A Howard County Circuit Court judge last week dismissed an appeal by a group of western-Columbia area residents and is allowing construction of the planned Benson Business Center to go ahead.
In delivering what is probably the fatal blow, Judge Cornelius F. Sybert Jr. dismissed the Route 108 Coalition's second appeal of a Dec. 4 county Planning Board decision that allowed development of the 26.2-acre property on Lark Brown Road, near the intersection of routes 108 and 175.
Sybert ruled that the Route 108 Coalition, which sued the Rouse Co., lacked standing to bring the suit.
The decision, filed Wednesday, says the court "is of the opinion that 'The Route 108 Coalition' is not a 'person' and therefore has no standing to appeal."
Business center plans call for a restaurant, hotel and gas station complex.
"It's obviously a grave disappointment, to put it mildly," said George Rovnack, president of the coalition.
Chances that the coalition will appeal Sybert's decision are slim, Rovnack said.
"I think at this point its probably pretty much a dead issue, because there's only so many disappointments you can handle," he said. "Considering the way the entire scenario of events has occurred from day one, it's not surprising."
The coalition's neighborhoods encompass 1,400 homes. Petitions at various times gathered 400 names.
Coalition members organized to protest what they considered an "I-95 pit stop" that they said would bring excessive traffic, crime, pollution and round-the-clock noise to their neighborhoods.
The group complained that planning board members did not give them adequate opportunity to cross-examine witnesses or to obtain legal representation, among other things, in their effort to block Rouse from obtaining approval for an overall development plan, called a comprehensive sketch plan.
The group appealed the decision first to the county Board of Appeals, which upheld the Planning Board's decision in July.
Sybert's ruling was in answer to a motion by Rouse attorneys, who argued that to be legally aggrieved by the Planning Board's decision, the Route 108 Coalition would have to own property affected by it.
The coalition, which represents residents of Lark Brown Road and the Mayfield, Deep Run, Kendall Ridge, Annetta Gardens and Heatherwood Estates communities, is not incorporated and does not own property.
Coalition attorney Leonard M. Schwartz asked Sybert last month to allow the coalition to amend its appeal to include the names of neighboring homeowners. Wednesday's decision makes no reference to the request.
Members had hoped that a proposed county adequate public facilities law could force the Rouse Co. to improve nearby intersections as a condition of developing parts of the center. Those hopes were --ed last month, however, when the County Council voted to postpone action until next year.