Port council votes down racetrack

Decision ends plan for auto course to be built in county

Other counties interested

Pasadena residents express relief about ruling

February 11, 1999|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN STAFF

Plans to build an auto racing stadium in Anne Arundel County were crushed yesterday with a unanimous vote by the Maryland Port Administration's advisory council against leasing the developers 100 acres along the waterfront.

However, some state representatives have begun work to ensure that the project stays alive in Maryland.

County Executive Janet S. Owens, who sits on the 11-member council, told colleagues that she did not believe the site was right for a racetrack and that a track was not compatible with port or shipping business. The group then voted without further discussion.

Five representatives from Chesapeake Motorsports Development Corp., which invested more than $5 million and five years trying to build a track on three sites in the Baltimore area, were visibly upset and left immediately after the vote.

"I am going back to my office, I'm going to sit down in my office and take stock of things," said Missy Berge, Chesapeake's chief executive officer.

Later in the day, Robert Douglas, attorney for the track, said the vote had an almost bolstering effect they had not anticipated. He said representatives from several counties, in- cluding Howard, Carroll, Frederick and Cecil, called expressing interest.

Said Douglas: "Now that the political infighting is over, people are really rallying to keep the project in the state."

Owens said she would support a racetrack elsewhere in the county, but Douglas called building it in Arundel unlikely because no other workable site has been located.

In a statement, Mike Alfinito, spokesman for Chesapeake, said: "Of course, we are disappointed with the outcome of today's hearing, as any developer would be. We have spent considerable time and effort with the county and in the 11th hour are told we are not welcome at this particular site. No one, not even the county executive herself, denied the incredible sums of money this project would have created for [the] county. It simply means we will be bringing this economic impact to someone else's county or city."

Pasadena residents opposed to the track spent almost a year collecting documents, lobbying officials and holding meetings. Yesterday, they hugged and cheered.

"I understand people have dreams," said Marcia Drensyk, spokeswoman for Citizens Against the Racing Stadium Site, referring to a speech Berge made last month about her dream to build a Camden Yards-like track. "But this site would never have worked. We are grateful to Mrs. Owens. I feel like we can breathe again."

A. Shirley Murphy, a County Council member from Pasadena who was elected in November largely on an anti-track, open-government platform, echoed those sentiments.

"I feel like justice was done, and the voice of the people was heard," Murphy said. "It sends a strong message. North county has always been dumped on, and it's time to change that."

Charles Graves, Baltimore City director of planning, voted on behalf of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who has vocally supported the track. He said Schmoke did not want to contradict a colleague in another jurisdiction.

"The mayor was supportive of the concept but knew there were major issues with parking, transportation and the environment," Graves said. "In light of the fact that those issues had not been resolved, the city voted to support the county executive's position."

The panel, appointed by the governor, is made up of representatives from the city and counties around Baltimore, as well as members of the port industry, environmentalists, and several private citizens. One member was absent yesterday.

While it is unclear where track developers will go from here, John Pocari, secretary of the state Department of Transportation, said he is working with economic development agencies from Anne Arundel County and around the state to lure a new business to the port's waterfront property south of the Key Bridge.

He said in the last 60 days several interested groups which could bring "significant jobs" have toured the site, but he declined to elaborate. He said the port administration is committed to upholding its promises in 1994 to residents that whatever company ends up on the site will be port-related and not intrude on their lives.

Pub Date: 2/11/99

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