Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Why We Oppose Slots at Arundel Mills

By Rob Annicelli.

Slots supporters like Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold cite “local impact grants” as the reason for their support in a trying financial environment. He is right when he states that times are tough. Times will get better, but a casino will not go away when they do. The area around Arundel Mills was specifically planned and zoned for residential development. Many of the surrounding neighbors pay a special tax for the infrastructure which was part of this plan which supports the region. The basic question which many of the residents of Anne Arundel County ask themselves when they see this proposal and an attempt to change previously established plans through a text amendment zoning bill to benefit one corporate interest is, “Could this happen to my neighborhood?”

Hanover, where Arundel Mills is located, is currently doing its part to solve Anne Arundel County’s financial crisis without these impact grants. Located about 2 miles from Fort Meade and NSA, Hanover has recently seen an explosion of new homes and businesses in our town despite the recession. Every time one of these homes is built or these businesses are opened more money goes into the County’s tax base. While I have been critical of County Executive John R. Leopold’s support for slots, he has done a good job in helping to attract new non-BRAC businesses to Hanover. We will see even more new neighbors when we experience the full effects of the Fort Meade BRAC, unless a slots casino at Arundel Mills acts as a deterrent to those high-tech businesses, and the families of the people who work at them. Traffic is already an issue here without a slots casino. A recent State Highway Administration traffic study published in January of 2009 found multiple intersections next to the mall are failing. Meanwhile, the state continues to cut BRAC related funding for traffic improvements. And worse, the traffic study which Mr. Zed Smith from Cordish Co. briefed us on, which is the basis of their statements that we have adequate infrastructure near the mall, assumed that peak traffic in the area is at noon and not at rush hour! If you drive on Route 295 or Route 100 at rush hour you know this assumption is flawed.

The recent Anne Arundel County bills were also flawed because they did not provide adequate protections. Residents of Baltimore City were granted a ¼ mile buffer zone between them and a slots casino; Anne Arundel County residents were not. However, Article XIX of the Maryland Constitution granted local planning zoning over a casino so local jurisdictions could correct inequities such as this and protect their citizens. The previous bills submitted by the County Executive not only did not include this buffer, but it would have prevented us from challenging the above mentioned flawed traffic study to the County Planning and Zoning office by making the bill a “conditional use” and not a “special exception” use. His idea of protection was to prevent glare from lights in the parking lot, which does not merit a statement that he is doing “everything possible” to protect the communities.

When Arundel Mills was first developed, there were a number of agreements with the local neighbors to help guide how the property would be developed. At that time the previous owner of the Mall agreed never to use the site for gambling. Later recorded restrictive covenants were agreed to between the previous owner of the mall and the developers of two of the larger neighboring subdivisions which still are in effect. There is no mention of a casino or gambling in these documents which describe how the properties are to have been developed. We believe we would be able to enforce these covenants if need be.

Arundel Mills Mall is financially successful and a major source of tax revenue to the County. As a neighbor I am glad they are successful. But should there not be a limit to how much traffic and how much crime one property is allowed to generate when we have traffic and crime problems like we do today? Maryland collects local income taxes based on where people live. Does Anne Arundel County want to create a traffic calamity at Arundel Mills, about two miles from Fort Meade, which in conjunction with additional crime will deter well-paid employees who work at stable BRAC-related jobs in the County from living here and forgo that income tax revenue? So far the voters of Anne Arundel County in poll after poll have said NO! (A March 2009 poll found only 16% of all Anne Arundel County voters want slots at Arundel Mills.)

We have heard about $30 million in local revenue, but we have not heard about the lost business opportunity costs and lost income tax revenue all of Anne Arundel County will not see in exchange for local impact grants for a slots casino. And if the past is any predictor of the future, that $30 million figure based upon proprietary projections is likely overoptimistic, just like the revenue projections at Indiana Live were before they asked the State of Indiana for a tax break. (Indiana Live is Cordish Company’s Racino located at Indiana Downs.) Remember, whatever the amount of those local impact grants are, they can not be used throughout the county like tax revenue can be used.

Bottom line, the previous bills did not go far enough to protect residents. This County is unwilling or unable to make the changes required to protect its residents. Therefore, this proposal must be defeated.

Rob Annicelli
Hanover, MD
President of “Stop Slots at Arundel Mills”