In Middle River, rumors about the proposed Asian-theme development are running rampant -- from talk of fortune-telling operations to a seedy dog track. There are also the predictable fears of overcrowded classes, pot-holed roads and insufficient housing resulting from the new jobs and increased tourism Worldbridge would create. So it is understandable that public debate on this issue has been filled with apprehension -- particularly as County Council members consider zoning legislation that developer Dean Gitter needs to get financing for the $500 million project.
Turning 1,300 acres into a giant trade and retail center along with an Epcot Center-like amusement park would put a strain on local roads, schools and sewage treatment facilities. But with state funding for roads and some manner of local impact fees, most of the costs and problems probably could be addressed. In any case, the potential economic benefits undoubtedly would prod local and state lawmakers to try; the project would create 4,000 new jobs and generate badly needed tax revenue for both the county and the state.
We suspect, however, that there is more to public skepticism over Worldbridge than sewers and zoning. An information packet we received from one opposition group, for instance, questions whether Worldbridge would bring "Chinese labor/housing in Essex," and parenthetically adds ("low-income apartments"). The group also frets over "heroin cartels from Asian interests." Not all opponents are motivated by such nonsense, of course. Clearly, there are legitimate concerns over a project of this scope. But if racial stereotyping becomes one of them, the county is in more trouble than any that Worldbridge could create.
Most important, perhaps, the proposal the council is considering would not give the developer the go-ahead. It would merely put the project on the bureaucratic track. Gitter would still have to get financial backing and come up with detailed plans, which would then have to go through a stringent approval process. There seems no danger in providing that chance.