Ecker rejects temporary soccer field Columbia residents feared traffic and noise at park

June 03, 1998|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF

Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker rejected Maryland Mania's plans to build a temporary soccer stadium in Cedar Lane Park yesterday, citing area residents' concerns about noise, traffic congestion and parking.

The team had requested a permit to build a 5,000-seat temporary home on Cedar Lane Park's Field 5 for the team's 20 home games. The season would last from April until August, with playoff games the first or second week of September.

Since a meeting last month with area residents and team owners, county recreation and park officials say they have received more than 200 signatures, letters and calls opposing the proposed $250,000 stadium.

"From the beginning, we said [Maryland Mania officials] had to meet the community's concerns of traffic and safety," Ecker said. "They were not able to do that. If the Mania comes up with a site [in Howard County] we'll work with them, but they have to come up with it."

Ecker's decision was a relief to residents.

"It would burden the community with the traffic, the noise and the parking," said Zach Fisch, a resident of the nearby Beech Creek community. "Everything around the park is nice and green. They proposed putting up a 20-foot wall to keep down the noise. It just didn't fit in there."

Maryland Mania officials say they will consider temporary sites in Prince George's, Montgomery and Baltimore counties. But the group still wants to build a permanent 12,000-seat stadium on 30 to 40 acres in Howard, where soccer is hugely popular.

A.J. Ali, president of Maryland Professional Soccer LLC, which owns the team, says a permanent stadium could bring as much as $20 million in new spending to the state. Ali wants the county to consider a permanent stadium, which would cost $10 to $20 million, at one of four sites in Columbia: Merriweather Post Pavilion, Gateway Center off Route 175, county-owned land near Interstate 95 and Route 100 or the 300-acre Smith property along Route 175, a tract Ecker is attempting to buy.

The team wants to build the permanent stadium by 2001.

"These Mania players would be accessible. Kids would have role models," Ali said. The players "are no prima donnas, no multimillionaires."

In 1990, another professional soccer team, the Maryland Bays, played on the same field in Cedar Lane Park where the Mania proposed its temporary stadium.

Ecker is "talking out of both sides of his mouth," Ali said. "He says he wanted us to come to the county and then [he makes] an illogical decision. We were going to pay for the stands, the shuttle service. We didn't ask the county for a cent. How many professional sports teams come in and don't ask for any money?"

Mania officials had proposed providing a shuttle service to the field from Howard Community College, off Harper's Farm Road, and from county Board of Education headquarters off Route 108 to reduce traffic congestion in the park.

To control noise, Mania officials had agreed to a curfew on lights, with games ending by 10 p.m. Saturdays. Howard police were going to be available to direct traffic.

Gary J. Arthur, director of the county's recreation and parks department, criticized the Mania proposal for not having secured either shuttle location and for not providing adequate suggestions for traffic patterns in the area.

"It really was a little weak," Arthur said. "The overshadowing issues were too much for [residents] regardless of how popular soccer is."

Pub Date: 6/03/98

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