Neighbors appeal Arundel Mills slots

Groundbreaking for temporary casino set for Thursday

January 27, 2011|By Julie Bykowicz, The Baltimore Sun

As officials prepare to break ground Thursday for the temporary slots facility at Arundel Mills mall, neighbors have filed a new complaint with the Anne Arundel County Board of Appeals.

The Villages Dorchester Homeowners Association and three residents filed the appeal. Their attorney, Harry Blumenthal, said in an e-mail Thursday morning that his clients want casino developer David Cordish to show that he will adequately address traffic near the planned facility.

A Cordish official said the new appeal would not affect the groundbreaking Thursday morning for the parking garage that will serve as a temporary slots facility. Gov. Martin O'Malley and Donald C. Fry, chairman of the state slots commission, are among those scheduled to attend.

"Any appeal is frivolous and solely an attempt to further delay the thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue that Maryland Live! Casino will generate for the state," said Joseph Weinberg, president of development at Baltimore-based Cordish Cos.

A spokeswoman for the county said Cordish has permission to begin grading the area on which the parking garage is to be built. The company expects the garage to be finished by the end of the year; the permanent casino, which with 4,750 slot machines will be the state's largest, is to be completed by the end of 2012.

Cordish has received site development plan approval from the county but has not been issued building permits, county spokeswoman Tracie Reynolds said.

In approving the site development plan, the county Office of Planning and Zoning determined that Cordish had met all state and local requirements to demonstrate an adequate road system around the new casino. That decision is what Blumenthal's clients are appealing.

The lawyer said Cordish continues to modify traffic studies but has not come up with a plan for the flow of vehicles that will accompany the new casino and restaurants.

"My clients are not willing to let the county and state allow required road improvements to be determined at some later date, when the code requires that the improvements be determined now," Blumenthal said. "If roads don't [move] properly, until they do, it will be my clients who will be adversely affected."

State Sen. James E. DeGrange, an Anne Arundel County Democrat, said that the new appeal calls into question the state's continuing relationship with the racetrack owners who have fought Cordish relentlessly for a chance at the county's only slots license.

The Maryland Jockey Club, which owns Laurel Park in Anne Arundel, helped organize a petition and voter effort to undo county zoning for the Arundel Mills site, among other legal and political moves. Voters affirmed the zoning decision, clearing the way for Cordish to begin building.

Separately, the state gave the track owners $3.6 million to help pay for a full racing calendar of 146 days this year — a deal struck after the owners threatened a far shorter racing calendar that state officials said would have put many in the thoroughbred industry out of work.

"I'm trying to figure out why we should give money to them if they're going to keep blocking money from coming to the state," DeGrange said at a briefing on horse racing and gaming. Other senators expressed similar frustrations.

Although the Jockey Club partnered with the homeowners to try to defeat Cordish's zoning approval, Jockey Club spokesman Mike Gathagan said Wednesday that "we're not involved" in the latest appeal.

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