Fast-tracking the racetrack? Latest location may be good, but short-circuiting permit review process is not.

March 24, 1998

THOMAS W. Redmond Sr. is making a mistake by pushing legislation that would excuse a proposed racetrack in Pasadena from Anne Arundel County's special exemption process.

Rather than boost the chances for this $100 million project, special treatment might be the kiss of death.

Mr. Redmond, the county councilman from Pasadena, is proposing a rewrite of the zoning code to allow "motor sports racing complexes" as a conditional use rather than a special exception. The difference is significant.

Under special exceptions, a hearing officer presides over a quasi-judicial proceeding in which the public has input. As a conditional use, zoning officers would weigh the application minus cross-examination.

The latest location for this project, which has hopscotched from Essex to Baltimore County to Russett Green in western Anne Arundel and now to northern Anne Arundel, has considerable merit.

The state-owned "brownfields" parcel was formerly used as a copper refinery, sitting among other heavy industries, far from homes. As good as the site appears, though, the project needs a complete discussion of all pertinent issues. The county has little experience in reviewing auto racetracks.

Traffic and environmental and other impacts need to be studied from all perspectives. A special exception hearing is the best forum to lead to an informed decision.

Yes, such hearings can be lengthy, but they may save time for the developers in the long run.

Mr. Redmond's proposal to streamline the approval process is more likely to generate legal appeals by opponents, who will claim the matter didn't get a full airing.

Politically, Mr. Redmond is asking a great deal of his fellow council members. Though the project is in his district, exempting the racetrack sets a broader precedent: During an election year, when anti-developer sentiment runs hot, no politician wants to be accused of running roughshod over the public approval process.

Pub Date: 3/24/98

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