Redskins stadium friends, foes set to kick off hearing


Building a Redskins football stadium near Laurel is like "trying to fit an elephant into a hose," opponents say. But supporters predict the stadium will be a money machine, bringing at least $2.245 billion to Maryland and Anne Arundel County coffers over the next 75 years.

For the first time since word got around in December that Jack Kent Cooke planned to build a $160-million home for his team, both sides will get a chance tomorrow to present their interpretations in a formal setting when Anne Arundel's zoning hearing begins tomorrow.

Robert C. Wilcox, the county's administrative hearing officer, said he expects the hearing on the Redskins' request for a special exception and seven variances for the 78,600-seat stadium to be one of the largest, if not the largest, in county history. He even has moved the hearing, which will start at 9 a.m., from the County Council chambers at the Arundel Center to the auditorium at Meade Senior High School to accommodate more people.

The special exception would allow the Redskins to build the stadium in an industrial zone. The variances would give the Redskins permission to deviate from county requirements on issues such as parking, landscaping and the time allowed to complete the project.

"I believe the key points are going to be the traffic and the compatibility with surrounding land uses," said Kevin Dooley, the Anne Arundel planner who will deliver the county staff's recommendations.

The hearing officer must rule on those issues as well as whether there is a public need for the stadium. But neither the county code, nor the state courts have defined "public need," Mr. Wilcox said.

Walter Lynch, the Redskins' project manager for the stadium, said the team plans to make a case for public need based on the economic benefit to Anne Arundel County and Maryland because of taxes generated by the stadium.

But Jeanne Mignon, president of Citizens Against the Stadium II, said she has "read study after study that shows otherwise."

Stadiums don't generate huge revenues, but do bring long-term infrastructure costs, she said. Whatever money a Laurel stadium would raise would have to be shared with Howard, Prince George's and Montgomery counties and the city of Laurel, she said.

As they await the hearing, Redskins officials launched a publicity campaign to introduce the team to its prospective neighbors. The campaign included a "family day" that drew 6,500 people to the proposed stadium site in Laurel yesterday.

The day included punting, running and throwing clinics for children, led by Redskins players. Among the guests were Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., of Prince George's County, House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., of Allegany County, and state Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein.

The hearing will begin with Mr. Dooley's presentation of the county staff's recommendations. The Redskins will present their experts on topics such as traffic control, environmental protection and noise, and lawyers for stadium opponents will get to cross-examine each witness.

Then, the stadium opponents will be able to make their arguments and the Redskins' lawyers will get to cross-examine those witnesses.

"We've got to show that this particular use at this particular location is more adverse than the same use would be in another location," said Thomas Dernoga, an attorney for Citizens Against the Stadium II.

After the attorneys for the stadium opponents' groups are finished speaking, other individuals may testify. Because so many people are expected to take part, Mr. Wilcox said, some time limit may be placed on individual testimony. However, he said he did not yet know what that time limit would be.

Mr. Wilcox said he would require all the Redskins' witnesses to be present throughout the hearing, in order to answer questions.

People do not have to live in Anne Arundel County to testify at the hearing, he said.

"If I'm going to sin, and I probably will more than once, I'm going to sin on the side of inclusion rather than exclusion," Mr. Wilcox said.

The hearing, which is expected to take a week, will run from 9 a.m. until about 5 p.m. daily, with at least one evening session. The date for the evening session has not been set, but Mr. Wilcox said he hopes to give the public at least two days' notice.

Those wishing to speak must sign up, but they do not have to attend every session of the hearing.

Mr. Wilcox is expected to reach a decision within 30 days of the hearing's end.

However, Mr. Dooley cautioned, "An approval at this stage does not give them [the Redskins] the automatic right to develop the stadium."

Nor will the hearing settle questions related to stadium funding or details of plans to make up for destruction of wetlands, Mr. Dooley said.

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