Track vote delayed by bad wording

Council was to decide on holding up raceway construction

Setback for developers

Bill's sponsor says action needed to `restore integrity'

February 02, 1999|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN STAFF

A County Council vote last night on a measure to hold up construction of an auto racing track in Anne Arundel County was delayed by faulty wording in the bill, which must be corrected and resubmitted.

It was the latest setback for developers battling resident resistance and government bureaucracy to build the 61,000-seat stadium they've proposed for south of the Key Bridge in Pasadena.

Missy Berge, chief executive officer of Chesapeake Motorsports Inc., told council members as they considered undoing the fast-track approval given the track by a previous county administration that they were toying with trouble.

"The message this bill would send to developers thinking of bringing business into the county is that you cannot count on Anne Arundel County's word because it is unreliable and worthless," she told them.

And she added, "Equally important to the message it would send is that it could open the county up to legal ramifications."

Robert Douglas, an attorney for the track developers, told the council that the bill would put the developers "back to square one and on trial." County Executive Janet S. Owens sent word to the council that she, too, opposed the measure, even though she does not think Pasadena is the best place in Anne Arundel County to put an auto racing track.

But A. Shirley Murphy, one of the three new council members who sponsored the bill in response to overwhelming public opposition to the track, said she liked its message. "Our predecessors," she said, "sent a message that Anne Arundel County will custom fit for developers without resident input. This bill will correct that wrong."

Council- woman Barbara Samorajczyk, another sponsor, agreed that the council should act to "restore the integrity and consistency of the process" the old council violated when it pushed through a zoning law last April that allowed for the construction of racing speedways on land zoned for heavy industry so long as certain conditions were met.

The bill that Murphy, Samorajczyk and Councilman Daniel E. Klosterman Jr. sponsored would define race tracks as a "special exception" in heavy industrial zones, and would require developers to go through a public hearing and be approved by a county administrative hearing officer. The bill also would allow appeals of any zoning decisions about the track to the county Circuit Court. That could eat up months of time, developers fear.

Klosterman's support for the bill was thrown into doubt last night when he announced that he would recuse himself from voting on track issues until the County Ethics Commission rules on whether he may vote and also keep track lobbyist Michael Gilligan as an accounting client.

After two failed attempts to build a track in Baltimore County and in the Russett community of Anne Arundel, Chesapeake Motorsports had hoped an abandoned copper refinery in Pasadena would be the perfect site, thinking that no one would argue a track would not be an improvement there. They have invested more than $5 million and five years in the project.

No matter the outcome of the County Council's latest bill, Douglas said, the developers will continue to press toward completing the track and bringing auto racing to the Baltimore region.

Track opponents vowed the same kind of dedication to stopping the developers.

The County Council adopted last night an amendment that provides that the developer does not have to provide parking adjacent to the track.

Opponents of the track failed to get the council to add amendments that would ban gambling at the track, sharply control noise there or to ensure that developers would find 500 acres for parking outside residential neighborhoods.

Councilman Bob Burlison tried to get an amendment through that would ban auto tracks from any site within a mile of residences, but the measure failed. In addition to its wrangling with the County Council, Chesapeake Motorsports faces a crucial vote Feb. 10 by the state Port Land Use Advisory Council. That body will recommend to the state whether 100 acres of bay-front land owned by the Maryland Port Administration should be leased to track developers.

Pub Date: 2/02/99

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