Owens spurns Pasadena site for speedway Arundel executive points to concern over traffic, environment

No alternate location named

December 30, 1998|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN STAFF

A proposed speedway that not long ago seemed a certainty for Anne Arundel County's Pasadena peninsula has run into trouble: County Executive Janet S. Owens said yesterday she wants a new site.

Owens said she would support a racetrack elsewhere in the county but does not believe the site in congested, residential Pasadena is appropriate.

"I am sure the county could benefit from the revenues," she said, "and I would love to see that site cleaned up, but as I look at the site, I just am not convinced in terms of traffic, the roads, the water, the proximity to the fire department and chemical plant on the peninsula, that the site can accommodate a track.

"I am convinced the company is economically viable and is a sound, good company, but I think they were extraordinarily naive," she said. "Had things been done differently, it would have been a whole different scenario."

She said she has no alternate site in mind.

Racetrack developers -- who have spent five years and millions JTC of dollars in search of a location -- gave up on two previous sites before settling on 200 acres of Pasadena waterfront for a 54,000-seat, $100 million facility.

But without Owens' support, residents and officials say, developers have hit a critical juncture.

The developers, Chesapeake Motorsports Development Corp., are seeking state approval to lease the site from the Maryland Port Authority. Owens sits on the Port Authority's Land Use Advisory Council and could thwart the developers by voting no when the council meets Jan. 6 to decide on the lease.

Additionally, Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who has the final say on leasing Port Authority land, promised in a letter to officials last week to support whatever the majority of residents wants. Owens joins three state delegates and Pasadena Councilwoman A. Shirley Murphy in rejecting the site.

Chesapeake Motorsports attorney Bob Douglas said his clients have not heard from Owens but hope they can meet her concerns and move ahead with the Pasadena site.

Residents' opposition

Many residents have fought the project for months. They gathered momentum and numbers after the former County Council passed a zoning change that cut public participation in the approval process. For them, Owens' statements signaled victory.

"We never said a track is inappropriate for anywhere else," said Marcia Drenzyk, co-chairwoman of Citizens Against the Racing Stadium Site. "It's just inappropriate for this site. We've been portrayed as anti-racetrack nuts from the beginning, but we have racing fans in our group."

Next step?

Officials with Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp., which lured developers who at first wanted to build in Baltimore County, said they would comply with the county executive's wishes.

"If [Owens] wants us to review new properties, we will," said Senior Vice President Bill Badger. "Our role is to evaluate projects and see if they make sense for the county. The impact numbers for this project are strong: Entertainment taxes, employment numbers make this project attractive."

He said he didn't know if Chesapeake Motorsports would want to start over.

"They've been through an awful lot already," he said.

An election switch

Under the leadership of former County Executive John G. Gary, who lobbied for the racetrack before the advisory council, the facility seemed certain. But Councilman Thomas Redmond and Gary were ousted from office last month, and Mary Rosso, a vocal track opponent, was elected to the General Assembly. After that, residents said, they could feel the mood changing.

Murphy, who replaced Redmond on the County Council, introduced a bill that would reverse legislation the former council passed and require a new hearing on the racetrack.

Rosso, a member of the residents' group that opposed the Pasadena site, said she is glad the new county executive is listening.

"It makes me feel comfortable that we can go forward to the state with the county executive's support," Rosso said, "because when we first started talking to the [Port Authority] the former county executive was the main encouragement and impetus for the state to not look at any other options for the site besides the track.

"If there's another site in the county that is larger and has the support of residents, that would have to be decided on its own merits," she said. "Of course, I don't know of any site like that."

Pub Date: 12/30/98

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