Wilde Lake resident granted hearing to object to golf course Opponents fear damage to Little Patuxent River

December 29, 1993|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff Writer

The state has granted a Wilde Lake village resident a hearing to challenge construction of a golf course next to her home, a process that Columbia Association officials say could delay the project.

The state Department of Natural Resources said Thursday that Virginia H. Scott has standing to challenge its March decision permitting construction of a 204-acre, $5.2 million golf course along the Little Patuxent River.

The department's move, based on Ms. Scott's fears about potential flooding from the project, came just six days after the association received a county grading permit allowing it to begin construction.

The case now moves to the state Office of Administrative Hearings and the unpredictable realm of courtroom scheduling.

"I hope [the Columbia Association] will take it very seriously," said Ms. Scott.

"I'm not doing this to create a minor nuisance. There are major environmental problems with this golf course that [the association] has tried to brush under the rug repeatedly."

In particular, she cited the loss of forested wetlands and habitat for animals.

The 18-hole golf course, to be known as Fairway Hills, would be south of Route 108, one-third of a mile west of Route 29.

It would be bisected by the river and would wind through the villages of Town Center, Dorsey's Search and Wilde Lake.

The association contends that its plans minimize disturbances in environmentally sensitive wetland, forest and flood plain areas.

But opponents of the project, which has been debated for nearly a decade, have charged that it will degrade the river and tributaries, disrupt wildlife and disturb neighborhoods.

Ms. Scott said "the only environmentally sensitive course" would be a nine-hole course entirely east of the river.

Her husband, Tom, advocated that option throughout the course's planning process and criticized the association's land stewardship.

"When we moved here 20 years ago, CA was in the vanguard in environmental sensitivity and concern. People held them up as an example," Mr. Scott said.

"They seem to have lost that sense of responsibility."

But Padraic Kennedy, association president, called that criticism ludicrous and absolutely not true. I think CA has a reputation nationally and internationally as being a community with an open-space system parallel to none and a long-standing and continuing commitment to environmental sensitivity."

Supporters of the project say Columbia needs another golf course to alleviate overcrowding at Hobbit's Glen Golf Course.

The association, which manages Columbia's recreational facilities, studied options for a shorter course, but decided that they wouldn't meet Columbia's needs.

The Columbia Council, the association's board of directors, rejected the cheaper option.

The council has not formally determined whether construction should be delayed because of the hearing, said Council Chairwoman Karen Kuecker.

Technically, permits for the project remain valid and construction could begin at any time.

But association officials said Monday that the nonprofit corporation would prefer to delay construction until the hearing process has been completed.

Gary Setzer, DNR's director of water and wetlands programs, said the hearing process is "potentially lengthy," with cases lasting months or even years.

Under that process, an administrative judge will make a nonbinding decision on Ms. Scott's appeal and forward it to the state's Water Resources Administration director.

The director may then adopt the judge's decision or order something different.

Then, either party could appeal to Howard Circuit Court.

In the meantime, the association could proceed with construction "but could be at some risk depending on the outcome of the process," Mr. Setzer said.

In granting Ms. Scott a hearing, the department cited her contention that her property could be affected by flooding because of the project, and said she has the right to challenge it because of her property's proximity.

But Dennis Mattey, association construction manager, said the golf course would not have any impact on the river's flood plain.

The RBA Group Inc., engineers for the course, wrote that its plan, reviewed by the state, balances cutting within the 107-acre flood plain, ensuring that there will be no increase in water surface elevations.

"The Scotts may have standing -- they're a neighbor and it's in their back yard -- but when it comes time for the hearing, facts will still be facts. There are no impacts," Mr. Mattey said.

Mr. Kennedy said he hopes for a ruling in the association's favor.

"[The department] has heard the case once, gone over all the issues in great detail, walked the site with us and granted the permit," he said. "I'd assume they'd see no reason to revoke."

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