Red flag for racetrack

Fatal blow? Arundel executive's opposition led advisory council to cast key vote against project.

February 11, 1999

ANNE ARUNDEL County Executive Janet S. Owens did not wave a checkered flag for victory or even a cautionary yellow flag for the plan to build a 61,000-seat auto racetrack near the mouth of the Patapsco River in Pasadena. No, her recommendation yesterday morning opposing the track on land the Maryland Port Administration owns was a red flag. It all but cancels the project on the site of a former copper refinery -- or anywhere else in Anne Arundel for that matter.

The Advisory Council for Port Land-Use Development of the Maryland Port Administration yesterday deferred to Ms. Owens, one of its 11 members. Ms. Owens said that a high-intensity sports facility would interfere with the port. Even though the state Board of Public Works has final say and can disregard the panel's advice, the board, composed of the governor, state comptroller and treasurer, seems unlikely to overrule a county executive on a development in her own back yard.

A racetrack is not easily accommodated. The "brownfields" site in Pasadena appeared to be the best available, near highways and ringed by heavy industrial property with the nearest house a mile away. Other Anne Arundel sites considered were too small, too remote or posed other problems.

The Cox Creek site wasn't perfect. The developers hadn't addressed concerns about traffic and parking. Environmental impact wasn't fully explored. Studies might have provided benchmarks to evaluate other sites.

Considering the popularity of racing and the economic spinoffs, state and local officials should make a final effort to find a suitable location in the region for the project, which has wandered fitfully from Baltimore County to Anne Arundel County during the past two years. Otherwise, it might be time for Chesapeake Motorsports Development Corp. to raise the white flag of surrender.

Pub Date: 2/11/99

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