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Crownsville Residents Voice Concern over Bayhawks' Proposal

Mar 06, 2018 02:16PM ● By Brian Saucedo
By Janet Holbrook

About two years ago a narrator on a WYPR radio program described Crownsville Hospital Center as a sinister place that sends chills down your spine with gloomy abandoned buildings reminding us of an awful history. I wrote to the program that Crownsville, despite its tragic history, is anything but sinister. There are lovely weeping willows that bloom every spring, children playing soccer, and community-based organizations helping people struggling with poverty and addiction. In warmer weather, you can get your car washed at Chrysalsis House, where women are recovering from abuse and addiction. Techies are rehabilitating computers for students across Maryland and the world. It is the home of the Anne Arundel County Food Bank that offers much more than food. Tens of thousands of people visit the Renaissance Festival, which is a blessing and a curse to the surrounding community. The Fairgrounds hosts the County Fair and several other cultural events. All nestled in rolling green fields interlaced with groves of tall trees, surrounded by homes and a nudist colony, just minutes from Annapolis Towne Centre. 

On November 27th, 2017, a representative of Chesapeake Sports and Entertainment (CSEG)—owners of the Bayhawks, a professional lacrosse team—asked “why not” build a mega-sports complex with two stadiums, 20 sports fields, a hotel, retail space, and 5,000 parking spaces? The community answered back—“Why?” 

"The proposal is a high-risk venture and taxpayers are likely to be left holding the bag when it collapses under its own weight.”

CSEG intends to promote professional lacrosse, tap into $9 billon youth-sports industry and provide our children with much needed sports fields. The price tag, which the representative had no idea about that night, is close $200 million. Taxpayers are supposed to finance the venture with State bonds that CSEG will pay back with rent for leasing the property. I was shocked, as were many of my neighbors. 

There are so many things wrong with this proposal, I can’t list them all. It has little to do with professional lacrosse, which is good since Bayhawks attendance is low. Their spokesman said the Navy stadium, where they play now, was too big. They are seeking to “create scarcity” with a smaller venue. Let that sink-in, make something more expensive because it is not popular. The proposal is a high-risk venture and taxpayers are likely to be left holding the bag when it collapses under its own weight. Two stadiums in Crownsville. Really?

The proposal is to take over the Fairgrounds in Phase 1 to build the first stadium. The Fair will be displaced for two years or longer. They are starting there because it is shovel-ready. This proposal is stunning—the Fairgrounds are run by a nonprofit and self-sustaining. A quote from a Fair representative posted on Nextdoor says it all: “We are a nonprofit organization and we have worked super hard to raise the funds to add the buildings and upgrades to the property. We have put on the Halloween Happening for at least 28 years. That fundraiser was started so we could raise the money needed to put permanent restrooms on the grounds. For all of those years I have brought out my witch persona and sat on the hill with my witches shack and cauldron so we could have those restrooms. What we do is a labor of love. The fair is our heart.” The Fairgrounds are a treasure for our County, the only reasonable answer to CSEG is a resounding “No.”

Parents, coaches, and County representatives cite the need for fields for our children. I get that. My son played rugby in blistering summer heat because no fields were available in the fall or spring. Regardless, the fields are a hook to reel us in for a commercial project designed to enrich a few developers. If they actually get to Phase 2 (20-plus fields), will those fields be available and affordable for us? 

The environmental impacts have not been addressed and are hard to fathom. CSEG proposes to level much of the 900 acres of open fields, rolling hills, and forest to create flat fields. How much sediment, the leading pollutant to our waterways, will be created? How much storm water run-off will 5,000 parking spaces produce? We learned recently that the Chesapeake Bay is recovering a bit because of years of efforts that are now at risk due to a proposal to eliminate $73 million in Federal funding for Bay recovery. To this we are going to add destruction of acres of natural habitat so close to the South and Severn Rivers? 

There are traffic concerns as well. Generals Highway is frequently congested, during the Renaissance Festival it can be a parking lot. CSEG proposes to have the taxpayers pay for a new interchange on Interstate 97 in the third phase. What are we to do until then, pack a lunch for a trip to the store? Their representatives have no answers, just empty assurances that it will be okay and Federal and State funds will be made available. 

Crownsville Hospital Center is a lovely place with a dark history that should be preserved and honored. Development should focus on the public good. Expand the two rehabilitation centers, build a school surrounded by sports fields, protect the environment, and preserve history. Use some land for a solar farm that contributes to the State’s clean energy initiative and generates revenue. Let’s not throw-up our hands and say sell it!

Janet Holbrook is a longtime resident of the Herald Harbor community in Crownsville. She is donating her first check as a freelance writer—for this column—to the Anne Arundel County Food Bank located at 120 Marbury Drive, Crownsville. 

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