The Washington Redskins' bid to build a $160 million football stadium in Laurel was resoundingly rejected yesterday by an Anne Arundel County planning official.
Administrative Hearing Officer Robert C. Wilcox turned down seven of the Redskins' eight zoning requests and only partly granted the last, saying that "this was not a close case."
"The applicant's traffic estimates were vastly understated. Simply stated, the property is too small for the proposed use," Mr. Wilcox wrote in his decision.
The decision disappointed Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke, who immediately filed an appeal. But it elated stadium opponents, including Gov. William D. Schaefer and officials in Washington who vowed to renew their efforts to lure the team back.
Mr. Cooke issued a statement expressing unhappiness at what he called a temporary delay.
He added, however, that "Wilcox' decision provides us with a road map to cure the faults he envisions. We have learned from it and will examine it further. We intend vigorously to pursue our object" of building a stadium in "Anne Arundel County."
Mr. Schaefer saw Mr. Cooke's options differently.
"The Redskins are a Washington team. He knows it, but he wanted the whole state," Mr. Schaefer said. "That greed of trying to get the whole thing, it looks like it won't happen."
District of Columbia officials saw the decision as an opportunity.
"We're very excited about [the] news," said Unnia Pettus,
spokeswoman for outgoing Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly. "We hope this leads to the conclusion of keeping the Redskins at their home here in Washington. We are willing and able to continue negotiations with Mr. Cooke at any time."
On Dec. 7, after failing to get approval for a new stadium in Virginia or Washington, Mr. Cooke announced that he would develop a site next to the Laurel Race Course. Local opposition sprouted up overnight as residents, clergy and environmentalists banded together to plan their assault on Mr. Cooke's proposal.
The appeal could be heard by the seven-member county Board of Appeals as early as December, but it might not be scheduled until next year, county officials said.
The opponents planned a celebration last night at the home of Jeanne Mignon, president of Citizens Against the Stadium II, a group named for an organization that fought Mr. Cooke's Virginia proposal.
"The delightful surprise is, common sense ruled. Courage ruled," she said.
She dismissed the Redskins' quick filing of an appeal as "saber-rattling," saying her group would carry on the battle.
"My feeling is that we will win in the long run," she said. "You still can't fit a size 12 foot into a size 5 shoe."
In his a 64-page decision, Mr. Wilcox wrote that he was forced to deny the Redskins' request for a special exception to build a stadium on land zoned for industry. He said the stadium would draw at least 4,000 more vehicles than the Redskins had forecast. Traffic would clog several intersections and harm public health, safety and welfare, he said.
He denied Mr. Cooke's request for a waiver on planting trees in stadium parking lots, saying that to grant it would result in "an open sea of concrete and asphalt which would be aesthetically ill-conceived and environmentally dangerous."
Mr. Wilcox also denied the Redskins' request for 8-foot-wide parking spaces instead of the required 9-foot spaces.
Mr. Wilcox handed the Redskins a partial victory in response to their request to cut in half the number of parking spaces, from 39,300 to 20,077. He said at least 24,100 spaces must be provided.
He wrote that the county law requiring one parking space for every two seats in a stadium is "excessive and unrealistic."
Mr. Wilcox also said the Redskins' assumption that they could achieve vehicle occupancy rates of 3.5 people per car was "without merit." He said the Redskins had relied on comparisons with other NFL stadiums that were "highly selective and self-serving."
Mr. Wilcox praised both sides for their preparation but lightly admonished some witnesses.
"This Hearing Officer remains unmoved by the apocalyptic and exaggerated claims of some opposition groups," he wrote. "I reject, for example, the notion that 'Bacontown will
cease to exist' or that Laurel residents will be 'prisoners in their own homes' if the stadium is built. Church groups are simply wrong when they say that their 'First Amendment right to worship will be denied' because of Sunday traffic."
He criticized the Redskins for not supporting their argument that the stadium would be an economic boon to the state.
"There was no evidence to support promised tax riches, significant employment opportunities or widespread business development," he wrote. "Economic impact studies were noticeably absent."
Michael Lofton, executive director of the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp., said his group might be able to provide a detailed economic analysis of the stadium's impact for the appeal.
Mr. Schaefer, who would like to see an NFL team in Baltimore and thought Mr. Cooke had blocked those attempts, said his message has remained the same since the Redskins owner first proposed moving to Maryland: "Go back to Washington where you belong. . . . Let Baltimore have its team."
Orioles owner Peter Angelos, who also is trying to lure an NFL team to Baltimore, called the zoning decision "a very significant setback for Cooke."
"The appropriate location for the Redskins is in Washington," Mr. Angelos said.
Walter Lynch, stadium project manager for the Redskins, declined to comment on whether the decision made the options of remaining in the District of Columbia or moving to Virginia more attractive.
He declined to say whether the Redskins were considering other sites in Maryland or whether they were hoping to purchase more land at their Laurel site.
Washington's Democratic mayoral nominee, Marion S. Barry Jr., who is heavily favored to be elected next month, said he talked with Mr. Cooke yesterday afternoon.
Both gubernatorial candidates said they might work with Mr. Cooke to find an alternative site for a stadium in Maryland.
Democrat Parris N. Glendening, who as Prince George's County executive opposed the Redskins' proposal, said Mr. Cooke "tried to muscle through solutions that simply weren't realistic."
He said he hopes that Mr. Cooke will return to Washington or seek state help in finding a new site, "rather than just appealing and trying to push through this plan politically or with legal talent."
Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey said the decision on the stadium belongs to Anne Arundel County.
"I'm not going to go out and beat the drums for this project," she said. "I wouldn't view this as good riddance. This may be the only way Maryland gets a major-league football team. But I wouldn't turn the government upside down to keep the Redskins."
The candidates for Anne Arundel County executive split yesterday.
Democrat Theodore J. Sophocleus said he will ask the county attorneys to defend the hearing officer's decision if he is elected. He said he has never been convinced that the NFL team would benefit the county. Republican John G. Gary said: "I believe the Redskins stadium is a viable economic growth issue for the county, and I would hope the team would carry it all the way through the appeals process."
In his 64-page decision denying the Redskins request, Administrative Hearing Officer Robert C. Wilcox:
* DENIED: A request for a "special exception," allowing a stadium to be built on land zoned for industry. He said the stadium would generate at least 4,000 more cars than predicted, overwhelming roads and clogging intersections.
* DENIED: A request to plant 66 percent of the 2,652 required trees around the parking lot rather than within the lot. Mr. Wilcox said it "would result in an open sea of concrete and asphalt which would be aesthetically ill-conceived and environmentally dangerous."
* DENIED: A request to reduce the width of parking spaces by a foot. Mr. Wilcox ruled that the 9-foot requirement was not unreasonable and that the Redskins proved no unusual circumstances.
* GRANTED: A request for a reduction in parking spaces. The county requires 39,300; The Redskins wanted to build 20,077. Mr. Wilcox granted a 39 percent reduction to 24,100 spaces.
* DISMISSED: A request for reaffirmation of an earlier ruling that granted a 25 percent decrease in the number of parking spaces required, which is being appealed by stadium opponents.