An unusual proposal to build dormitory-style housing for impoverished backstretch workers at Laurel Park would combine million in federal, state and private funds.
It appears that the project would be the first in the state to use government funding to build housing for the people who are employed by thoroughbred trainers and owners to exercise and care for horses year-round.
Officials of Laurel Park, the county, the state and some track neighbors say the financial assistance is needed to replace the old, dilapidated, cinder-block buildings that house more than 200 men and women on track property.
But some Anne Arundel County Council members and residents are unhappy about spending public money for private employers.
"I am trying to find out why Anne Arundel County is using federal funds to do this," County Councilman William C. Mulford II told a council committee preparing for the April 22 vote on the issue. "It seems like we're stretching pretty far here. This is specifically benefiting people at the racetrack."
Joining forces on the proposal are the Enterprise Foundation, a nonprofit corporation that largely funded the revitalization of Sandtown-Winchester and Penn-North in Baltimore; the Ryan Family Foundation of developer and philanthropist Jim Ryan, which has donated $100,000; and the Maryland Jockey Club, manager and part-owner of Laurel Park.
The plan for Laurel Commons, as the housing would be known, dTC calls for two two-story buildings of 19 rooms each on 3 acres across from the backstretch.
About 70 residents would be accommodated at first, but long-range plans call for six buildings. Each unit would have a full bathroom and air-conditioning,
Rent would range from $103 a month per person in a double room to $125 a month in a single room, said Chickie Grayson, president of Enterprise Construction Corp., an Enterprise Foundation subsidiary. Most of the grooms, exercise riders and hot walkers are paid about minimum wage.
Resident managers and counselors would live in the housing and would work with residents who needed substance-abuse counseling, education and other services, Grayson said.
The County Council might vote next week on two bills that would clear the way for a $1 million loan through the state and a $300,000 federal grant through the county to help finance the project. An additional $450,000 would come from the Federal Home Loan Bank.
The council shelved the measures last fall after community groups worried that federal regulations would require opening the housing to the general public. But federal Housing and Urban Development officials determined that occupancy could be restricted.
"This is a special case, special but not illegal," said Charles Halm, community planning and development representative in the state HUD office.
"We didn't want to see it be Section 8 housing," said Ray Smallwood, president of the Maryland Civic Association and a supporter of the proposal. "When you put people that have no job and nothing to do, and you give them a place to live that's when problems seem to happen," such as crime and drug trafficking.
Benjamin Bruce-Doe, who lives in Bacontown, a neighborhood bordering track-owned property, said the project would take money away from more needy communities such as his.
Laurel Park, he said, is "a corporate entity and a money-making enterprise. Why is it that they need [government] largess? They can very well build those houses and then rent it out and recoup their money."
The funding is not a handout, said Robert DiPietro, president of the real estate division of the Maryland Jockey Club.
"We are taking advantage of loans and programs that are available in general," DiPietro said. "All we're doing is using [the programs] to take care of a group of very needy, hard-working people."
The club will guarantee the $1 million loan and pay for utilities and operating expenses, he said.
Pub Date: 4/15/97