As public hearings begin next dooor in Anne Arundel County on Jack Kent Cooke's proposed stadium in Laurel, you won't find us cheering wildly from the sidelines.
The project belongs 14 miles up the road, next to Oriole Park on a site designed specifically for that purpose. But the Redskins are talking about putting a 78,000-seat stadium and enough parking for 27,000 cars in the middle of suburbia, where roads and other infrastructure cannot handle the burden without expensive, taxpayer-funded improvements. The concept defies the planning logic that has made Camden Yards a success. As the Redskins move through the zoning process, they must prove that a football stadium does belong in Laurel.
The first step is the hearing scheduled to start today before Anne Arundel Administrative Hearing Officer Robert C. Wilcox. He will decide whether the Redskins qualify for a special exception to zoning rules, without which they cannot build the stadium, plus variances to certain building restrictions. If they hope to win a favorable verdict, the Redskins must show that the project will not damage the public health and welfare; that it is compatible with the surrounding neighborhoods; that roads, sewers and other public facilities are adequate; and that a public need exists for a stadium.
Of course, determining "public need" (which is not defined under Anne Arundel zoning law) and damage to the public health and welfare is an inexact science. This case is especially complicated because it is unclear whose needs and welfare should take precedence. The state's? Maryland has long sought an NFL football franchise, so Mr. Wilcox could decide that constitutes public need. Anne Arundel County's? There's no question the county, which is laboring under a cap on property taxes, could use the stadium tax revenue to help satisfy demands for new schools, roads, etc. And what about the people of Laurel, southern Howard County and western Anne Arundel, who feel the activity around a stadium will ruin the quality of their communities?
No matter what Mr. Wilcox decides, this case will be appealed by one side or the other, first to the county Board of Appeals, then to Circuit Court. When the final verdict comes down, we hope it is based on the merits of the case: whether the Redskins have proven that football belongs in Laurel.