Residents voice concern about impact of soccer Professional team seeks permit to use Cedar Lane Park

May 19, 1998|By Jill Hudson Neal | Jill Hudson Neal,SUN STAFF

A group of concerned Columbia residents met last night with county officials and the management staff of the Maryland Mania Soccer Team to hear details of a proposed temporary stadium in Cedar Lane Park.

Maryland Mania has requested a park permit to play on Cedar Lane Park's Field 5 for one year, beginning next year. Maryland Mania representatives said the soccer season would last from April until August, with play-off games scheduled for the first or second week of September.

If the permit is approved, the team would finance the conversion of the field into a 5,000-seat temporary home for the 1999 season. The Mania would also have an option for 2000.

The field would be returned to its original condition after the team leaves, team officials said.

Gary Arthur, acting director of the Department of Recreation and Parks, said county officials will work with team owners to minimize the impact on the community.

While acknowledging that residents whose homes surround Cedar Lane Park are anxious about the inevitable noise, traffic and congestion that a 5,000-seat stadium would bring to Columbia, Arthur tried to reassure a frustrated crowd last night that "the county and the Mania will try everything they can to solve these problems."

The Mania would provide shuttle bus service from Howard Community College to the field to reduce traffic congestion within the park and surrounding areas. Team representatives said about 2,000 people could be transported from the college to the field in an hour.

A lights curfew would be imposed so that games would end by 10 p.m. Saturdays. The team estimates that about 16 games would be played at home.

Howard County police would be at entry points to the field from surrounding neighborhoods to direct traffic.

But Sean Keller, who lives in the Beachcreek community that abuts the park, said all the parking plans and shuttle services provided by the county and the team could not ensure safety and convenience for residents.

"These kinds of plans only work if people are willing to be shuttled," Keller said to applause from the crowd.

"You are also asking people to give up access to a public park for a private commercial venture. That's just not right."

Zach Fisch, another resident, said the soccer stadium would eliminate "all the nice noises of summer and replace [them] with noise and traffic."

These reactions were not a surprise to Wendy Tzuker, Harper's Choice Village Board member.

"Do I think that people couldn't live with it because it's only for a few hours?" Tzuker asked.

"I can't speak for them. If it were me and I knew that it'd be temporary, I could probably live with it for a year, but I don't live there. I don't know what I could put up with."

Team management said that it had an opportunity to play in a stadium in Baltimore County but turned it down to be in Columbia, where a huge soccer audience has been established.

In 1990, another professional soccer team, the Maryland Bays, played in Cedar Lane Park in a stadium that seated about 3,000 people.

As part of the American Professional Soccer League, the Maryland Bays played for two years on the same field where the Mania is proposing to build its temporary stadium.

The Maryland Bays had several well-known players, among them a defender, Darryl Gee, who has been tapped to be the Mania's head coach.

The Maryland Mania, a local franchise team of A League Soccer, drew national attention this month after Justin Fashanu, the 37-year-old ex-soccer star and coach for the Mania, was found dead in a run-down East London neighborhood. Police said he appeared to have hanged himself.

Fashanu, a flamboyant British ex-soccer star known more in recent years for his off-field antics than his on-field play, was living in Ellicott City when he was charged by Howard police with sexually assaulting a 17-year-old Columbia boy.

Gee, the first of several professional players produced by Columbia's youth soccer system, has been signed to a two-year contract to coach the team, which will begin play next spring in U.S. soccer's top minor league.

Pub Date: 5/19/98

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