No casinos, but lawn mower racing still OK at Maryland State Fairgrounds

Representatives from both the Maryland State Fair and the Greater Timonium Community Council spoke on Tuesday in support of a bill that would create a new zoning overlay for the State Fairgrounds in Timonium.

The bill would create a "mercantile exposition" overlay district designed to protect the community against slots or gambling at the fairgrounds — but still allow the Maryland State Fair to continue its operations and build upon it, if they find a need.

The bill is scheduled for a vote at the County Council meeting Monday, April 2, at 6 p.m.

"I'm here generally in support of the bill," said Eric Rockel, president of the Greater Timonium Community Council, at the March 27 County Council work session.

Rockel said the fairgrounds tract is "such a large and strategic parcel, (and) the community has always been concerned that some things could happen with the use of the land that would be deleterious to the community."

Rockel said the bill addresses many of the association's concerns and was a "good first step," but added that in an ideal world, it would have added sports arenas and convention centers to the list of prohibited establishments in such an overlay. That list already includes slots and casinos.

David Thaler, an engineer who spoke on behalf of the Maryland State Fair, said

the fair organization is supportive of the bill as well.

"I think it's almost impossible to overstate the importance of the State Fair as an amenity to Baltimore County and an economic development engine," Thaler said. "We understand what everybody wants is that the fair continues doing what it's always been doing."

For that to happen, however, Thaler suggested some small adjustments to the bill — namely including some of the fairground's more non-traditional activities, such as lawn mower racing, in the bill language as allowable functions.

Councilman Todd Huff, who represents the 3rd District and who crafted the bill, called it a "win-win."

"It protects the fairground and gives them the ability to build when they need to build with the proper zoning, without having to go through the cycle every four years to get their zoning changed," Huff said.

"The protection of the overlay part is to keep casinos out of the Maryland State Fair, which will then in turn make the community happy," he said.

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