Residents near Arundel Mills upset by slots construction parking

Deal with county allows some parking near stadium

residents concerned about park

  • A truck delivers a load of mulch close to the scoreboard and outfield of Joe Cannon Stadium preparing the park site for Arundel Mills employee parking.
A truck delivers a load of mulch close to the scoreboard and outfield… (Jed Kirschbaum, Baltimore…)
May 24, 2011|By Nicole Fuller, The Baltimore Sun

Residents near Arundel Mills mall say they rely on Joe Cannon Stadium and its surrounding park for outdoor recreation, and some complain that their access has been limited by workers and contractors using the area for parking as mall spots are consumed by the construction of a massive casino.

Last weekend, the area was rendered inaccessible because it was jam-packed with cars — both on the paved parking area and on the grass, said Wayne Dixon, president of the Harmans Community Association. He believes mall parking affected adjacent Matthewson Harmans Community Park as well.

The $1 billion slots casino and entertainment complex planned at the mall remains a sore spot for many in the neighborhoods surrounding the mall, where residents supported a ballot initiative to deny the Baltimore-based Cordish Cos. zoning approval to build the facility. Opponents see the parking decision, at a recreation area that residents pushed for years to have built, as another indignity.

"We feel like we're being punished because the state and county felt like a family-friendly mall was the place for a vice like gambling," said Dixon, who said he voted against slots in last year's countywide ballot referendum. "This is our punishment. They take away our park."

Anne Arundel County officials agreed to allow Cordish Cos. employees and its construction contractors, as well as mall employees, to park on the grounds of the nearby county-owned sports stadium, with company officials operating a shuttle bus to ferry the employees the short distance to the mall.

County officials say the May 3 memorandum of understanding between Cordish and the county specifically prohibits parking at the park, but allows the area around the stadium to be used for temporary parking by both employees of Arundel Mills and casino employees.

According to the agreement, Cordish plans to contribute $50,000 "to be used solely for improvements" to the stadium.

Joseph Weinberg, president of development at Cordish, said his company is not using the area around the park area for parking. Weinberg said Cordish has employed full-time security at the stadium while the company uses the parking area, in addition to providing shuttle buses to transport mall employees and construction workers to the mall.

Weinberg said the parking plan is designed to "maximize customer parking" at the mall during the construction process. Cordish, in conjunction with mall management, is operating a "low-cost valet program" for mall customers at major entrances of the mall.

"We have a professional parking and transportation plan in place during construction to make the process seamless for the community, mall employees and customers," Weinberg said in an email. "Our parking plan is similar to the approach taken by major malls and other commercial facilities around the country during construction projects."

A mall spokeswoman referred questions to Cordish.

County Executive John R. Leopold said that he was not involved in ironing out the specifics of the agreement, which he said "sounded reasonable."

"This is the first I've heard of concerns," said Leopold. "If there are concerns, I will address them."

Dave Abrams, Leopold's spokesman, said the agreement makes clear that the park area is off-limits.

"If there are people parking where they shouldn't be, we'll take care of that," he said.

On Tuesday morning, workers were laying down mulch over the grassy fields outside the stadium, located less than a mile from the mall, to avoid damage to the grass. While the parking area was relatively empty, nearby residents said it gets busy on weekends.

A metal divider separates the surface parking lots for the stadium and the park, which includes a basketball court, tennis courts a playground and a pavilion with tables, but the park parking lot is accessible from another roadway.

Large tire tracks in the grassy area around the park's parking lot were visible. Dixon, the community association president, said they were from large buses transporting mall patrons parking there over the weekend. Weinberg did not specifically respond to that claim.

"On the weekend, people can't use this park, period," said Dixon.

Rusty Bristow, who lives nearby, decried the county's decision.

"Whoever decided to do this just didn't think," he said, adding that Cordish would have better served the community by seeking out other alternatives, including parking at nearby Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

County Councilman Daryl Jones, who represents the area around the mall, said he was aware of the parking agreement and would monitor it.

"If there's just employees that are parking at Joe Cannon Stadium and being shuttled to the mall, that shouldn't be an issue," said Jones, a Democrat who opposed slots at the mall. "But if the parking is overflowing to the park, that's another story. I'll be monitoring it."

nicole.fuller@baltsun.com

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