Middle River speedway project appears dead Builders eye Arundel

opponents claim win

January 08, 1998|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

The battle over the $100 million speedway proposed for Baltimore County apparently has ended, with developers eyeing site in Anne Arundel County and community opponents celebrating a victory.

After a closed-door meeting with Baltimore County officials yesterday, a speedway spokesman, Michael Alfinito, said Anne Arundel County and Kankakee, Ill., "are sites we are still interested in."

He would not elaborate, saying that the Middle River Racing Association would release a statement on its plans tomorrow. Alfinito said all the parties involved in the effort to build a NASCAR-type track near Martin State Airport "have to be notified, positions clarified."

The speedway proposal in Baltimore County has been dogged for more than a year by community opposition and environmental concerns. Area residents have charged that races would generate too much noise, traffic would clog local roads, and airborne pollutants would reach neighborhoods and waterways, including the Chesapeake Bay.

County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger had given MRRA a list of demands for a "world-class" speedway -- including a call for the developers to delay the opening date by several years and to pay $12 million for roads and other infrastructure in the area.

Clearing the regulatory steps and settling on a highway alignment were major problems for developers, an MRRA spokesman said last week.

Yesterday's meeting was designed to address the frustrations of county officials, upset that the MRRA had yet to agree to those demands. Attending the meeting were Democratic Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, who represents the area; Michael H. Davis, chief aide to the county executive; John B. Gontrum, an Essex attorney representing MRRA; and Alfinito.

"We have an agreement not to discuss this until Friday," Gardina said. Davis also would not comment on details of the meeting in Gardina's Towson office.

One area business leader, Rick Cammack, called the loss of the speedway "devastating."

'A tragic loss'

Cammack, president of the Essex-Middle River Chamber of Commerce, said, "It's a tragic loss for Baltimore County, and the political process should be changed if they can't streamline such a development possibility."

But residents who opposed the speedway were relieved.

"They tried to shove the track down our throats," said Bill Wright, PTC a retired steel worker who lives in White Marsh. "Many people who live around here are in the mid-60s like myself and the developers thought we didn't have any fight in us, but they were wrong."

Added Tom Lehner, president of the Bowleys Quarters Improvement Association: "Hallelujah. I just feel sorry for the folks in Anne Arundel County now."

Raceway developers have been talking to Anne Arundel officials about building a speedway on a 380-acre site west of Fort Meade, off Brock Bridge Road. In addition to a 54,800-seat racetrack that could be expanded to 100,000 seats, developers are looking to build a restaurant with a racing theme and a souvenir shop.

Lisa Ritter, a spokeswoman for Anne Arundel County Executive John G. Gary, said MRRA officials have to bring the proposal to county residents "and make sure those people are comfortable with the proposal. I understand they're in the process of setting up those meetings."

Avoiding hearings

Racing to meet a self-imposed deadline of 60 days for preliminary approval in Anne Arundel, speedway developers are seeking to change local zoning laws to avoid some time-consuming public hearings.

But a proposal that they made last week to do so drew opposition from some community residents.

MRRA officials also have been talking to elected officials in Kankakee, south of Chicago, and expect little opposition to a proposed speedway there.

"It's a shame," said Del. Diane DeCarlo, an Essex Democrat and strong supporter of the track in Middle River. "If it doesn't happen in Baltimore County, I hope it goes somewhere in Maryland because it will be good for the state."

Fate of tract

The Baltimore County site, 1,100 acres called the A.V. Williams tract, could become a location for light industry, bringing hundreds of full-time jobs, economic development officials have said. They have expressed interest in developing the property after White Marsh Boulevard is extended to Eastern Avenue.

Joseph Mattioli III, who heads the MRRA, has indicated that the group's principal investors -- Ed and Missy Berge and Mattioli -- would not surrender their option to buy the Williams property. He said the property maintains its value no matter where the speedway is eventually built.

The option expires in February 2002.

Pub Date: 1/08/98

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