Slots zoning bill gains

The Baltimore Sun

The Anne Arundel County Council is considering a bill that would change zoning laws to allow electronic slots in the county, despite a request by one councilman to hold off on the bill's introduction so that more research can be done on the impact it could have on the county.

Councilman Daryl Jones, a Severn Democrat, said the way the bill is written could limit other possible locations for slots casinos in the county. He also expressed concern that the council has not had enough time to explore what ramifications a casino could have on the communities near Arundel Mills mall.

"There is no reason for this body to be in a rush to do this legislation," said Jones, who represents District 1, which includes Arundel Mills.

The bill, proposed by County Executive John R. Leopold, is the first step required in changing zoning laws to legalize slots in Anne Arundel County. The bill would allow conditional uses of "video lottery facilities" in certain zoning districts and regional commercial complexes.

Anne Arundel, the only county in the state to receive bids for two sites for slots parlors, does not allow electronic slots parlors.

The bill introduced at Monday's County Council meeting would require that the parlors be accessible to an arterial road within two miles of Route 295. Both of the slots sites on which bids have been offered - Arundel Mills in Hanover and Laurel Park racetrack - meet that requirement. The legislation also addresses parking, lighting and alcohol.

David Cordish, president of Baltimore-based the Cordish Cos., wants to build a billion-dollar entertainment, retail and residential complex at Arundel Mills. Magna Entertainment Corp., parent company of Laurel Park, submitted a bid to put a slots parlor at the track, but was disqualified by state officials for not paying required application fees, and the matter is in litigation. The company also filed for bankruptcy protection Thursday in a federal court in Delaware.

Many residents of the communities near Arundel Mills have expressed concern and surprise over the Arundel Mills proposal. They have raised questions about traffic, safety and property values.

Jones said it is no "mystery" that when the slots debate arose, Laurel Park made plans to move forward with such a project, and Arundel Mills wasn't on most people's radars.

"To try to do in four weeks what other areas have had four years [to do] ... is an insurmountable task," he said.

Leopold said "the process will not be rushed at all."

"There will be full consideration. There will be public hearings," he said.

"My major concern is to provide the maximum amount of protection practicable for the adjacent communities."

Council Chairman Edward R. Reilly said he surveyed the council members, and that the majority wanted to move ahead with introducing the bill.

The council will discuss the legislation at a work session Tuesday at 9 a.m., but will not hear public testimony then. A public hearing is to be held April 6, and the council discussed scheduling a separate meeting later this month.

The council also unanimously approved a bill that sets conditions for roadside stands and produce markets in residential districts. In addition to changing the definition of roadside stands so that they don't have to be zoned, the bill defines produce markets as commercial operations and allows them in residential districts.

Council Vice Chairwoman Cathleen Vitale "cautioned" the council on "unintended consequences" that could arise as a result of the legislation, namely that more roadside stands than anticipated may pop up as residents look for extra ways to earn cash in a bad economy. Vitale, a Severna Park Republican, also mentioned that commercial trash may arise as an issue.

Reilly said the council could revisit the issue if "unanticipated expansion" occurs. Reilly proposed a bill to help save a 17-year-old roadside stand called Dick and Jane's, in Harwood in the southern part of the county, in the district Reilly represents.

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