Stadium foes dealt setback


An article in The Sun yesterday incorrectly reported a exchange between Robert C. Wilcox, Anne Arundel County administrative hearing officer, and participants at the zoning hearing on the Redskins' proposal to build a football stadium in Laurel. Mr. Wilcox chided the Redskins' lawyers -- not Citizens Against the Stadium II -- for offering a weak argument that was "held together by bubble gum and paper clips."

The Sun regrets the errors.

The Washington Redskins survived two legal challenges from opponents of their proposed NFL stadium in Laurel during the opening moments of a public hearing yesterday at Meade Senior High School.

Robert C. Wilcox, an Anne Arundel County administrative hearing officer, rejected a claim that the Redskins were not registered to do business in Maryland when the zoning application was filed in April.

He also turned aside a challenge to a signature on the application itself.

Thomas Dernoga, a lawyer for Citizens Against the Stadium II, asked Mr. Wilcox to throw out Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke's zoning applications because his organization, Jack Kent Cooke Inc., was not registered with the state, according to tax records.

"We believe that to continue these hearings would be a violation of public policy," Mr. Dernoga said.

Redskins lawyer Harry Blumenthal replied that last Friday Mr. Cooke transferred rights to pursue the application to Maryland City Acquisition Corp., which is registered to do business in Maryland.

Mr. Wilcox told Mr. Dernoga that his argument was weak. "At best it's held together by bubble gum and paper clips," he said.

Mr. Dernoga then challenged the signature of County Executive Robert R. Neall on the Redskins' application.

Mr. Neall signed the application because the county owns Brock Bridge Road, which runs through the stadium site. Landowners' signatures are required on the application.

Mr. Dernoga argued that a public hearing on the status of Brock Bridge Road must precede the zoning hearing.

Mr. Wilcox said such a hearing could be held after the zoning issue is decided.

During a break in the hearing, Mr. Blumenthal labeled the legal wrangling "much ado about nothing."

"This is just lawyering by people who are looking to delay the case," he said.

Mr. Dernoga said Mr. Wilcox's actions were, in a sense, good news for stadium opponents because they constitute grounds to appeal the case.

"I think it seems like the law is not being adhered to," said Marianne Schwartz, 39, of Laurel. "No matter what, Wilcox wants the hearing to go on."

"Laurel isn't the right site for a stadium of this size," said Beverly Kohn, 41, of Laurel. "But money speaks at this hearing. Jack Kent Cook has Anne Arundel County in his pocket and it shows because they will stop at nothing to get what they want, regardless."

But Mr. Wilcox told opponents at the beginning of the hearing that the County Council years ago approved zoning that would allow a stadium in the site next to Laurel Race Course. The only question, he said, is whether the Redskins can meet a list of requirements, including adequate roads and sewers, a public need for the stadium and compatibility with neighboring developments.

The county never has defined "public need," but Kevin Dooley, a county planner, testified that the team's waiting lengthy waiting list for season tickets could be evidence of need.

The Redskins need the special exception to build the 78,600-seat stadium in an industrial zone. They also have asked for seven variances to county laws governing parking, landscaping and time to complete the project.

During the afternoon, Mr. Wilcox said he would consider only one of two site plans submitted by the Redskins.

The second plan, submitted last Friday, shows where the Redskins would move the racetrack's stables if Howard County officials denied permission to move them to Howard County.

"The alternative plan will not be admitted into evidence at this time because the county has not reviewed it and given it a recommendation, and without a recommendation I am left in a vacuum," Mr. Wilcox said.

He also rejected one of the seven variances requested by the Redskins, which would have given Robert Dvorak, director of the county office of Planning and Code Enforcement, the power to reduce the number of parking spaces required at the stadium without requiring the Redskins to reserve any additional land for parking.

Mr. Wilcox said he did not have the authority over Mr. Dvorak. In any case, he said, the request was redundant because the Redskins also asked for a variance that would reduce the number of parking spaces required outright.

About 200 supporters and opponents of Mr. Cooke's proposed $160 million stadium gathered in the auditorium at Meade Senior High School yesterday morning for the beginning of the zoning ** hearing, which is expected to take more than a week.

Opponents wore T-shirts that read "Stop the Stadium in Laurel," while supporters sported buttons reading "Touch Down in Laurel."

Mr. Dooley said county planners had conditionally approved the special exception, provided the Redskins satisfy the hearing officer that their traffic studies are valid.

He said the Redskins also must provide acceptable studies of noise levels and light pollution to be generated by the proposed stadium.

He also recommended 20 other conditions on the county's approval, including compliance with various agencies' requirements for protection of forests, wetlands and flood plains.

4( His recommendations are not binding.

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