At a hearing tonight, the Howard County Planning Board will consider detailed new plans for Maple Lawn Farms, a large mixed-use development proposed for a Fulton turkey farm - amid protests from residents who accuse the county of deliberately failing to publicize the hearing.
Hundreds of residents turned out at 31 hearings last year during which developer Stewart J. Greenebaum applied for, and received, Zoning Board approval for what will be Howard's largest mixed-use project since Columbia.
But Planning Board Chairwoman Joan Lancos said yesterday that very few residents have called in anticipation of tonight's hearing, during which the board will consider the "comprehensive sketch plan" submitted by Greenebaum. Lancos conjectured that this might reflect a waning of organized opposition to the project.
"I do not expect to see a mass of humanity screaming and everything like that," said Lancos. "I don't think the [review] will take more than one night."
That's the wrong conclusion to draw from the lack of calls, said John W. Taylor, a leading opponent of the project. Residents have not been calling about the hearing because most don't know it is taking place because the county did not publicize it, he said.
Notice of the hearing, which is scheduled at 7 p.m. at the county complex in Ellicott City, is posted on a sign on the site off Route 216. But it is not on the public meetings list on the county's Web site. The site gives today's Planning Board meeting as being at 9:30 a.m., and does not mention that the board will consider Maple Lawn Farms.
"That's the not the way to do it," said John Adolphsen, a neighbor also opposed to the project.
"This is a stealth hearing. No one knows it's happening," Taylor said. "The developer is proceeding on his merry way, and it's coming in under the radar."
Lancos said the flawed listing likely was an oversight by county staff members. She said that she had also failed to receive the customary packet from county offices containing background information on the case.
Greenebaum's project, which the five County Council members who also sit as the Zoning Board approved by a 3-2 vote in October, calls for about 1,100 houses, townhouses and condominium units and 1.2 million square feet of commercial space to be built on 508 acres over 10 years, starting in 2004.
It is up to the Planning Board to determine whether the developer's recently submitted sketch plan, which describes the project down to the location of specific housing units, is consistent with the more conceptual proposal he submitted to the Zoning Board.
"What we're doing is making sure this matches the preliminary development plan," said Lancos. "On the comprehensive sketch plan, the blobs shown on the earlier plans come into focus. ... We're going from fuzzy blobs to more detailed ones. We want to make sure they met all the criteria."
Taylor does not believe that the more detailed plans are in line with the concept that Greenebaum presented to the Zoning Board.
The latest plans show less usable open space than was promised in the initial proposal, Taylor said.
Much of the open space required by county rules, he said, is in a narrow strip around the development's edge. Very little is in play areas inside the project.