Turf Valley foes shifting focus

They want Planning Board to stop considering proposed expansion

September 18, 2005|BY A SUN STAFF WRITER

Nothing is ever treated as routine when it comes to Turf Valley.

The next evidence of that is likely to come in November when a challenge is made contesting the Planning Board's right to consider the latest expansion proposal of the luxury development.

Until now, the board's authority has gone unquestioned. It has spent much of the past 18 months on plans - and criticisms of them - to enlarge the project in western Howard County.

But opponents are turning their attention to the board itself, says Marc Norman, co-chairman of a coalition fighting expansion of the development.

He said his group likely will seek removal of the board from further consideration of the developer's latest application.

It would be the latest move in a series of efforts to block expansion of the project. Opponents have been increasingly critical of the Planning Board.

Last week, for example, an effort to greatly broaden a review by the board of the proposed expansion of Turf Valley plunged into a prolonged sparring match.

The hearing was contentious from the beginning, and when it finally ended, the tension was evident on virtually every face, from the board members to the representatives of the developer to many in the audience.

What was supposed to be the second and final hearing on the issue was continued again, this time until November, and it may drag on into a fourth session.

Technically, the application filed by the owner and developer of Turf Valley, Mangione Family Enterprises, is relatively uncomplicated and routine. It seeks approval of a fourth comprehensive sketch plan that would:

Add about 119 acres to the development, which would expand the project to 809 acres.

Phase in an additional 267 housing units between 2008 and 2015 based upon the added property. 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.

But opponents had promised to try to force an examination of the luxury development in western Howard County that went far beyond Mangione's current application.

Those efforts were greeted with repeated objections from the developer's attorney, Richard B. Talkin, all of which were sustained by Tammy J. CitaraManis, the Planning Board's chairwoman.

Bid fails

The opponents also failed in their bid to provoke consideration of whether the project conflicts with the general plan, the county's blueprint on how and where development will occur. Winning on that point would have opened the door to consideration of several broad issues, such as schools and the environment.

Lynn Robeson, legal counsel for the Planning Board, said that only the land-use provisions in the general plan were applicable to Mangione's application.

The hearing, a quasi-judicial proceeding with cross-examination of witnesses, had an ominous beginning.

The hearing had been extended from Aug. 3 at the request of Frank Martin, co-chairman of a coalition fighting the proposed expansion, to give him time to review a voluminous traffic report and prepare for cross-examination. But when Thursday night's hearing began, Martin declared that he intended to file a series of motions that ranged from outright dismissal of the developer's application to granting an indefinite continuance of the hearing.

Those motions, CitaraManis said, had to wait until Martin cross-examined a traffic expert representing the developer and the opponents began to present their case.

Lengthy questioning

With that strategy blocked, Martin ceded to the coalition's other leader, Norman, to question Mickey A. Cornelius, an executive representing The Traffic Group, the firm that conducted the traffic study and prepared the report.

Norman seized virtually the entire evening as he tried to force Cornelius to discuss broad, regional transportation issues and whether the expansion of Turf Valley was consistent with the county's general plan. Many of the questions were prefaced with long observations, which prompted numerous rebukes by the chairwoman.

CitaraManis told him at one point, "We've already gone pretty far afield."

CitaraManis told him to ask succinct questions that were pertinent to the developer's application. "You're getting so broad that it's getting away from Turf Valley," she said.

When her chiding didn't work, Talkin interceded with formal objections to the line of questioning, which were upheld by the chairwoman.

`Didn't have a choice'

After the meeting, Norman criticized what he described as "the narrow and arbitrary" interpretation by legal counsel of the general plan's applicability to Mangione's project.

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