Residents fight Turf Valley growth

Developer's zone request for higher home density spurs fears of crowding

Howard County

December 15, 2003|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

Frustrated by roads and schools they feel are too crowded, residents around Turf Valley Resort and Conference Center are opposing proposed increased density for a planned development of up to 1,600 homes and thousands of square feet of office and retail space approved almost 20 years ago.

The hotel complex on the western edge of Ellicott City is Howard County's only planned golf course community, a zoning district established for this approximately 800-acre parcel in the early 1980s. The new zone allowed two homes per acre.

But Mangione Family Enterprises, which has owned and operated Turf Valley for 25 years, recently closed its third golf course because of declining demand. As a result, it sought to amend the zone through the county's comprehensive rezoning process to allow up to 2.5 homes per acre.

Because Turf Valley was approved before checks on development such as the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance - which limits building around crowded schools and requires developers to pay for road improvements - it is conditionally exempt from those limits.

But since the plans detailing Turf Valley's concept were approved in 1986, other developments have cropped up, including Brantwood, Turf Valley Overlook and Waverly Woods, as well as across the border in Carroll County.

"Twenty years ago, in a vacuum, this was a good idea," said Marc Norman, a resident of the Vistas of Turf Valley.

About 150 single-family homes and townhouses have been constructed at Turf Valley. Homes in each subdivision enjoy views of rolling hills of one of the resort's golf courses.

Residents opposing the development will make their case tonight at a public hearing on comprehensive rezoning and other bills before the County Council.

They say they dread the hassles construction would bring. and argue that people already risk their lives exiting and entering Interstate 70 at Marriottsville Road, and children who live minutes away from crowded Manor Woods Elementary School sit in traffic on school buses.

New developments would be required to consider plans for Turf Valley when building near there, said county Planning Director Marsha McLaughlin. And if increased density is approved, the new units would be subject to the adequate facilities law as well.

"If anything, the fact that Turf Valley has moved slowly has minimized the impact on roads and schools," she said.

Mindful of residents

Lou Mangione, vice president of development for Mangione Family Enterprises, said the company considers the effects of its development. Next year it expects to break ground on Oakmont, a six-story condominium building.

"We're not going to make something that's going to be bad for our business and the community," he said. "Our business is based on happy residents. Happy residents become satisfied members. It all adds up."

The company has chosen to develop only one area at a time rather than six or seven, he said.

"It affords us the opportunity to change our designs as trends change over five years," Mangione said.

Norman and representatives of several homeowners associations, concerned about the implications of the zoning change and planned development, asked several members of the County Council at a meeting last week to table the zoning change and to delay approved development until a regional traffic study can be conducted.

Norman asked the members to "take a look at what you as the council want this to be."

"It doesn't seem to me that the area is looked at globally enough," said Pat Brocato-Simons, president of the Turf Valley Overlook Community Association. "It's going to affect a whole lot more than just the neighbors that live in Turf Valley or the Vistas."

Hesitant to flip-flop

At the meeting, the councilmen agreed that traffic at nearby intersections was heavy, especially the I-70 exit onto Marriottsville Road, but could not promise to revisit previously approved plans.

"It's hard for me as a council member to say `you've had it and now we're going to take it away,'" said Allan H. Kittleman, a western Howard Republican who represents the district.

Councilman Christopher J. Merdon, an Ellicott City Republican, agreed.

"I do have difficulties with the county going back to someone and changing the rules on them 17 years later," he said.

Councilman Guy Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat, said Friday that he expects the council will be able to honor the residents' request to table the proposed zoning change.

At the meeting, Guzzone also suggested that the density change be considered as part of the county's Route 40 Enhancement Study.

For the study, a committee of business owners and Ellicott City residents will examine aesthetics on the corridor between the Baltimore County line and Turf Valley Road.

Several rezoning requests on U.S. Highway 40 have been put on hold awaiting the report, expected by next fall.

Brocato-Simons, who is a member of the U.S. 40 committee, said the panel named development as one of the possible threats to the thoroughfare.

`Not impacted'

But Mangione, who also sits on the committee, thinks it would be inappropriate to include Turf Valley in the study.

"What's trying to be done at Route 40 is not going to be impacted by more units," he said.

"We've sent a clear message that Turf Valley is going to be a quality development with the density as proposed," Mangione said. "Now we're moving on to the next steps."

"The views are still significant, and they will stay that way," he added.

"But you're not going to be able to look forever."

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