- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 25, 2004

HUGHESVILLE, Md. — Donna Cave considers herself a baseball fan. She makes an annual trek to Baltimore with her daughter for an Orioles game, and sometimes the shorter drive to Bowie to see the minor league Baysox play.

But does she want a team in her hometown of Hughesville? No way.

“Across the street from my house are cows and horses. There’s a lot of open space,” she said. “A baseball stadium is inappropriate. It will ruin the character of the community.”

Miss Cave has rallied about 300 people in the Charles County town of 1,500 to stop plans to build an $18 million stadium for a still-unnamed minor league team. The group, Preserve Hughesville, canvassed local and state lawmakers, conducted economic studies and jammed meetings with rowdy supporters clad in green T-shirts.

Charles County and the likely team owner, Maryland Baseball LLC, already have committed $6 million shares each to a three-way funding deal for the minor league stadium. State lawmakers are expected to weigh Maryland’s $6 million stake during the upcoming General Assembly session.

Work on the park could begin as early as July, with a team ready to play in 2006, said Aubrey Edwards, director of economic development for the county. Mr. Edwards pitched the plan to Maryland Baseball earlier this year, hoping it would spark development in what he said was an economically depressed part of the county.

The region is the geographic center of Southern Maryland, he said, making it a logical place for economic development. A stadium and the jobs it creates would stimulate the tax base and provide entertainment for the county’s fast-growing population. Sales and payroll taxes generated by the park would help the deal pay for itself, Mr. Edwards said.

Preserve Hughesville is simply resorting to tired arguments, he said.

“There is a lot of ‘not in my back yard’ attitude in this group,” he said. “But the benefit to the overall county is also very important.”

The dispute is a sign of the pressure Charles faces from a rapidly growing population as development spreads farther from the District. Housing developments and shopping complexes have risen along major routes into the county, replacing farmland once used to grow tobacco and raise livestock.

Hughesville still resembles the old way of life in Charles. Ten miles east of Waldorf, the downtown is little more than an intersection between Routes 5 and 231, with old tobacco barns used for weekend flea markets on one side. A sign near the crossroads advertises “Holiday Basket Bingo” at the county fairgrounds.

But Hughesville is feeling the effects of growth in Southern Maryland. Roads originally meant for country traffic handle thousands of cars daily and traffic backs up in downtown every rush hour. Houses sprout up on the outskirts of town, along with developers’ signs promising more.

To tap growth in Southern Maryland, Charles proposed building the 4,500-seat stadium on a tract of land the Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative (Smeco) planned to donate to the county. The two-story park would have 12 luxury boxes and a hill along the outfield fence for picnics. The county would own the park, using it for youth baseball, concerts and other events.

Maryland Baseball has not decided whether to affiliate with a major league team or join an independent league, said Peter Kirk, chairman of the group that owns minor league teams in the Northeastern states and used to control several in Maryland.

Mr. Kirk said plans to bring a major league team to Washington could create a strong fan base for a team in Southern Maryland. He said it is common for small communities to be concerned about new ballparks — it took the firm 15 years to build a stadium in Lancaster, Pa. But minor league teams are family-friendly entertainment that improve, rather than damage, a community.

“I haven’t heard, ‘This is a terrible idea.’ What I heard was, ‘This may not be the right location,’” he said. “Hughesville is fine for a park, but I’m sure other locations in Southern Maryland would work as well.”

Some local lawmakers also are not sure whether Hughesville is the best place for a new park. The county board of commissioners has approved a feasibility study of the site, but hasn’t made a final decision on where the stadium should go, said Commissioner William Daniel Mayer, who represents the area.

Smeco later decided to sell the land to the county at market value instead of donating the 18-acre tract, meaning the price of the project could go up. Building in Hughesville also will mean bringing in sewer and water for a community that relies on septic tanks and wells.

Mr. Mayer, who supports the idea of baseball in Charles, said the county should have solicited more input from local residents before undertaking the project.

“We’ve heard those people loud and clear now,” he said. “I’m not saying the Hughesville deal is dead, but I’m open to other locations.”

It also depends on state funding, which could be hard to find with Maryland expected to post another budget shortfall next year.

Some lawmakers would rather state aid go to building schools for the booming population. Turmoil over where to build the park will not help persuade Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, to include it in his budget, said Sen. Thomas McLain Middleton, Charles County Democrat.

Consensus could prove elusive. Miss Cave said Preserve Hughesville is committed to preserving the rural flavor of the town and persuading the county to take the ballpark somewhere else.

“We are fighting for our quality of life,” she said.

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