Track, mall builders use varied approaches to engender good will

August 09, 1998|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,SUN STAFF

The day the developers of an auto racetrack showed up in the Anne Arundel County Council chambers for a make-or-break vote on their project, they walked a gantlet of angry, sign-waving residents flinging accusations of traffic congestion and noise pollution that would surely accompany the track.

When the developers of an outlet mega-mall came to the Arundel Center for a similar legislative session three months later, they chatted up their future neighbors in the lobby and handed out promotional T-shirts to appreciative residents.

Both hearings came several months after the companies had proposed their projects, and both had the early support of business development officials.

But while the racetrack continued to attract outspoken opposition up to the April 20 council hearing, the mall developers employed an impressive marketing campaign to win over a number of influential community groups, though not all, before legislation was introduced.

The track developers, once they got the council vote, changed tactics to inform residents and win more support.

Some Pasadena residents were put off when racing fans held a rally in support of the track, even before the company's first information meeting for the community. The potentially dry information forums turned into contentious meetings featuring arguments between race fans and track foes.

Chesapeake Motorsports Development Corp. plans to build a 54,800-seat arena on Solley peninsula, but it is still working on buying land from the Maryland Port Administration.

"Would I have preferred and would it have been nice and improved the comfort level if we could have had more meetings [earlier]? Probably so," said Joe Mattioli III, Chesapeake's chief operating officer. But, he said, "We haven't just gotten our legislation and said, 'Goodbye, community.' "

To foster better relations with the community, the company shed its old Middle River Racing Association name, left over from an unsuccessful attempt to build the track in Essex, and moved from Timonium to an office in Glen Burnie's tallest building.

The company is also working with a community advisory council made up of supporters and skeptics.

But the company is still faced with a hard sell, Mattioli said.

not "If you have not been [to a racetrack] and don't understand, you think about noise, you think about traffic, you think about pollution," Mattioli said.

Racetrack company officials won their critical zoning measure nearly two months after setting their sights on a former copper refinery in Pasadena.

Mills Corp., backers of the proposed Arundel Mills outlet mall near Baltimore-Washington International Airport, took a slower tack, spending more than eight months answering community questions and lining up grass-roots support before the council hearing last week.

The difference in the two approaches stems in part from the council members who represent the two areas.

Councilman Thomas W. Redmond of Pasadena said he invited then-Middle River Racing Association to put the track in his district early this year, when it appeared unlikely the company would overcome opposition to a west county site. He introduced the zoning legislation in March, before the first community information meeting.

Councilman George F. Bachman said that when Virginia-based Mills officials approached him last year with plans to build a 1.4 million-square-foot mall, he sent them back out to sell the idea directly to the community before lending his support.

So while opponents in the Pasadena and Solley area complained that track officials and Redmond had blindsided them with the proposal, mall developers were stumping at west county civic meetings more than six months before Bachman introduced a legislative package in July.

In a unanimous vote last week, the council approved a special taxing district to pay for a new interchange on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and widening the road, which would ease the way for the Mills project. Developers await a council vote on zoning this month.

Pub Date: 8/09/98

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