Slots zoning backed

The Baltimore Sun

Despite adamant opposition from local homeowners who say that a newly proposed slots parlor at Arundel Mills would attract crime, traffic and some unsavory company, elected county officials say they will work with community members to figure out the best way to pass slots zoning legislation.

Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold said that although he is against expanding gambling, Marylanders voted for the referendum last fall, and he will work to draft legislation that accommodates the surrounding communities, should the state approve either or both of the proposed sites.

"I don't think it would be fitting or appropriate to step on the voice of the people," Leopold said. "That issue has been decided."

Last week, the state received two bids for slots parlors in the county, at Arundel Mills and the Laurel Park racetrack. The county executive said the proposed legislation would accommodate both sites. Arundel was the only jurisdiction in the state to receive two bids.

"I'm pleased that there is competition," Leopold said.

Developer David Cordish, president of Baltimore-based The Cordish Cos., envisions a billion-dollar entertainment, retail and residential complex for the Arundel Mills project that would create 2,000 construction jobs and be separate from the mall.

Currently, Anne Arundel County's zoning laws do not permit slots. Leopold said he plans to submit a bill to the County Council in the next 40 days that would change that. Although a state commission will decide which sites, if any, will be chosen for the parlors, the county government's role is large - if the government does not enact a new zoning law, no slots can come to the county.

After Leopold submits his bill, the County Council will take public comment on it before voting. Assuming its passage, the county executive would then have to sign it into law.

Council Chairman Edward R. Reilly, who represents the county's 7th District, said that even though he voted against slots, "the people have spoken" and the council must craft legislation that "minimizes impact" for the communities surrounding the sites.

"I'm taking a very cautious, slow look because of the possible impact on the neighborhoods," Reilly said.

"Whatever legislation we consider should not anoint one vendor over another. It should be broad enough to handle all of the suitors but strict enough so we can handle the impact."

But Joseline Castanos, who has lived in a single-family home near Arundel Mills for seven years, said no matter how it's sliced, a slots parlor at the mall is a bad idea.

"I can't even think what would happen if we have a casino, basically, down the street from our homes," said Castanos, 36. She lives in Chapel Ridge Village, which is part of the Villages of Dorchester community near the mall.

Castanos said when she moved to Hanover from Laurel, she tried to escape an increasing crime problem.

"Here I move to the Hanover area, which was nice and quiet back then, and now safety issues are driving us out again," she said.

If the slots parlor is built at Arundel Mills, she would "seriously consider" selling her home, even in such a tough market.

"It's definitely not something I want to have down the street from where I'm raising my children," said Castanos, a mother of two.

Alok Banga, also a Villages of Dorchester resident, took a similar stance.

"Are we running out of ideas for raising money?" said Banga, 37. "We're already lacking behind in an education sector and already high on the crime side because of the mall. ... If we have slots, then that's definitely a step in the wrong direction."

Daryl Jones, the councilman for the 1st District, which includes Arundel Mills, said he has made a call to arrange a meeting with the Cordish Cos. and a separate meeting with community association presidents to discuss the matter.

"I certainly have a lot of concern with regards to the proposed location at Arundel Mills," Jones said. "A lot of concerns are raised on my part because really out of nowhere this proposal came."

Josh Cohen, councilman for the 6th District, said one thing he will watch closely when the bill comes before the council is the impact slots will have on local businesses.

"If you took all the slot machines at the Mirage Casino in Las Vegas and doubled them, you still wouldn't have as many machines as are proposed for Anne Arundel County," Cohen said, referring to the 4,750 machines proposed for Arundel Mills. "Make no mistake, this debate is about fundamentally changing the economic landscape of our county."

Cohen added that he thinks slots will be bad for business in downtown Annapolis, which is already struggling.

"People just do not have much disposable income, and a casino-style slots palace ... is going to draw from the exact same customer base that our established businesses are counting on," he said. "In an economy like the one we have now, it's just the complete opposite of what a good economic policy should be. We should be looking to support locally owned businesses and put money back into the local economy."

Not all Marylanders agree that slots are bad for Arundel Mills. Dave Borle, an Anne Arundel resident who was grabbing lunch at the mall Wednesday, said he would support the proposal "as long as it's controlled properly."

"I don't really care, other than the parking issue," said Borle, 48. "I'm worried about the infrastructure around here."

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For more views on a proposed slots parlor at Arundel Mills, go to:

baltimoresun.com/annearundel

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