Racetrack headed in wrong direction Speedway: Middle River Racing's push for quick approval may be self-defeating.

January 16, 1998

MIDDLE RIVER RACING Association seeks to build a 54,800-seat auto speedway by the year 2000 west of Fort Meade, near the Anne Arundel-Howard county boundary. It wants Anne Arundel government to expedite the approval process. Considering the magnitude of the project and its impact on nearby Russett and Maryland City, any effort to streamline the process is likely to be interpreted as coming at the public's expense.

Even though the abandoned Laurel Sand & Gravel Co. at Route 32 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway being eyed for the oval has industrial zoning -- a "moonscape," an executive of the racing group called it -- such a project requires a special-exception hearing.

MRRA, which abandoned pursuit of a site in Baltimore County's Middle River area because of red tape, does not want to heed Anne Arundel's process. It fears appeals on frivolous grounds could tie up its project for years. The developer wants the County Council to create a hybrid "conditional use" process, which would recognize appeals only on design, traffic and other matters of substance.

In the county's current climate, requesting major changes in the permitting process is politically unwise. Anti-growth sentiment runs hot. Residents three years ago successfully blocked the football stadium that the late Jack Kent Cooke wanted to build not far from the racetrack site. South County was swept up last year in a fight against being designated a "primary growth area."

MRRA's motive is understandable, but its request is counterproductive. The organization is likely to spend much good will trying to amend the county's development process, instead of persuading skeptics that it has resolved concerns. To its credit, MRRA appears to have done its homework and has workable solutions for potential problems -- from noise to congestion. Trying to cut corners in the approval process leaves the impression that it wants to slip something by the public.

In an election year, council members are very sensitive to voter sympathies about growth and development. None is likely to take a risk on behalf of an auto racetrack. If MRRA is interested in building on this site, it should drop its push for special consideration.

Pub Date: 1/16/98

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