Design panel rejects Pimlico plans

Parking, housing faulted

landscaping gets approval

October 31, 2003|By Reginald Fields | Reginald Fields,SUN STAFF

Pimlico Race Course suffered a setback yesterday when the city's Design Advisory Panel for the second time in six weeks declined to approve plans for enlarging the oval racetrack, moving the grandstand and adding parking.

Members of the panel at times were blistering in their criticism of the plans presented by Walter Lynch, Pimlico's development director.

"It's a diagram of intentions but not at the level of detail needed at this stage," panel member Mario L. Schack told Lynch. "It's totally unconvincing."

Lynch said later he wasn't upset by the delay, calling it "part of a long process."

Panel members generally agreed that the ideas contained in the plan were good for Pimlico but poorly conceptualized. Lynch was invited to submit a better plan for the panel to consider. He said he will.

Panel members were most concerned about four parking garages that Pimlico wants to build along Preakness Way and Belvedere Avenue.

The garages and traffic patterns would obstruct views of the course and had no coherent flow for people to get to the grandstand, the panel said.

In September, the panel also raised concerns over parking when it tentatively approved the plan.

The panel also objected yesterday to two four-story dormitories that track officials want to construct on Pimlico property near Belvedere and Park Heights avenues. The panel worried that the buildings would not fit in with homes and businesses that border Pimlico.

Panel member Gary A. Bowden referred to the dorms as hotels on three occasions.

"I get the feeling it's a version of Days Inn on Park Heights," Bowden said.

The panel said the location of the dormitories -- which would house horse trainers and other visitors -- was acceptable but that the buildings needed to be "scaled down."

The panel did approve Pimlico's landscaping plans, which include planting trees and shrubs and erecting metal picket fences around much of the 140-acre course's perimeter.

"I think we got what we wanted the most right now and that was the landscaping," Lynch said.

Lynch found it disconcerting that a few members of yesterday's panel were new, because they suggested changes to the plan that were in his original proposal presented to the group in September.

Pimlico agreed to spend about $11 million on landscaping and demolishing houses on its property, as the track was supposed to do under a 29-year-old agreement with the city.

Pimlico officials said they agreed to the landscaping as part of a deal to get the City Council and mayor to begin considering a bill that would allow a much larger expansion project.

Under a bill introduced in the City Council this month, Pimlico could build a 700-room hotel, concert theaters, a banquet facility, retail shops and more. Lynch insists, however, that Pimlico has no immediate plans to do any of that.

"It's in the bill to give us flexibility," Lynch said. "Like any property owner along Park Heights Avenue, if they have a dry cleaners that they have to close, they want to be able to change it to something else if they want, like a barbershop. This is no different."

Track officials have said that the expansion plans feed into Pimlico's overall goal of attracting slots machines and transforming the track into a gaming complex. The legislature, which killed a slots proposal this year, is expected to revisit the idea during its next session.

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