Anne Arundel puts brakes on racetrack Majority on council say they'll oppose zoning law change

Developers won't back off

Auto racing group says it may put issue on November ballot

January 21, 1998|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

In the wake of protests at a public meeting Monday, a majority of Anne Arundel County councilmen said yesterday they oppose a zoning law change sought by developers of an auto racetrack proposed for the western end of the county.

The lack of political support is expected to slow plans by the Middle River Racing Association of Timonium to build a 54,800-seat track on 380 acres north of Russett.

But the developers -- who recently backed away from a Baltimore County site after a political battle that lasted more than a year -- are refusing to shut off their engines.

Joseph Mattioli III, chief operating officer of the racing association, said the developers are determined to build the track in Arundel -- even without fast-track zoning approval or the County Council's endorsement.

Mattioli said the association might let racing fans across the county decide the question by collecting enough signatures to put the question on the ballot in November.

"We are coming to Anne Arundel County, whether it takes six months, a year or five years," said Mattioli. "Certainly, speed would have helped with our marketing. But perseverance is our middle name."

His comments suggested a shift in strategies for the developers. Earlier this month, an advocate for the racing association said it needed preliminary approval from the county within 60 days. That now appears unlikely, according to four council members interviewed yesterday.

"I think the message from the local residents has been very clear," said County Council Chairman Bert Rice of Odenton, in whose district the track would be built. "They are very concerned about their quality of life being hurt by traffic, noise and pollution."

The debate over the track has been characterized by strong emotion from neighbors and high-minded economic arguments from the developers.

Before an audience of more than 650 at Resurrection Roman Catholic Church on Brock Bridge Road on Monday night, Mattioli preached the message that the track would pump millions of dollars into the economy.

Standing at the altar, Mattioli urged residents not to judge racing fans unfairly.

"You may have a mental picture of racing fans as being a rowdy, boisterous group. But I would say that's far from reality," Mattioli said. "When people like Paul Newman [the actor] and Joe Montana [the football quarterback] are involved in racing. They would not want to be involved in something that doesn't reflect moral high issues and quality."

Neighbors have been more down to earth in their threats to vote out of office any politician who performs favors for the developers.

"We will remember in November," said Elizabeth Ysla Leight, a 43-year-old Russett resident.

Rice said the developers might have made a tactical error by RTC paying for a bus to drive racing supporters from Baltimore County to what was supposed to be a neighborhood meeting Monday.

When asked Monday if the developers paid for the bus, racing association spokesman Michael Alfinito said "not to my knowledge." Alfinito called The Sun yesterday to confirm that the developers had paid for the bus and to deny that he said otherwise.

The legislation sought by the racing association would allow the developers to avoid multiple hearings before the county's administrative hearing officer and Board of Appeals. Instead, they would face a single public hearing before the County Council and be allowed to build the track as a conditional use on the industrial land.

Council members Rice, William Mulford of Annapolis, James "Ed" DeGrange of Glen Burnie and Diane Evans of Arnold said that they would not be inclined to support the short-cut legislation sought by the developers. They would make a majority on the seven-member County Council.

Pub Date: 1/21/98

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