More than 100 people crowded into the Hughesville firehouse Tuesday night, the overwhelming majority there to voice a direct, and at times, impassioned message: We don't want a baseball stadium.
The meeting was organized by the newly formed citizens group Preserve Hughesville, which has three goals: to protect the rural character of Hughesville, to call for new schools rather than new businesses and, more immediately, to stop the proposed 4,500-seat minor league baseball stadium from becoming a reality.
"We're not going to have a stadium. We don't want a stadium, and that's what we're going to work towards," said the organization's chairman, Donna Cave, a retired resident who has lived in Hughesville for nearly 15 years. "This is not a debate. . . . We need people to help, and we need money."
Four months ago, the Charles County commissioners signed an agreement with private investors to share the costs of the $18 million stadium project being considered for an eight-acre site along Route 5, north of the intersection with Route 231. The commissioners and Maryland Baseball LLC, a private company that owns and operates minor league stadiums, have each committed $6 million. The state has been asked to contribute the remaining funds.
But most of the residents gathered Tuesday night said they strongly oppose the project and feel their concerns are not being addressed by county officials.
Joan Herbert said she lives on land surrounded by the Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative property that is being considered for the stadium.
"I'm totally against everything. I'm right in the middle of it," she said. Herbert said she worries the stadium would bring "more traffic, more crime."
"If you get a ball stadium, you're going to get a motel, you're going to get the fast-food joints, and I can go to Waldorf for that," she said.
Aubrey Edwards, executive director of the Charles County Economic Development Commission and a motivating force behind the stadium plans, was repeatedly drowned out during the meeting with a barrage of questions and angry sentiments.
"A ballfield is a very good amenity in a community," said Edwards, who alleged it would increase the tax base and bring jobs to the village of about 1,500 people.
"Put it in Waldorf!" shot back one person.
"Do you live in Hughesville?" asked another.
"We don't want our money to go there," called out a third.
Joe Slater, president and chief executive of SMECO, said during the meeting that the electric utility cooperative has not committed to donating the land for the stadium to the county but had sent a letter expressing its intent to do so.
He said SMECO does not want to facilitate development that "you're going to find adverse to your lifestyle" but added that a compromise could be reached. He suggested planting trees between the stadium and neighboring homes as well as locating the ballpark where it would interfere the least with neighbors.
Edwards told the crowd that the stadium would benefit Hughesville and that the economic pressures to develop the area -- considered the geographic center of Southern Maryland -- would not let up. But when someone asked who in the crowd was in favor of the stadium, only two hands went up.
"The baseball deal isn't altogether finished, to tell you the truth," Edwards said. "We hope that everything works out well with the stadium. And I know that doesn't sit well with you."