Arundel planners tentatively back stadium


Anne Arundel County planning officials said they generally approve of a proposed $160 million stadium in Laurel and will give the project a qualified endorsement at a zoning hearing today.

The county is withholding full approval because of concern over assumptions in the Redskins' traffic study and insufficient information on the impact lighting and noise will have on the neighborhood, county sources said.

Planners will ask administrative hearing officer Robert C. Wilcox to look closely at the Redskins' traffic study, which says car pools and mass transit -- including 200 luxury charter buses and MARC trains -- will allow the team to achieve an occupancy rate of 3.5 fans per automobile.

The team needs to reach that goal because only 20,077 parking spaces will be provided.

Anne Arundel officials said they have no basis for evaluating the study's claims because no other National Football League stadium has the conditions that will be faced in Laurel.

Planners said they have asked the Redskins for studies of how lighting and noise from the 78,600-seat stadium will affect the neighborhood, but have not received the reports.

Planners said without that information, they could not give an unqualified endorsement.

Walter Lynch, the Redskins project manager, was pleased to learn about the endorsement.

"That's big news," he said. "Obviously, you always hope for the best, but you just don't know, and I couldn't get any indication out of [County Executive] Bobby Neall.

"What a surprise," was the sarcastic reaction of Jeanne Mignon, president of Citizens Against the Stadium II, who expected the county's recommendation.

"It's a bad plan, they know it's a bad plan. I hope Mr. Wilcox looks very critically at what's out here and uses good judgment.

"The specs speak for themselves," she said. "This thing does not fit where they want to put it."

A hearing on the Redskins' application for a special exception and seven variances is scheduled to begin today at 9 a.m. at Meade Senior High School.

The Redskins need the special exception to build the stadium in an industrial zone. They also have asked for variances to county laws governing parking, landscaping and time to complete the project.

Kevin Dooley, a county planner, will present Anne Arundel's response to the Redskins' application.

The county agrees with the Redskins' request to reduce the number of parking spaces by nearly half to the 20,077, as well as three variances to extend the time allotted to complete the project.

Planners oppose the Redskins' request to reduce the width of parking spaces from 9 feet to 8 feet. But the Redskins' Mr. Lynch said the county code on parking spaces is based on businesses such as shopping malls, where parking is unsupervised.

"There are a number of parking spaces around the NFL that are 8 feet," Mr. Lynch said.

The parking spaces will be used 10 to 18 times a year and people will be directed where to park. "We just see it as environmentally sound to reduce the amount of asphalt," Mr. Lynch said.

County planners also said they don't want large expanses of asphalt at the stadium. They plan to ask the Redskins to modify their plan to put the required landscaping in several concentrated buffers, instead of interspersed in islands throughout the parking lot.

Mr. Lynch said he will work with the county, but believes it's better to group trees in large numbers.

"History has shown that trees don't survive in the middle of a parking lot," he said. "They survive better when they're clumped together."

The county also will require that the stadium site be subdivided into two lots, with the Laurel Race Course on one and the stadium on the other. Officials describe this move as a formality.

Planners also will ask Mr. Wilcox to keep stadium traffic off local streets and to restrict parking in the neighborhood. That can be accomplished by passing a county ordinance prohibiting stadium parking and by hiring police officers to enforce parking laws.

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