Turf Valley developer ahead after round 1 of zoning fight

Opponents of the project will get an opportunity to counterpunch Dec. 15

November 13, 2005|BY A SUN REPORTER

A referee will mercifully stop a fight when a boxer is being pummeled. Although the battle over the planned expansion of Turf Valley is the zoning equivalent to a 15-round heavyweight bout, there are no provisions for compassion, which means one party will ultimately go down for the count.

As things stand now, the developer, Mangione Family Enterprises, appears well ahead.

"I think that's a fair conclusion," said Marc Norman, co-chairman of an opposition coalition. "But we have not had the opportunity to present our case yet."

Opponents of the development have a month, or perhaps a little longer, to regain their footing in their continuing efforts to persuade the Planning Board to block expansion of the luxury planned community in western Howard County.

They suffered a series of defeats at the hands of the board late last week but will have another opportunity to reverse their fortunes next month when a hearing on the developer's plan resumes.

One goal transcends all others: to convince the board that an exemption from the county's adequate public facilities ordinance (APFO) no longer applies to Turf Valley.

The ordinance delays development until improvements to such things as crowded schools and congested roads are made to accommodate growth.

Such a finding would essentially throw the multimillion-dollar Turf Valley project back to square one.

"The current legislative framework does not provide for the maintaining of his [Louis Mangione's] exemption of APFO," said attorney Paul Kendall, who is spearheading legal challenges to the developer's case and the Planning Board's authority to hear it. "What the county is doing is not in compliance."

Mangione, vice president of the development company, has consistently said that Turf Valley meets all county requirements. He said he is not worried about the next hearing, scheduled for Dec. 15.

"I have a very good attorney. He spends a lot of time preparing, and he anticipates a lot of things," Mangione said. "He does what he has to do to keep the project moving."

Mangione is seeking approval of a fourth comprehensive sketch plan to:

Add about 119 acres to the development, increasing the size of Turf Valley 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, a major street in the development, to improve traffic flow.

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

The Department of Planning and Zoning has recommended approval of the plan.

In anticipation of a large audience -- mainly opponents -- the Planning Board's hearing Thursday evening was moved to the auditorum of Centennial High School. An estimated 50 people showed up, far fewer than have attended some meetings regarding Turf Valley.

Kendall filed five legal challenges, ranging from seeking outright dismissal of the case to an indefinite delay until a new state study examining long- and short-term needs for Interstate 70 is released. That is expected next month.

The board, after conferring with legal counsel for 75 minutes, rejected each one on 3-0 votes. Board members Jennifer Terrasa and David Grabowski did not attend.

Norman said he did not regard those votes as setbacks for the opposition. He said the petitions lay the groundwork for the opposition's case, which will be presented Dec. 15, and, if necessary, additional legal challenges.

"I don't view it as a loss," Norman said. "We were trying to give them an opportunity to correct some past deeds. The motions were designed to force the developer into compliance with the general plan."

The key to the opposition's efforts is the APFO.

"There were conditional exemptions," Kendall said. "But the county said, `You gotta get this stuff done; we're not going to give you the ... exemption forever.' "

Richard B. Talkin, an attorney representing the developer, said Turf Valley already is subject to making road improvements, and "other [APFO] factors don't apply. ... This is not a matter for this board."

The Planning Board rejected Kendall's argument. "There is no provision to mandate a time frame" in which Turf Valley's exemption is nullified, said board member Linda A. Dombrowski.

Kendall said he was encouraged because even in denying his motions, the board said that its votes should not be interpreted as embracing the developer's plan, only that the case may proceed.

The opposition has been pushing for months for a broader examination of the possible impact on traffic, schools and the environment by expanding Turf Valley.

Such a broad review, however, would be beyond county regulations for an application such as that filed by Mangione.

Norman said the developer has "mismanaged and squandered" the opportunity to properly develop Turf Valley.

Said Mangione: "I don't know what's driving them. We just have to be patient, keep doing the stuff we're doing, playing by the rules and just go forward."

While professing optimism, Norman also said there's a contingency: "There is a high likelihood that this case will be tied up in the courts for years."

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