Some 300 volunteers who have collected a war chest of $1,500 are trying to fight off the Marriot Corporation's plans to build a $75 million amusement park in Howard County.
For many of the volunteers, the scene is one of deja vu. They fought the same fight in 1972 and won, when the zoning board voted 5-0 to tell Marriot to take its marbles and play someplace else.
But this time, the scenario is slightly different.
For one thing, Marriot did go play someplace else and is now back with what it says are supportive facts and figures from its "theme parks" in Santa Clara, Calif., and Gurnee, Ill. The statistics show, Marriot claims, that a similar park here would be an economic boon to the county and also less of a drain on local resources than would either residential or industrial development of the same site.
The site Marriot wants is different this time and the proposed park is a smaller version of the one the firm sought five years ago.
And this time, Marriott's proposal is not being considered as a standard individual zoning petition. Instead, it is part and parcel of the county's first comprehensive rezoning plan since 1961, a situation which opponents argue is putting the cart before the horse.
Under the proposed rezoning plan, two changes are being considered which together would pave the way for Marriott's park. One would permit "entertainment center" use, needed for amusement parks, as a "matter of right" in two specially-zoned industrial districts.
The second would declare two county tracts to have that special industrial zoning, one the already developed General Electric Appliance park in Columbia and the other the 530-acre parcel just east of Columbia that Marriott wants to buy.
In 1972, the firm had been required to seek special zoning.
According to Marriott officials, a Great America Regional Theme Park here would attract visitors from within a 150-mile radius and be comparable in size to Bush Gardens, King's Dominion and Hershey Park.
Marriott has options on a total of 530 acres now owned by the Chase Manhattan Bank, across Interstate 95 from Columbia's General Electric Appliance Park. It has said it will buy the land only if it can built a park there.
The park would generate more than $3 million in tax revenue for Howard County but cost local agencies only about $440,000, according to Marriott. There would be 3,000 summer jobs for area high school and college students, 200 part-time jobs for adults and 300 year-round jobs, of which about 250 would be filled locally.
At an all-day hearing recently before the Howard County zoning board, marriott produced some heavy artillery to support its contention that a Great American Park would be good for Howard County.
Testifying on behalf of Marriott's proposal were J. Willard Marriott Sr. himself and a variety of consultants as well as officials of Columbia's developers - Rouse Co. and Connecticut General Insurance Co., the Howard County Chamber of Commerce, the Laurel Area Chamber of Commerce, the State Department of Economic and Community Development and the mayors of Santa Clara, Calif., and Gurnee, Ill.
Also testifying for Marriott were spokesmen from the Guilford Community, just south and west of the proposed Park and the closest residential neighbor of the Chase Manhattan site.
The Guilford representatives said they had visited Marriott's two other parks earlier this year, at the firm's expense, and had been impressed with positive reports they heard from residents of the surrounding communities.
The attorney for the Guilford Steering Committee also told the zoning board that Marriott has reached an agreement "in principle" with Guilford representatives to consult their community on plans for the park, to establish minority hiring goals and training programs and to contribute financially to a "self help foundation" for community improvement. Guilford is a predominently black community.
Opponents of the proposed Great America Park had their day before the zoning board last week and they took all of it, from 9:30 a.m. to nearly 9 p.m. to dispute any suggestions that what's good for Marriott is good for Howard County. An additional 20 witnesses, for whom there was not enough time Saturday, will be heard Aug. 9.
Some 50 witnesses, testifying before an appreciative audience of about 300, derided Marriott's contentions that an amusement park here would not increase local traffic and crime and would not result in "satellite, spinoff development" of motels, fast food restaurants and gas stations.
Marriott would have Howard County believe that the projected 26,000 daily visitors will "all drive to the park, spend a day and all their money and then drive straight home," according to Michael S. Morris, a Laurel resident.
By contrast, he said, Marriott's 1972 proposal had declared that 7 per cent of the park's visitors would require overnight accommodations and they could be expected to spend some $50 million a year at local businesses.
Michael was one of 11 witnesses presented by the Concerned County Citizens, the anti-Marriott group which fought off their 1972 proposal.
The CCC presented to the zoning board a 2,851 signature petition protesting an amusement park here.
One witness, Phillip Carroll, warned the zoning board that "many people think these hearings are a device of which Marriott is going to be able to achieve indirectly what they could not achieve directly in 1972."
George Constable, an attorney who lives south of Columbia, noted "what I consider very probably the illegality of this proceeding" and declared the net effect of the proposed zoning changes would be to "allow entertainment center use before you have a petition for entertainment center use."
During an earlier break in the proceedings, Lloyd Knowles, zoning board chairman, had indicated that the issue of a Marriott park here might yet be divorced from the comprehensive rezoning plan.
He said that considering the scope of the park project and its possible effects on the county, "six months of study" might be advisable.
S.C. Hartman, a CCC witness from Ellicott City, said that a "year-round industrial park" paying full-time wages to be a "cross section of people" would be better for the county than a theme park that would primarily hire only summer help.
The county's laxity in "an ardent pursuit of suitable industry" should not justify a "grasp" at Marriott's regional park, Hartman said.
He added there is no reason to think most of the promised 3,000 summer jobs will go to county youth, "people from all over the east, the inner city and surrounding counties" will apply for the jobs and "it could be that only 50 Howard County kids will be hired."