The county zoning board has agreed to rezone 24 acres of land for construction of a neighborhood shopping center on the former Freestate Raceway site in North Laurel.

The 320,000-square-foot shopping center will include a grocery store, bowling alley and movie theater.

"We're pleased. . . . It's going to have a very positive benefit for the neighborhood and the community and for both the county and its citizens," said David Carney, the Columbia attorney who represents Freestate Associates Limited Partnership.

Wednesday's zoning boarddecision, which involved changing the zoning from light industrial to commercial, went against a recommendation by county planning and zoning staffers, who urged the board to delay a decision until comprehensive rezoning of that area next year.

But Carney argued against the delay, saying the change was consistent with the county's 20-year land-use plan.

After listening to those arguments, as well as endorsements from local residents, the planning board in November recommended the rezoning.

Residents have said they would welcome closer shopping because of heavy traffic in downtown Laurel.

The partnership, an affiliate of Finland-based lender Skopbank, had planned to develop the former harness track into a warehouse/ industrial park. Washington-based Cafritz Group started the project but transferred its interest to Skopbank, the lender for the project, when several of its projects ran into financial difficulty.

"If that area had to be developed, then having a commercial area in it would be better than having just warehouses," said William Waff of Savage, one of three members of a citizens committee advising the partnership.

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