Baltimore Del. Nick Mosby asked two Anne Arundel County lawmakers Monday to withdraw their bill seeking to change how the state subsidizes upgrades to horse racing tracks until inspectors can gauge what he called “deplorable” housing conditions for workers living in dorms at Laurel Park.
The legislation proposed by Sen. Pam Beidle and Del. Mark Chang, both Anne Arundel Democrats who represent the Laurel Park area, would help fund the creation of a so-called “super track” in Laurel that could potentially be the new host for the Preakness Stakes.
The General Assembly has been debating that and another measure supported by Baltimore-area lawmakers to establish a work group to begin studying how to implement a concept estimated to cost at least $424 million to rebuild Pimlico Race Course as the permanent home for the Preakness, the second leg in the Triple Crown.
[ Pimlico vs. Laurel: A look at the facilities ]
Mosby’s letter seeks to draw attention to living conditions for workers that he says have not improved in the 16 years since a 2003 Sun article described the housing there for mostly Hispanic workers as “slum like living quarters.”
“This shanty town resides in the shadows of beautiful new barns where horses reside in climate controlled, clean stalls — with running water in the building,” Mosby wrote to Beidle and Chang. “Imagine the human indignity of leaving a concrete cell to work with animals that are provided better living conditions.”
The Stronach Group, which owns both racetracks, issued a statement that says it “agrees that living conditions for backstretch workers is important.” The company has “refurbished the track kitchen used by backstretch employees,” and has purchased “construction materials” to build “new dormitories” approved by the Maryland Racing Commission.
The company “is waiting for final permit approval and input from legislators on the future” of Pimlico, Laurel and a nearby facility at Bowie.
Mosby pointed to a Baltimore Sun analysis of The Stronach Group’s annual financial records filed with a state commission which show that 79 percent of the $112 million spent on track upgrades since 2011 from various sources have gone to Laurel.
The state has provided significant investment to the privately owned tracks that are “proudly displayed in the renovated Laurel Park Clubhouse and beautiful barns,” Mosby wrote.
“Considering the significant investment made by the taxpayers in our state, it is inexcusable that humans are living in the conditions shown and described to me,” he wrote.
The Stronach Group, he added, “has prioritized horses over humans.”
Beidle said she has never been asked by another lawmaker to withdraw legislation and that she would not do so. The bill has had its hearings in the House and Senate and are now awaiting votes in separate committees.
“It’s their decision,” she said. “He’s trying to protect his district and I’m trying to protect mine.”
She agreed that the photographs Mosby provided are “appalling” and that she would lead a tour of the Laurel Park’s living conditions for her delegation after the General Assembly ends its legislative session next month.
The photographs provided to Mosby by a source he called “reliable” depict typical dormitories as 10-feet-by-10-feet concrete rooms “without water, plumbing or adequate air circulation.”
Two people share one room in each of the two buildings. Both buildings provide a shared bathrooms consisting of two stalls and one shower, according to Mosby’s email.
“Each building has 16 units, for a total of 32 people,” Mosby’s email states.
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A Stronach representative said the conditions in the photographs Mosby references represent older dorm rooms at the property, not the apartment-style living at newer buildings called Laurel Commons.
In financial statements filed with the Maryland Racing Commission, Stronach Group reported that in 2000 it had begun to lease 3 acres of land for the development of two dormitories for “low income housing.”
The dormitories “provide housing and improved quality of life for some of the backstretch workers at Laurel Park,” the document states.
The 2003 article in The Sun said that the two dormitories, called Laurel Commons, were built for $2 million. Land records show that the development included funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and state money from Maryland’s Department of Housing and Community Development.
It featured 38 rooms, “each for two persons, with bathrooms, microwave, refrigerator, phone hookup, air conditioning and shared laundry rooms.” At the time, residents paid $50 per month, the article stated.
Stronach does not charge the residents any rent now.
Laurel Park “can’t have unlivable conditions” as Stronach Group is upgrading the rest of the facility, Beidle said. “If that’s happening that has to change.”