Stadium neighbors brace for launching Redskins: Critics fear noise, traffic from 'spaceship' arena, but fans, officials are more hopeful.

September 12, 1997|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

LANDOVER -- From her young son's bedroom window, Sharen Martin has an unobstructed view of the gleaming white arena that rises like an iceberg from a blacktop sea a few hundred yards away.

The enormous structure is Jack Kent Cooke Stadium, a $180 million monument to the vision, energy and ego of the late Washington Redskins owner.

Martin hates it.

"It looks like a big spaceship in the back yard, especially with the lights on," said the 33-year-old woman, whose townhouse in the Summerfield neighborhood of Prince George's County is less than a punt's length south of the stadium parking lot.

Sunday, the Martins and many other residents of the neighborhoods around the stadium will be reluctant witnesses to the "spaceship" launch.

That morning, just when many local residents are going to and from church, an estimated 80,000 fans will begin streaming into the former Wilson Farm for the 1 p.m. kickoff of the Redskins game against the Arizona Cardinals. Most are expected to arrive in cars -- an estimated 22,000 of them -- despite the State Highway Administration's call for fans to use public transportation.

Martin will hunker down at home with her two children, hoping the noise doesn't shake her furniture as much as it did during the construction phase.

"I'm relieved it's over, but I'm not looking forward to the traffic jams," she said.

Stadium manager Jeff Klein said noise will not be an issue and traffic will run far more smoothly than many local residents are predicting. He said shuttle buses from three nearby Metro stops -- partly subsidized by taxpayers -- will help ease congestion.

"People are going to find that the stadium will be a good neighbor," said Klein. "Our goal is to run a first-class facility and do what we have to do to make everybody happy."

But two years after learning of Cooke's plan to build a stadium in the middle of their neighborhoods, many local residents feel more dread than joy. Some actively opposed its location and fought the deal that led to its construction all the way to Annapolis.

Abraham Lincoln of Pepper Mill Village led a coalition of civic organizations that tried to stop the deal, which included state spending of $73 million for roads leading to the site. He is bitter about the outcome of the fight.

"I look at that stadium as being the result of money and politics," said Lincoln, a 67-year-old retired government data processor who lives in a landscaped, 1960s-vintage home about a mile west of the site.

Lincoln said it was no accident that Cooke, who died in April at age 84, chose to locate the stadium in an area of predominantly African-American neighborhoods.

Least resistance

"He chose it because he figured it would be the area of least community resistance," said Lincoln. "It was basically a smack in every black person's face."

But Lincoln doesn't speak for all African-Americans in the stadium area -- certainly not for Sylvester J. Vaughns, who calls the stadium "a beautiful sight."

Vaughns, a leader of the Palmer Park Civic Association, said the stadium is not going to bring the problems some have feared.

He said many residents of Palmer Park, a lower-income neighborhood on the northern edge of the stadium, have jobs because of the stadium. He contends that the roads for the stadium have improved transportation in the area.

"They use them game days, and we use them the other six days," he said of the roads.

Vaughns said that on Sunday -- if his community group isn't selling concessions at the stadium to raise money -- he'll be camped in front of his television to watch the game. If he hears the crowd a few blocks away cheering a touchdown, he won't consider it noise.

"I love to hear that. I'm a real 'Skins fan," he said.

Unwelcome guests

But Ivy Johnson, who lives on the northern edge of the Redskins property in Washington Heights, is no fan of snakes -- and that's what the stadium has come to mean to her.

She said that when construction crews cleared the site, they displaced the wildlife that inhabited Wilson Farm -- bringing an influx of reptiles, rodents and other critters into her yard.

"I've had to kill a snake in my kitchen," said the 61-year-old retiree, who plans to move as soon as she can.

On the other side of the fence from Johnson's house, workers were putting the finishing touches on the stadium -- completing the landscaping, installing lights and clearing construction debris.

"We're going to make it," said Klein.

State transportation officials urged ticket holders for Sunday's game to get to the stadium early -- preferably by mass transit. The lots open at 9 a.m., and the gates at 10 a.m.

Eric Tabacek, an SHA traffic engineer, said police will do everything they can to help local residents get around, including closing some roads to stadium traffic. But he couldn't promise them a normal Sunday afternoon.

"They're going to be running into congestion," he said. "We would recommend that they try to curtail their activities."

Deborah Lucas, who lives across the street from Martin in Summerfield, knows what that means to her.

"Trying to go to church is going to be like trying to get to heaven with a lot of sin," the 33-year-old minister said.

But she said a higher power than the Washington Redskins may deal with the stadium the same way he solved a problem in Jericho some years back.

"That stadium is not going to last too long," Lucas said. "It's going to crumble. If he can speak the Earth into existence, the only thing he has to do is speak that thing down."

Pub Date: 9/12/97

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