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Planning Commission approves plan for expanding Pimlico Race Course


The city Planning Commission has approved a proposal to expand Pimlico Race Course into an entertainment complex beyond horse racing, but it struck down plans for a hotel at the site.

Walter Lynch, project manager for Pimlico redevelopment, said he was comfortable with the changes suggested last week by the commission.

The commission will forward a list of recommendations to the City Council, which will decide whether to allow the Maryland Jockey Club's request for a planned unit development for the Northwest Baltimore track.

The council also will receive recommendations from city land-use and transportation committees, among others, before it takes a vote on the plan.

Track owners want to build a new grandstand, larger track, theaters, banquet halls and a hotel at a site that they hope could become a weekend destination for concerts, conventions, horse racing and slot-machine gambling.

The proposal includes building structures at Pimlico to house slot machines should the state legislature choose to legalize the gaming terminals and authorize their use at racetracks.

Track owners insist that horse racing would remain the primary attraction, and the Planning Commission, in a staff report, suggested that Pimlico maintain racing each year for a season set by the Maryland Racing Commission.

Some commissioners were concerned how the proposed changes would affect residents in the crowded, family-oriented neighborhoods surrounding the track.

Several community meetings have been held on the proposal. Those who opposed the plan usually complained about the hotel, increased traffic and pollution and slot machines.

Track owners had said they would revise their proposal to reflect community concerns, but in the end presented the same bill that was introduced in October, when the proposal was delayed to invite comment.

Responding to residents

Concerns from the community were not lost on the commission, which is recommending the hotel be deleted from the proposal and suggested road improvements to ease traffic problems.

If slots are legalized and allowed at Pimlico, it would take a separate city bill and council vote for the machines to be authorized.

Lynch said that perhaps a decade from now, or longer, track owners could again ask for the hotel.

"It was in the bill, but we really didn't have it in our plans," said Lynch. "We thought that if it factors in our plans later, we would come back to the community at that time."

Among other recommendations, the commission also suggested concerts and festivals each be limited to five a year instead of 10 requested by the Maryland Jockey Club. It also recommended that all outdoor events end by 10 p.m. instead of midnight.

Preakness Stakes

Overall, the Planning Commission was congenial, acknowledging that the track is deteriorating and applauding developers for coming up with a schedule that would allow the Preakness Stakes Triple Crown race to continue at Pimlico during the construction.

The plan also is contingent on Pimlico completing landscaping and parking requirements that it agreed upon with the city 30 years ago but never finished.

The commission and the track owners are trying to agree to a deadline for that work to be done before wholesale structural changes and additions begin, should the plan receive approval from the council.

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