Residents seek hearing to challenge golf course They claim DNR made a mistake when it issued construction permits

November 16, 1993|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff Writer

Two Columbia residents are seeking one more chance to block the Columbia Association's construction of an 18-hole golf course they say would endanger their health and property.

Mario E. Jorquera and Virginia H. Scott, residents of the Running Brook neighborhood, where residences would abut several course holes, individually have asked the state Department of Natural Resources for an administrative hearing to challenge the agency's decision to grant environmental permits.

"I'd say we're pretty determined. This is not just a nuisance issue," said Mr. Jorquera. "There are legitimate issues. We think the department is in error."

The case eventually could end up in Howard Circuit Court, if either Mr. Jorquera or Ms. Scott exhaust their administrative remedies and press their cause, or if an administrative decision goes against the association.

"I'm taking it one day at a time," said Ms. Scott. "I'm breathlessly pursuing each opportunity as it has come along."

But Mr. Jorquera said, "I'm not going to spend the rest of my life fighting the association not to build the course," adding he would even consider selling his house.

After nearly a decade of debate, the Columbia Council approved construction in March of a $5.2 million Fairway Hills Golf Course, which would be built west of Route 29 and south of Route 108 and bisected by the Little Patuxent River.

On Sept. 30, DNR's Water Resources Administration granted permits for construction -- including grading and tree-clearing -- in wetlands, wetland buffer areas and the river's flood plain.

Critics charged that a golf course would pollute the river and its tributaries and disrupt wildlife habitats. The association's project engineer said disturbances would be "minimal" given the property's "immense environmental constraints."

A group of Running Brook residents oppose the project, claiming it could result in health problems from chemical turf treatments and disrupt the neighborhood.

The 204-acre course would wind through the villages of Town Center, Dorsey's Search and Wilde Lake.

The residents' requests for hearings to contest the wetlands and waterway permits are a "first step in a potentially lengthy process," said Gary Setzer, DNR's director of water and wetlands programs. "It could take years, literally."

Both Mr. Jorquera and Ms. Scott express concern that pesticide use could have harmful effects, claiming the association has not addressed the issue adequately. Ms. Scott said she avoids exposure to pesticides because she suffers from an "exquisitely sensitive immune system" and has many allergies.

Ms. Scott also said the risk of flooding on her property could increase by changing the landscape.

"Each one of these issues is so complex, especially the pesticides," Ms. Scott said in an interview. "As far as I know, my points have reasonable foundation."

Both residents, whose properties would adjoin the course, xTC question whether the association demonstrated that public need for the course as planned outweighs potential environmental impacts and suggest reconsideration of alternative sites.

The arguments presented by the Running Brook residents are "really just more of the same," said Columbia Association construction manager Dennis Mattey, adding that the issues they raised "have been addressed" during the natural resource agency's 16-month review and written decision to grant the permits.

A University of Maryland agronomist developed a turf management program for the course to limit pesticide runoff in water, Mr. Mattey said.

If Mr. Setzer approves the requests, the case would come before a state administrative judge. The judge would make a recommendation to the Water Resources Administration director, who could adopt it or make his own decision.

If Mr. Setzer denies the requests, Mr. Jorquera or Ms. Scott could appeal to the water resources director.

Even if hearings are approved, the Columbia Association could proceed with construction because it has obtained the permits, Mr. Setzer said. Neither Mr. Jorquera nor Ms. Scott requested a stay of the permits.

"[The association] could start construction today if its other permits were in line," said Mr. Setzer. "But they could be at some risk depending on the outcome of the process."

Mr. Mattey said the association has had no indication from the state that it shouldn't proceed with the project.

The association is waiting on approval for a county grading permit and plans to start construction in December, he said.

Columbia Council Chairwoman Karen Kuecker said the council is not sure what effect the hearing requests could have on the project.

Councilman David Berson said, "I would hope things would not be delayed. . . . [The association] and the council have been pretty careful through the whole process."

The 10-member council acts as the board of directors, setting policy and the budget for the nonprofit association, which runs the unincorporated city's recreational facilities. The council could delay the project.

To qualify for a hearing, the residents must demonstrate that they are adversely affected by the permit decision in a way distinct from the general public, and base claims on matters pertaining to wetlands and waterways regulations.

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