Columbia village center, which opened on vacant Rouse land in 1977, was ranked No. 1 on the East Coast last year by the American Bicycle Association, which began promoting BMX racing in 1977.

Village officials had thought that the BMX course would remain near the nonprofit Colum- bia Association's planned "SportsPark" in Harper's Choice, which is to open by summer of next year with batting cages, miniature golf and other recreational activities.

But in March -- weeks after taking over the BMX business from previous owner Kenny Allen -- Alexander got a letter telling him to vacate the premises.

Last month, the reason became apparent when Safeway Inc. signed a letter of intent with Rouse to open a 55,000-square-foot grocery store at the aging village center.

The long-awaited supermarket, due to open by late next year, will replace the Valu Food that closed in December.

It is seen as a shot in the arm for the center, which has lost several stores and suffered from safety concerns.

Deadline extended

Alexander and his partner managed to negotiate an extension on their lease with Rouse allowing them to stay in business until July 31 -- enough time for them to hold a national competition July 5, 6 and 7 that is expected to attract more than 500 people.

After that, the owners will have to find a new site, in the county if they can. Alexander said they might move to Poolesville or Severn but that he would like to avoid that, however.

"I wouldn't want to relocate anywhere," Alexander said. "I'd like to stay where I am."

The parents defending the track want to preserve a sport they say is affordable and cuts across racial, economic and social lines. The riders race according to age and level of experience.

"It's an individual sport. No one sits on the bench, and no one is cut from the team," said Lisa Michelle Starr, track director of the parents committee.

The Gaithersburg resident said her son, Brandon, 10, had behavior problems before racing and that the sport has helped him make friends and improve his grades in school.

"He told me the definition of a winner is not getting a trophy but getting out there and trying," she said. "That totally floored me."

Pub Date: 6/12/96

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