BALTIMORE COUNTY leaders have taken a sensible stand on plans for a 48,000-seat NASCAR speedway in Middle River at a critical juncture.
Last week, the planning board -- moving fast at the behest of racing promoters who are anxious to attract investors -- recommended amending the zoning law to allow racetracks. The law presently makes no provision for them.
Promoters are pushing the County Council to vote on that recommendation soon. But the administration of County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger and Councilman Vincent J. Gardina have wisely agreed that no changes in the law will be made until some key questions are resolved. While a change in the law would not automatically mean the raceway is a "go," it would be a huge step in that direction.
It's unwise for officials to give such a tacit endorsement unless they are sure it is physically possible for a racetrack to work in Middle River. Even raceway backers are uncertain about that at this point.
Promoters want the track to open in 2000. But the extension of Route 43, vital to handle raceway traffic, is not scheduled until 2003. What is to be done in the meantime with thousands of cars streaming to and from the oval on race days? Then there are questions about whether the raceway can be built without disturbing 350 acres of wetlands and without moving the track too close to residences.
There are plenty of reasons to like the idea of a race track on Baltimore County's east side, including the fact that industrial development prospects for this site have yet to materialize.
The county needs an independent assessment of the state's rosy economic projections for the project. But if they are anywhere near accurate, it would definitely help an area working to revitalize itself.
The location, near Interstate 95 on land zoned for intense use in a relatively unpopulated area, is as good as one is likely to find.
And NASCAR is hot, with many fans in the region. Devotees have been packing Dover Downs, the nearest NASCAR speedway.
The bottom line is the county needs more information on which to base a decision. Officials can't afford to study this forever. Promoters' concerns about generating momentum to attract investors are valid.
But this project is huge enough that officials need answers to some critical questions before giving it a green light.
! Pub Date: 7/26/97