Slow pace of proposed speedway irks official 'Frustrated' councilman to meet with developers' attorney Wednesday

January 05, 1998|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

Seeking progress -- or closure -- on a proposed $100 million auto speedway in Middle River, a Baltimore County councilman will meet this week with the developers' attorney to discuss why the project is gridlocked.

Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall Democrat, said he has grown "frustrated" while trying to get a commitment from Middle River Racing Association officials. Both Gardina and County Executive A. Dutch Ruppersberger have extended deadlines to MRRA -- ultimatums issued last month that have drawn no response.

"If they don't want to say where they stand, we can and should move ahead with alternate plans," said Gardina, who will meet Wednesday with John B. Gontrum, an Essex attorney who is representing MRRA.

Residents want action

"MRRA has buffaloed the business people and citizens who are, in many cases, desperate for anything to be built on the county's east side," Gardina said.

Plans for the raceway have encountered several roadblocks.

While endorsing the idea of a speedway, Ruppersberger has sought assurances that the facility would be high-quality and has asked the developers to pay more than $12 million for roads and other infrastructure.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers needs to approve alignment of the White Marsh Boulevard extension to the site, which contains 350 acres of protected wetlands. That process could take four to five years.

Discussions cut off

The county's public works director has cut off discussions with MRRA representatives because they suddenly altered their original proposal.

"MRRA has changed their three-stage proposal to the county -- growing from a 55,000-seat facility to a 110,000," said director Charles R. Olson. "They now come in with another proposal to build a 60,000-seat facility, so I've decided not to waste valuable staff time with the issue."

Gardina, who represents the area including the site, holds the trump card -- he can approve or let die a special zoning approval for the speedway on the 1,100-acre tract of the A. V. Williams property near Martin State Airport under council rules.

Gontrum said he hopes Wednesday's meeting "will lead to some conclusions -- will we fish or cut bait? Everyone feels strongly that this issue should not go back into limbo."

Other sites considered

Speedway officials, while refusing to scuttle the Baltimore County project, are trying to interest officials in two other locations to allow them to build a speedway.

In Anne Arundel County, MRRA officials want to avoid public hearings by seeking a change in local zoning laws for a track west of Fort Meade -- a proposal drawing local opposition.

Joseph Mattioli III, MRRA's chief operating officer, has been negotiating since April with officials in Kankakee, Ill., south of Chicago -- a concept embraced there with little protest from residents.

Jobs sought

The prolonged delay in Baltimore County has local residents such as Sandra Murphy Schmidt of Wilson Point hoping the Williams tract will be developed to yield more full-time jobs on the economically depressed east side.

"Many of us are happy to see the track proposal might be dead in the water," said Schmidt, a member of the Wilson Point Civic Improvement Association.

"The location for the track was bad because of inadequate infrastructure and, if built, bad because of pollution and noise."

Pub Date: 1/05/98

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