P.G. Approves Cooke's Stadium Plan

By Robert E. Pierre
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 7 1996; Page B01

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Jack Kent Cooke moved a step closer last night to his dream of a new home for his Washington Redskins, as the Prince George's County Council approved his plan to build a 78,600-seat football stadium in Landover.

The 6 to 2 vote came after nearly seven hours of debate in which council members imposed more than 50 conditions on the proposal. Gerard E. Evans, Cooke's chief lobbyist, said none of the additional requirements is fatal to the project.

"This is the first definitive and absolute nod we've received," Evans said.

The development plan will be rewritten to include the council's changes. A final vote is set for this afternoon, but council members said it would be routine.

With victory in Prince George's, Evans said attention now focuses on Annapolis, where legislators must decide whether to provide $73 million in state funding for infrastructure improvements that Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) has pledged for the project.

Glendening also is pushing for construction of a football stadium in Baltimore for the Cleveland Browns and has launched a public relations campaign to stir up support for the two projects. A recent statewide poll showed solid opposition across Maryland to the projects, and many legislators have questioned them in view of demands for funding school and social service needs.

Evans said Redskins officials are "confident about victory in Annapolis."

But Prince George's stadium opponents aren't willing to give up. A coalition of county civic organizations has filed two lawsuits to stop the project. And Stan Derwin Brown, the attorney for the community groups, said they will challenge last night's vote. Brown said council members ignored their own rules by discussing numerous issues that were outside the scope of the official hearing records.

"This approval tonight is a comedy," Brown said after the vote. "It will not stand up in court."

Cooke has been trying since at least 1988 to replace the relatively small, aging Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium in the District. Previous tries to build a new stadium in the District, Northern Virginia and Anne Arundel County generated massive opposition and failed.

In April, the Wilson Farm emerged as the site of choice. But many residents protested vehemently that the property, near Route 202 just inside the Capital Beltway, was a poor choice because of its proximity to several neighborhoods.

Despite the opposition, the council approved an expedited land-use review process in September that gave Cooke the zoning he needed on the site. But first, the council said, it would have to approve the site plan for the project.

The hearings -- in which witnesses testified under oath -- that preceded last night's site plan approval lasted 57 hours during 16 days. They produced 2,353 pages of typed testimony and 200 exhibits, including charts, maps and drawings of the proposed site.

The length of the process clearly had taken a toll on council members as they spent much of yesterday sniping at each other before voting just before 9 p.m. They went through each of the more than 50 additions to the plan and debated some issues at length, to the dismay of colleagues and some in the audience. Topics discussed included public safety, the types of trees that should be planted near the stadium and the position of platforms during concerts.

"We've got a sack full of conditions that cover everything except a nuclear strike," council member M.H. Jim Estepp (D-9th District) said at one point.

But others said the details were important because so much was at stake. Council members Isaac Gourdine (D-8th District) and Ronald V. Russell (D-6th District) were the dissenters when the vote came.

Gourdine said the plan should be denied because there were too many unanswered questions and because too often undesirable projects are dumped in African American neighborhoods. Russell said the plan just "had too many holes."

Council member Marvin F. Wilson (D-5th District), the stadium's chief proponent on the board, said the benefits of the project for inside-the-Beltway youth clearly outweighed any negatives. He was referring primarily to a top-of-the-line recreation facility planned for 80 acres abutting the stadium.

"I can't take that away from the children," said Wilson, whose district encompasses the stadium.

Cooke must finish negotiating with County Executive Wayne K. Curry (D) and Glendening on a contract to buy the Wilson Farm, which is owned by the county and state. The three also must secure approval from the state legislature.

Staff Writer Terry M. Neal contributed to this report.

© Copyright 1995 The Washington Post Company

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