Group opposing lights on fields aims to delay Md. vote on park funds

Lobbyist, delegate work to defer decision to sway county to change its plans

September 22, 2004|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano and Del. Warren E. Miller are working to persuade Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to delay today's vote on state money for Howard County's 161-acre Western Regional Park - unless the county abandons plans for three lighted athletic fields.

Bereano, who has assiduously wooed the Republican Ehrlich administration since it took power, represents park neighbors who don't want lighted fields, but who lost their battle in May with the Democratic-majority County Council.

Now they hope to persuade Ehrlich to help with their fight by deferring a Board of Public Works vote on the money - even though county officials said no state funds will be used for the lights. Work on the park is under way, with the first five fields - including the lighted ones - scheduled for completion next fall.

"This is a great deal of money. I may be exaggerating a little bit, but they're building like a Six Flags [amusement park] out there," Bereano said, adding that he would drop his opposition if the lighted fields are eliminated.

Miller, a western county Republican, said his constituents want the project scaled back.

"I think the concept of a park with ball fields is a great idea, but we're taking Glenwood suddenly and making it a metropolis," he said.

But County Executive James N. Robey said the three lighted fields represent a compromise agreed to by County Councilman Allan H. Kittleman, a western county Republican, who initially opposed the lights but went along when it became clear he didn't have the votes to kill the plan.

"This was approved unanimously by the council. I feel very strongly that we owe it to the kids and adults who would use the fields to provide lighted fields," Robey said.

Jack Milani, a Glenwood resident and treasurer of a lacrosse league, said the county has trimmed park plans, removing an amphitheater, a lake and other features residents complained about during four years of public meetings. Sports boosters like Milani complain the county doesn't have enough playing fields to meet demand.

County Recreation and Parks Director Gary J. Arthur and house delegation chairman Del. Neil F. Quinter were also to appear at today's vote, but in support of the request.

"We want that approval so we would not have a delay in the park development," Arthur said, adding that having a delegate oppose money for a county park in his district is unusual.

"I've never seen that done before," Arthur said.

The board is scheduled to vote on $534,114 to continue the first phase of the project, which will pay for grading and installation of parking lots, roads, five athletic fields and a concession stand. The entire project will cost $14.3 million. The state share is $10.6 million, of which $4.3 million has been approved.

Kenneth M. Alban, administrator for capital projects and park planning, said the county sent a letter to state officials in June noting that no state open space money would be used for the lights.

County officials and recreation leaders insist that to spend millions of dollars on a park and then let fields sit idle during evening hours would be a waste of money. The county wanted five lighted fields, but the County Council funded three to appease the opponents.

David Gould, president of the Soccer Association of Western Howard County, said Bereano represents only several dozen people.

"We have the support of our club, which represents 750 families in western Howard County. They were all happy the park was going to proceed forward," Gould said. "It's a shame that a group like that has hired lobbyists to go out and try to kill things like this."

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