Track debate moves to next gear

Meeting attracts 500, pitting union backers vs. auto stadium foes

January 07, 1999|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN STAFF

More than 500 people, many of them trade union members from Baltimore, crammed a Maryland Port Administration public hearing last night to endorse or object to leasing port property to developers who want to build a 54,000-seat auto racing stadium near Key Bridge in Pasadena.

Building the stadium would mean jobs for them, said carpenters, bricklayers and electricians.

Pasadena residents who have adamantly opposed the track did not attend in the numbers expected, apparently believing that Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens made their case for them last week when she called the 100-acre site unsuitable. Despite that statement, Owens, one of 11 members of the advisory council that recommends leases on state-owned port authority land, has yet to say how she will vote Feb. 11.

Council members, who had initially expected to vote last night, postponed their decision after residents flooded them with letters asking for a public hearing. Their meeting had to be rescheduled in a larger place. Residents opposed to the track have said for almost a year and reiterated last night that they have never had the chance to speak out about the proposal since it sailed through the County Council in April.

In addition to union members and residents, the port council heard from developers, who tried to respond to criticism that the proposed site off Kembo Road is too small and lacks adequate fire and emergency services needed to protect the crowds a speedway attracts.

Missy Berge, chief executive officer of Chesapeake Motorsports Development Corp., dismissed the notion the company has overlooked resident input. She said it has merely followed the instructions of Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp. "This project should not be fought in the political arena," she said. "This is an economic development project that will allow Anne Arundel and Baltimore to be recognized nationally."

Bob Douglas, attorney for the track developers, noted four economic development studies that said a speedway in the Baltimore area would provide millions of dollars in tax revenue to the state and county.

"When you look at this project, I want you to think of Camden Yards," he told the council. "The stadium is located on the edge of the port, the perfect television shot. It will bring the port of Baltimore into the homes and offices of the executives and decision-makers the port is trying to reach for shipping and partnerships." Track opponent Marcia Drensyk, who spoke on behalf of 23 communities opposed to the track, challenged the studies as outdated and irrelevant to the Pasadena site. She disputed the developers' notion that a track will entice businesses to Baltimore.

"Try selling Maersk and Sealand Services on bringing their business to the port of Baltimore just because we have a motor speedway nearby," she said. "The ports of New York and Norfolk compete very successfully without being endorsed by auto racing facilities.

"Leasing this site for a racing stadium, against the best interests of the residents and businesses of this area, will seriously jeopardize the port's relationship with the communities of Marley Neck."

State Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, speaking first on behalf of the local state delegation and several County Council members who oppose the site, was almost shouted down.

"And while we're at it, why don't we compare this site to Camden Yards?" he said. "This site doesn't have half the land, any of the roadways and doesn't have light rail to bring 40- or 50,000 people into the stadium."

Developers said they could fit 5,000 cars on 50 acres of the site and are seeking 87 more acres from neighbors. He said a track would provide emergency medical care and the group was analyzing traffic studies to figure out how the roads could handle crowds on race days.

If developers do win the council's approval, they have a long way to go before signing a lease. The group will have to negotiate a lease with the Port Administration. It must then win approval from the Maryland Port Commission, the state Board of Public Works and finally the governor.

Last week, the governor assured local officials he will bow to the wishes of the county. Those wishes have changed since several vocal track proponents -- namely, former County Executive John G. Gary and County Councilman Thomas W. Redmond Sr. -- were ousted from office in the fall. Many of the newly elected officials ran on an anti-track platform.

Track developers are not the only ones interested in leasing the site. A dredge spoil recycling company and a steel manufacturer leasing part of the property have expressed interest, port officials said.

Pub Date: 1/07/99

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