Delay urged in disputed golf course

June 17, 1994|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Sun Staff Writer

The Wilde Lake village board has urged the Columbia Council to delay construction of the Fairway Hills Golf Course while a resident's legal challenge remains unsettled, but the council's vice chairman says there is no compelling reason to do so.

"Our concern, very simply, is if permits are withdrawn for any reason, any money the Columbia Association [CA] has spent has gone to waste or, worse yet, they'd have to spend more money to put land back the way it was," said Howard S. Feldmesser, the village board chairman.

Council Vice Chairman David W. Berson said that there also is a risk that money could be lost if the council delays work on the $5.2 million, 204-acre project.

"There's not much new information to cause us to at least temporarily stop construction," said Mr. Berson. "All along, the assumption has been that CA followed the appropriate process and that the findings eventually would be in our favor."

Wilde Lake resident Virginia H. Scott, who lives beside the planned course, will have a hearing beginning July 27 before a state administrative judge. Ms. Scott, her husband, Thomas, and the village board requested at the June 9 council meeting that any disturbance to wetlands be halted while the matter is pending.

Ms. Scott has challenged an environmental permit granted to the association by the state Department of Natural Resources to eliminate a 350-square-foot area of wetland, alter other wetlands and wetland buffers, and do other work such as grading, filling, clearing trees and building boardwalks in the Little Patuxent River flood plain.

The council, which serves as the association's board of directors, approved the 18-hole course after heated debate over its environmental impact and cost in March 1993. Construction began a year later on the course, which winds through the villages of Dorsey's Search, Town Center and Wilde Lake, just west of Route 29 along Columbia Road.

"The way it's going now, it's not going to matter even if I prevail because of the destruction to wetlands, forest and river corridor," Ms. Scott said. "It's being denuded very rapidly."

Mr. Berson said that the council is awaiting more information on which issues will come before the judge and that it probably would consider the Wilde Lake village board's request Thursday night.

Construction crews have completed clearing and grading three of the course's holes and have begun building greens and tees on two of them. And they have cleared land and begun to grade for six more holes, said Rob Goldman, the association's director of membership services.

Work is continuing in wetlands along the Little Patuxent River that are scattered around the course, Mr. Goldman said. The permit allows clearing large trees on about 1.6 acres of forested wetlands, which will be converted to a different type of wetland with low-lying vegetation. The Columbia Assocation is clearing land for two tunnels under Ten Mills Road, where the small patch of wetlands will be eliminated.

"The permit was granted acknowledging that we did minimize permanent disruption to nontidal wetlands," Mr. Goldman said. "Wherever we're doing work close to the river will be restored to a wetland."

Mr. Goldman said some issues Ms. Scott originally raised -- such as an increased risk of flooding -- have been dismissed in the legal process, and he agreed with Mr. Berson that suspending construction doesn't seem like a good idea.

"The cost to delay construction would be greater in the long run than any repercussions that might come out of the appeal," he said. "CA spent two years taking every precaution to carefully research the engineering of the course and minimize any impacts to the community. I would be very surprised if the judge found any major problem with the planning that was done."

Judge Suzanne Wagner, a state Office of Administrative Hearings judge, held a preliminary hearing June 3 on motions submitted by DNR's attorney and Ms. Scott to determine which challenges to the permit, if any, have merit.

Based on that hearing, the Scotts and Columbia Association officials agree that two main issues will be considered: whether the association's application to DNR was complete and whether the association adequately evaluated alternative sites.

But they have different interpretations of whether the project's effects on nontidal wetlands will be an integral issue. The judge has not issued a written order clarifying issues that will be considered but has conferred with both sides.

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