Clock ticking for resort opposition

Two weeks left to appeal Turf Valley plan's approval

May 14, 2006|By GERALD P. MERRELL | GERALD P. MERRELL,SUN REPORTER

The clock is ticking on opponents to decide whether to continue their efforts to block the expansion of Turf Valley, the upscale resort, commercial and residential community in western Howard County.

They have two weeks in which to appeal the Planning Board's approval of the developer's application to, among other things, expand Turf Valley by 119 acres.

Although the board's approval came in March, the deadline to file an appeal did not begin until the formal decision and order (DNO) was written and signed late last month.

While an appeal has been promised previously, Frank Martin, chief spokesman for the opposition during seven evenings of hearings that began in August and did not conclude until February, said a decision will not be made until he has had an opportunity to discuss the order with the membership of an organization formed to fight the expansion.

One factor in the group's decision will be money. It is estimated that an appeal would cost more than $5,000, excluding legal fees should the group retain an attorney.

Martin described the decision as "a travesty. It's a gross mockery of the zoning laws." He said the document is a "complete whitewashing" of the opposition's testimony.

"I am stunned, appalled and disgusted," Martin said.

He accused Marsha S. McLaughlin, director of the Department of Planning and Zoning, of pushing the project through and in so doing ignoring the county's laws and regulations.

McLaughlin said the problem was not with her, but with the quality of the opposition's case.

"The problem is, they made some valid points about traffic ... but they also raised a bunch of other concerns that the Planning Board didn't consider relevant," she said. "Unfortunately for them, they didn't get the response they wanted. Maybe that's an indication of the caliber of their case."

She also noted that the department had a minor role in the hearings because the board took its lead from the county's Office of Law.

The decision and order, signed April 27, contained one surprise: Planning Board member Linda A. Dombrowski's dissent from the majority.

She said that the board should have deferred action on the developer's comprehensive sketch plan until projected traffic was recalculated and analyzed.

In approving the plan, the board in March required a traffic study prepared on behalf of the developer to be recalculated using a 4 percent annual growth rate, as opposed to 2 percent.

"The growth rate is a fundamental variable in the equation used in the traffic analysis," Dombrowski wrote in a dissenting opinion. "Increasing it could logically yield consequences" of unacceptable levels of service at key intersections and thus requiring road improvements that transcend those already planned.

Louis Mangione, vice president of Mangione Family Enterprises, the owner and developer of Turf Valley, said he could not comment on the decision.

"I haven't seen it or read it," he said. Mangione said he was surprised by Dombrowski's action. "It's always a disappointment when someone dissents for any reason," he said.

The plan would expand Turf Valley by 119.7 acres. It now has 689 acres. In addition, another 239 housing units could be built, boosting the total to 1,618. Mangione also sought to permanently fix the location of nine golf course holes to provide better buffers for the homes and free land in the multiuse areas for development, and improve traffic flow with the realignment of Resort Road, a major street in the development.

The decision and order concludes, among other things, that the:

Proposed expansion of Turf Valley is consistent with the general plan, the principal blueprint on where and how development will occur in the county.

Planned realignment of Resort Road, the main east-west connector through the development, is designated by the general plan as a "major collector."

Design of the development "results in an appropriate arrangement of land uses" and that the lower-density residential sections of Turf Valley will be protected by open spaces and golf courses as well as by setbacks and landscaping.

Roads serving the planned community "will be adequate as determined by the capacity and mitigation standards required by the county's adequate public facilities ordinance."

And the "proposed development will not impact the orderly growth of the county."

Martin characterized the decision and order as "one-sided and patently a lie."

The document and its findings, he said, lack credibility because they were written by counsel for the Planning Board, Lynn Robeson, who once worked for Richard B. Talkin, the developer's attorney.

The opponents in January sought her removal from the case, claiming at least an "appearance" of a conflict of interest.

Paul T. Johnson, deputy county solicitor, defended Robeson at the time as consistently ethical. He noted that she had declined several times to participate in cases because of an actual or potential conflict of interest.

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