After minor amendments were adopted last night, the Anne Arundel County Council delayed a vote on legislation that would have cleared the way for funding for dormitories to house workers who groom and exercise thoroughbreds at Laurel Park and live year-round on the backstretch.

Because the bill was amended, the council has to seek public comment on the measure before it can take a final vote.

One councilman questioned the need to spend federal and state dollars on a private enterprise.

"This is private land, a private facility," said Councilman William C. Mulford III. "It's a little city. It's been set up really to serve the people, not the animals."

But several community leaders last night spoke in favor of replacing the dilapidated housing.

Ray Smallwood, president of the Maryland City Civic Association, said residents have wanted to see the backstretch housing "cleaned up" for years.

"Who has to pay for it, that's really not our concern," he said.

The council could vote on the legislation next month.

A coalition that includes track management, a nonprofit community development organization and philanthropist and developer Jim Ryan wants to build the housing with a $1 million loan through the state and a $300,000 federal deferred loan through the county.

An additional $450,000 would come from the Federal Home Loan Bank, and the Ryan Family Foundation has made a $100,000 donation.

The money would pay for two two-story buildings with 18 one-room units and a recreation room in each building. Unlike the current housing, each room would have a full bathroom and air conditioning. The plan calls for six buildings to be built eventually on land owned by the track across the street from the stable area.

Robert DiPietro, president of the real estate division of the Maryland Jockey Club, has defended the plan to use public loans to build the housing. The jockey club is part-owner and manager of Laurel Park.

"We're trying to do something that's not on the public's back," DiPietro said. "This is not any subsidy from the county and the state. There's no stadium authority building parking lots or grandstands."

On a recent day at the track, backstretch workers had mixed reactions to the proposal.

"I think this is great," resident Linda Wilhelm said of the plan.

Laura Ahlgren, 41, a hot walker, likes the life she has established in the old dorms. "I can't complain too much about something that's free," she said.

Pub Date: 4/23/97

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