Determined to win over Anne Arundel County residents in its third try to find an uncontested site for a $100 million speedway, the Middle River Racing Association held a tightly formatted community meeting last night, highlighted by displays, tables of food and speakers.
Its pitch was that a speedway would be a boon to the county and not a loud, polluting, traffic-generating bad neighbor.
About 400 residents and race fans turned out for the meeting in a Pasadena fire hall. By press time, opponents in the crowd had not yet been allowed time to ask their questions -- all to be funneled through a moderator -- and complained that the meeting was "too tightly controlled" and a "snow job."
Supporters, though, said the clearly frustrated opponents were not giving the speedway a fair chance. They weren't thinking about what an improvement a speedway would be over the abandoned copper refinery occupying the site.
The meeting was much different from those held in western Anne Arundel and Baltimore County, where developers have also looked at sites since last fall. There, residents angered by what they saw as the speed and clandestine nature of the developers' bid to build a raceway protested and shouted down raceway advocates trying to speak.
Yesterday, the developers, who portray their efforts as a request for the county to make a technical change in the zoning of industrial land for the privately funded venture, took issue with recent reports in The Sun. They said they did have the ability to lure NASCAR and other large race sponsors to their proposed speedway.
"I have talked to NASCAR," said Joe Mattioli III, the association's chief operating officer. "Our relationships with them are good, and it has always been that way."
NASCAR officials told The Sun earlier this week they have no intention of bringing their races to the area, noting four racetracks within 300 miles of Baltimore.
Before the meeting got under way, heated discussions could be heard throughout the room as neighbors and racing fans from other counties argued about the desirability of the racetrack.
"Who wouldn't want something as beautiful as Camden Yards in their neighborhood?" asked Greg Lombard, who has organized a local race fans club to help promote the speedway. "That area is zoned for viral infection plants, chemical incinerators and paper companies. This will be a state-of-the-art facility."
Pasadena resident Russell Kirk said, "We don't want something that will be a failure either but this will help out the community as far as taxes go, money, jobs, volunteerism and camaraderie. It will be a fun time out there."
Many in the audience booed and laughed as Mattioli read reports suggesting that noise around the track would be no greater than it already is along nearby roads. Many also said they did not believe the developers' reports that property values would increase and that increased traffic on race days would not significantly affect the area.
Mattioli noted that the speedway would offer emergency services, crews to clean up existing environmental problems and open days at the track for groups to use the facilities.
Some were unimpressed.
"This has not been a dialogue for the community," said Mary Russell, a Pasadena community leader. "The bottom line is that this meeting has been a setup. We are being lied to. I want a chance to hold up our reports and information against theirs. This has been pathetic and one-sided." She said she will organize a "real" meeting for residents.
The developers will go to the County Council on April 20 to seek the zoning law modification.
Pub Date: 4/10/98