Turf Valley project fought

Expansion plans attacked on 2 fronts

May 31, 2006|BY A SUN STAFF REPORTER

In an unexpected move, opponents of the proposed expansion of the Turf Valley luxury planned community have launched a two-pronged attack aimed at halting the multimillion-dollar development in western Ellicott City.

First, they filed an appeal to the Planning Board's approval of the expansion. But they have also filed a lawsuit in Circuit Court, seeking an emergency injunction against the project.

In a larger sense, the lawsuit challenges the county's fundamental regulations and procedures governing the 800-acre project. If successful, the lawsuit would throw the future of Turf Valley into doubt.

Seeking a review by the Appeals Board was widely anticipated, but the lawsuit caught officials by surprise. Both were filed late Friday.

"This is government run amok," said Frank Martin, the chief spokesman for the opposition and one of the people who filed the lawsuit. "They are making interpretations that do not honor the law. There is no one being held accountable."

Louis Mangione, vice president of Mangione Family Enterprises, the owner and developer of Turf Valley, said the opponents' intent is to scuttle the entire project.

"They've been trying to put the brakes on the development until they can change the zoning," he said. "It's as simple as that.

"They've never been able to articulate what they want, or they chose not to articulate it."

Mangione said he will remain focused on developing Turf Valley.

"We will continue to proceed," he said. "It's a wonderful project in Howard County."

The effect of the opposition's actions is to gain separate reviews of the issues that have produced numerous and often heated hearings on efforts by the developer to expand Turf Valley into a premier planned community.

While the issues raised in both actions are similar, there are distinctly different objectives behind the two challenges.

Seeking a review by the Appeals Board is aimed directly at the Planning Board's approval in March of the developer's fourth comprehensive sketch plan, which, among other things, added roughly 19 acres, expanding Turf Valley to 808 acres, and permitted the construction of an additional 239 housing units, for a total of 1,618.

But the lawsuit is a challenge not to Mangione's plans but to the county's regulations, which extend considerable authority to the appointed Planning Board for all property zoned PGGC, or planned golf course community. Turf Valley is the only development in the county with that zoning.

That authority, the lawsuit contends, is illegal, because it results in the board making zoning decisions, which, the opponents say, is reserved by law for the County Council or the Zoning Board, which is composed of the five council members.

Creation of the PGGC "removed every single action required for the entire development process from the purview of the Zoning Board, the authorized legislative agency established to perform such actions and gave it to the Planning Board ... without even the appearance of delegated authority ... but, more importantly, without the legal ability to assume such authority," the lawsuit states.

Turf Valley is a planned community off Route 40 at the edge of Ellicott City. The development consists of two 18-hole golf courses, a hotel and resort center and homes. Commercial, retail and additional housing are planned for the project, which was first approved about 25 years ago.

"It's a mixed-use zone. That's one of the places where growth is supposed to occur. And there are good reasons for that," Mangione said. "There are many, many benefits to having people live, work and play in the same areas.

"I guess the opponents would prefer that growth happens everywhere. In the long run, it's the best thing for Howard County."

Both challenges are the result of a series of hearings that stretched over six months, beginning in August, on Mangione's fourth comprehensive sketch plan. Those hearings were often contentious, and from the start the opposition sought, but failed, to force the Planning Board to broadly expand its review of the developer's application.

The board approved the developer's plan on a 3-1 vote in March.

In their appeal to the Appeals Board, the opponents claim those hearings were conducted in an "arbitrary and capricious" manner.

"The failure of the Planning Board to correctly decide this case adversely impacts the quality of the neighborhood in that it increases the traffic without appropriate planning, negatively impacts the capacity of the public school system and the density of development in the area," the appeal states.

The lawsuit is as much an attack on the Department of Planning and Zoning as it is a challenge to the county's regulations.

It accuses the department and the Planning Board of extending "exaggerated support" to the developer and claims the department has refused "to entertain suggestions or engage in meaningful discussions with the residents challenging the project."

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