Turf Valley expansion battle goes to court

Opponents seek injunction to halt work on project

August 02, 2006|BY A SUN REPORTER

The fight over the expansion of Turf Valley moves to court this week, as opponents seek an injunction halting work on the multimillion-dollar project.

The county, maintaining that the opponents' claims are baseless, has in turn asked the Circuit Court to dismiss the case.

First, though, the court will have to settle a secondary dispute that, in part, illustrates how frayed emotions have become during the protracted battle over the luxury planned community in western Ellicott City.

That challenge is over a claim by Howard County's Office of Law that neither the lawsuit nor copies of documents seeking the restraining order were served properly on the county.

In a formal response filed with Circuit Court, the opponents say the county's position is "patently frivolous" and "can only be characterized as a deliberate attempt to distort the record."

The opponents' filing says that on May 26, Marsha S. McLaughlin, director of the Department of Planning and Zoning, was given the documents, and, moments later, a copy of the lawsuit was given to Paul T. Johnson, deputy county solicitor.

The court is scheduled to hear arguments on the dispute Friday. But there are far broader issues at stake.

The opponents are pursuing a three-pronged effort to stop the planned expansion of Turf Valley, off U.S. 40 and Marriottsville Road, which was approved in March by the Planning Board.

The first is by asking the board to reconsider the case, which is scheduled for Aug. 31. The second is the lawsuit, filed in May, and they also are seeking a hearing before the Board of Appeals, which is scheduled for Oct. 17.

At one level, the actions raise similar questions and thus may appear redundant. But despite the similarities, there are starkly different objectives.

The lawsuit is an attack on the county's regulations, which provide considerable authority to the Planning Board for 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 Zoning Board.

Seeking a review by the Appeals Board is aimed directly at the Planning Board's approval of the developer's fourth comprehensive sketch plan.

That plan:

Expanded Turf Valley to roughly 808 acres by adding 119.7 acres. That allows an additional 239 housing units to be built, or a total of 1,618 units. Of the new homes, 174 would be in the residential section and 65 restricted to the multiuse area. The additional units would not increase the overall density of the development.

Protected environmentally sensitive land and improved traffic flow with the realignment of Resort Road, a major street in the development.

Permanently fixed the location of nine golf course holes. Those would provide buffers for the homes and free land in the multiuse area for development.

Opponents are seeking the restraining order, in part, to halt work on Resort Road.

Frank Martin, co-chairman of a group formed to fight Turf Valley and one of six people who filed the lawsuit, criticized the county for issuing a permit for the work while it is being challenged by the lawsuit

"This behavior is completely outrageous," the filing says, and constitutes a "deliberate attempt to delay and drag out these proceedings which greatly benefits the developer."

In a formal response to the lawsuit, the county's Office of Law says the opponents have not demonstrated a likelihood that their case will succeed, one of the chief requirements for a preliminary restraining order.

It also says the lawsuit's contention that the Planning Board has plenary power over Turf Valley's development is incorrect. The opposition's "interpretation is not supported by ... the law itself" and "has no merit," the county's response says.

Indeed, it says the board is constrained by several provisions enacted by the County Council, and that the courts have consistently upheld such zoning arrangements.

The opponents, the county's filing says, would undermine the foundation of planning and zoning.

"The county's interest," the document says, "is the public interest in maintaining the integrity of the statutory administrative appeal process and its zoning regulations."

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