Owens criticizes Gary over mall, track He says his policies attract good jobs

September 29, 1998|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

In a debate between candidates for Anne Arundel county executive last night, Democratic challenger Janet S. Owens criticized her incumbent opponent's support for a mega-mall and 60,000-seat racetrack, which she said would be harmful to the environment.

Republican County Executive John G. Gary argued that his administration is attracting high-paying jobs to the county, keeping the tax rate down and discouraging development in rural areas.

With five weeks left before the Nov. 3 election, the opponents focused on growth and education during the debate, sponsored by the Annapolis Jaycees at the Maryland Hall for the Arts.

Owens took aim at plans approved by the Gary administration and the County Council for an auto racetrack north of Riviera Beach and the 1.4 million-square-foot Arundel Mills mall west of Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

"These two most recent projects will clearly impact the environment, clearly impact traffic congestion and may further overcrowd our schools," Owens said.

"They may produce tax revenues for the county and may increase job opportunities. But I suspect the job opportunities will be mostly low-end, service-sector jobs," she said.

"We should try to limit growth to specific high-tech industries that will partner up with our schools, and offer real job opportunities for our young people."

Gary said his administration has worked hard to protect the environment. He said he has strengthened the county's growth-control plan by involving committees of citizens so that they can help decide where construction would be most appropriate.

He defended the mall project as well planned and welcomed by most neighbors. Gary said he took a trip to a Mills Corp. mall in Arizona and found that the jobs there paid much more than Owens would suggest.

"I'm afraid that Ms. Owens is a little bit behind the times when it comes to malls," Gary said. "These jobs pay from $20,000 to $75,000 a year, not exactly what I'd call low-quality jobs."

Gary said most local governments would greatly desire such economic development as a way of paying for more schools, roads and government services.

"If you want to keep your property taxes down, you have to have economic growth," Gary said.

Gary cast doubt on whether the track will materialize.

"As far as the racetrack is concerned, it hasn't been built yet," Gary said.

He said that even though the County Council passed a zoning law change for the project, the county is requiring the developers to meet strict conditions to obtain a permit. "They haven't met those conditions yet, and it remains to be seen whether it will actually be built," Gary said.

On education, Gary said he would like to make the county's public schools more easily available to citizen groups for after-hours activities.

He also said he has tried to force the Board of Education to be more accountable for how it spends the money that he and the County Council give to the schools.

Gary said he found it "absolutely astounding" that the council could give the school board $20 million more this year than last year, only to have the board cut services and threaten to impose new fees for student activities.

Owens said the "bickering and animosity" between Gary and the Board of Education had frightened the best potential teachers away from the system and harmed the students.

Pub Date: 9/29/98

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