Md. Weighs Deadline to End Arundel Slots Zoning Dispute

By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 16, 2009

The fate of Maryland's largest planned slots casino might be settled soon as a state commission is considering setting a deadline for resolution of a local zoning dispute that has stalled a developer's plans at Arundel Mills Mall, according to several sources.

Zoning legislation needed to build the proposed 4,750-machine slots facility has languished for months before the Anne Arundel County Council, with surrounding homeowners arguing a casino would increase traffic and crime around the mall.

The state commission that awards slots licenses could act next week to set a deadline in December for Cordish, the Baltimore-based developer of the project, to obtain the needed zoning approval.

That prospect was discussed by the commission behind closed doors last week and will come up again at its meeting Wednesday, according to several people familiar with the discussions. The sources requested anonymity because they are not authorized to speak for the commission.

Donald C. Fry, the commission chairman, declined in an interview to discuss commission deliberations. But asked about the possibility of a deadline for Cordish, Fry said: "That's certainly something that we need to consider. . . . We want to move forward with these projects."

The commission has granted one license, for 800 machines at Ocean Downs racetrack on the Eastern Shore. A second applicant, Penn National Gaming, is expected to win approval next week for a 1,500-machine casino in Cecil County.

The two largest proposals, in Baltimore and Anne Arundel County, have been on a slower track, however.

The state commission is waiting for revised plans and a $19.5 million additional licensing fee from developers of a proposed 3,750-machine project in Baltimore. Michael Cryor, a representative of the Baltimore City Entertainment Group, said the plans and payment are coming soon.

The commission, meanwhile, has been in a standoff with the Anne Arundel Councy Council over the Arundel Mills proposal. Cathleen M. Vitale, chairwoman of the council, recently said the county has no plans to act on zoning legislation before the state decides whether the mall is a suitable site for a slots casino.

But several members of the state commission have said they believe the county needs to act first. One of the factors the state is supposed to consider before granting a license is whether the applicant has complied with local laws and regulations.

Under Maryland law, the commission has the power to reject proposals that it does not believe are in the best interest of the state and reopen bidding to seek other applicants.

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