Appeal not filed against project

Maple Lawn Farms foes decide not to take fight to court

Fulton

January 30, 2001|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

The Ravens' championship season may be an inspiration to underdogs everywhere, but it wasn't enough to rally opponents of the Maple Lawn Farms development in southern Howard County to launch a court appeal of county approval of the project.

Opponents of the 508-acre, mixed-use development planned for a Fulton turkey farm let pass yesterday a 30-day deadline for filing an appeal of the county Zoning Board's 3-2 ruling in favor of the developer, Stewart Greenebaum. While they disagree with the board's finding that the project will be compatible with its surroundings, opponents have little hope that a court would find any legal flaws in the board's ruling.

The project's foes said they were also discouraged by the high cost of an appeal. In addition to paying for a lawyer, the opponents would have been required by county law to pay for transcripts of the 31 Zoning Board hearings on the case, at a cost of about $15,000.

"It would probably cost us $30,000, and that would be a big, hard swallow," said John Adolphsen, a retired NASA engineer and opposition leader.

Opponents said their decision not to appeal the board's ruling does not preclude other attempts to derail the project, which calls for 1,116 single-family houses, townhouses and condominium units, and 1.2 million square feet of commercial space to be built over 10 years, starting in 2004.

Among other things, they said, they plan to encourage environmentalists' opposition to a proposal to link the project's waste system to the Patuxent River Sewage Plant, and to highlight the effect the project could have on crowding in southern Howard County schools.

The project's opponents also have discovered a more immediate target for their discontent: County Councilman C. Vernon Gray's decision to cut in half the estimated $15,000 fee that Greenebaum owes the county for the Maple Lawn Farms hearings. Gray, an east Columbia Democrat and the chairman of the Zoning Board, argues that the county has traditionally given a discount on its $510- per-hearing fee of to applicants with major proposals that drag on because of vocal opposition.

Republican Councilmen Christopher J. Merdon of Ellicott City and Allan H. Kittleman of western Howard, who voted against the project, and Councilman Guy J. Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat, say they are against a discount for Greenebaum."[A discount] should not be allowed," resident John W. Taylor said. "[Greenebaum] is not a special person. He should have to play by the same rules as everyone else. They just do this for their favorite developers. It doesn't fly with me as a taxpayer."

Yesterday, Greenebaum welcomed residents' decision not to appeal. "This is just another step forward. We're going to do our best to make sure this is a project everyone can be proud of, including [the protesters]," he said. "We hope the battle is over."

Greenebaum's more detailed "site development plan" now goes before the Department of Planning and Zoning. The plan won mixed reviews when introduced to about 50 residents two weeks ago at Fulton Elementary School.

Several residents said the plans showed less open space than the earlier, more conceptual plans presented to the Zoning Board had indicated. A large percentage of the 177 acres of open space set aside will be found in narrow buffers circling the development, rather than in usable pockets within the project, they noted.

Residents also objected to the proposed timetable for the project, which calls for smaller, single-family units and townhouses to be built before the larger, single-family homes. They told Greenebaum they worried he would eventually apply for a revision of his plans to let him replace the proposed larger homes with a denser cluster of townhouses and smaller homes, thereby increasing his profits.

Opponents said the delay in building larger homes undermined Greenebaum's claim that employees at the project's office buildings would be able to live in the development and walk to work. If higher-paid employees had to wait several years for the larger homes to be built, they would buy homes elsewhere, residents said.

If Greenebaum refuses to make further concessions, opponents said, their attention will turn to holding officials accountable. Taylor said residents are focused on Guzzone, who campaigned on a slow-growth platform in 1998 but then voted for the project.

Guzzone and his fellow council members, who double as the zoning panel, were forbidden from commenting on the project until today, after the deadline had passed.

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