Turf Valley expansion's opponents ready challenge

Threefold strategy against project expected to play out at hearing tomorrow

September 14, 2005|BY A SUN STAFF WRITER

The protracted battle over Turf Valley will escalate this week as opponents make a broad challenge to the planned expansion of the luxury development in western Howard County.

Their strategy will be threefold: trying to force the Planning Board into greatly expanding its review of the project; contesting the legality of the developer's plans; and demanding that the county require the developer to file a new comprehensive plan, which would, in effect, throw the project back to square one.

Louis Mangione, vice president of Mangione Family Enterprises and the point man for the proposed expansion, described the opponents as obstructionists intent on using any mechanism to block further development of the project.

"We believe that we're doing something that is good for the community," Mangione said. "We're working with people who want to have an intelligent discussion. These opponents offer no solutions. They just want to start over. They're throwing everything into the fire, hoping something sticks."

Marc Norman, co-chairman of a coalition fighting the expansion, acknowledged that opponents were inadequately prepared last month when the Planning Board held the first half of its hearing on Turf Valley. When the hearing resumes at 7 p.m. tomorrow at the George Howard Building, they will be ready, he said, to challenge the development on multiple fronts.

At issue is a fourth comprehensive sketch plan filed by Mangione which would:

Add two parcels, totaling about 119 acres, to the development. That property was rezoned in 1993 from rural to planned golf course community (PGCC) to conform to the zoning of Turf Valley. That land would expand the project to 809 acres.

Phase in an additional 267 housing units between 2008 and 2015. The project is zoned now for 1,151 units.

Realign Resort Road, one of the major streets in the development, for better traffic flow.

Make permanent the location of several golf holes in the residential areas to act as buffers for residents and to open land in the multiuse district for future development.

The Planning Board held a quasi-judicial hearing on the application last month. That was essentially limited to a presentation by the developer. The hearing will resume this week, at which time opponents will present their case.

The heart of that case, according to Norman, will be a challenge to the rezoning of the 119 acres 12 years ago, claiming it was illegal because the land fails to meet the minimum requirements for PGCC, which are 500 acres and two 18-hole golf courses.

"One of the things we're looking at is the improper zoning associated with these two parcels," he said. "Neither one of them meet the criteria to be zoned PGCC. The zoning is illegal and is in error. For 12 years ... the developer has never attempted to even talk about this property being part of one large parcel.

"They have filed three amendments to the sketch plan and none of the three included those parcels. It's obvious that the developer and the county all considered them to be separate."

That argument, though, could be a tough sell for two reasons. First, contesting zoning that occurred more than a decade ago is unprecedented and, if successful, could open the door to challenges to any number of decisions that developers or residents believe were incorrect. Second, the county considers the 119 acres nothing more than a minor annexation because the land has been owned by the Mangione family for years.

Ownership of the land is a key factor, said Steve Lafferty, deputy director of the Department of Planning and Zoning.

"They were added to the existing PGCC land and under unified ownership," he said. "Had it been under different ownership, then probably not."

Lafferty also said that it was always assumed the property would be annexed by Turf Valley, just as several hundred acres of adjacent land were recently added to Maple Lawn, Maryland, a planned mixed-use development in Fulton.

Opponents, Norman said, will also contend that the changes sought by the developer are significant, and thus the company should be required to file a new comprehensive sketch plan for the entire project.

"This is a material change," he said. "How can they have a sketch plan that's amended when you have a material change being made to the project?"

Neither the county nor Mangione believes the changes represent profound alternations to Turf Valley.

"Obviously there is a disagreement," Lafferty said. "This is seen as a further amendment to that plan."

The particulars of future construction at Turf Valley, he said, will be considered twice by the Planning Board -- when the developer files a final development plan and when he files a site development plan. "The whole idea of a comprehensive sketch plan is that it's a sketch," he said. "There are two more layers of detail to come."

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