Tower facing second appeal

County violated rules on Columbia project, lawyer says

September 13, 2006|By a sun reporter

A second appeal has been filed contesting the approval of a 23-story lakeside residential and retail tower in downtown Columbia.

The county violated several of its own regulations in approving The Plaza Residences at Columbia Town Center, attorney E. Alexander Adams claims in the appeal.

The substance of Adams' contentions was not argued during his first appeal because it was ruled that his clients lacked legal standing to challenge the county's approval of the developer's project.

The latest action, filed with the Board of Appeals, seeks to reverse the ruling against his clients as well as receive a full hearing on the merits of the case.

The appeal, in part, alleges that:

The Planning Board illegally permitted residential uses on the site of the proposed tower, because the property was zoned for commercial uses.

County regulations "constitute an unlawful delegation" of authority by allowing the Planning Board to determine the height of buildings in downtown Columbia. Either the Zoning Board or County Council, Adams contends, must make such decisions.

The number of residential units approved for development vastly exceeded that permitted in downtown Columbia.

Adams filed the appeal on behalf of four county residents -- Stephen Meskin, Lloyd Knowles, Joel Broida and Jo Ann Stolley -- hoping to scuttle the project by Florida-based WCI Communities Inc.

Thomas P. Carbo, the hearing examiner, dismissed their first challenge in June, ruling that all four lacked legal standing. The case now is before the Appeals Board.

Permits needed

WCI plans to construct the $70 million, 275-foot-tall tower overlooking Lake Kittamaqundi. It will include ground-level retail shops and 160 condominiums on 22 stories. Prices begin in the $600,000s and top $2 million for penthouses.

The county has not approved building permits for the project, although that may occur soon.

WCI has recently declined to say how soon work at the site would begin. Steve Zenker, vice president for investor and corporate communication, said time schedules "are never set in stone."

He said one normally could expect groundbreaking after reservations for units are "converted to contracts." It is unclear when that would happen.

At the heart of Adams' case is the Planning Board's approval four years ago of WCI's final development plan by amending regulations to permit residential uses on property previously restricted primarily to commercial development.

"Such approval ... was and is ultra vires," or beyond the board's jurisdiction, Adams said in his first appeal.

In his latest appeal, Adams says his clients meet the standard for legal standing because they are residents and taxpayers of the county. But he devoted most of his time arguing on behalf of Stolley and Broida, both of whom reside adjacent to where the tower would be constructed.

Their "quality of life will be adversely affected by a building four times as tall as their building," Adams' appeal says.

It also says that they will suffer from "extensive noise, visual and other disruptions during a long extended construction process" and be forced to "endure excessive traffic congestion."

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