Hearing record is facing challenge

Turf Valley transcript at planning panel is incomplete, charge foes of expansion

November 01, 2006|by a sun reporter

An already contentious fight escalated this week with a charge that the county's official records of months of hearings on the planned expansion of Turf Valley are incomplete and have been fraudulently altered.

Frank Martin, one of two residents who filed an appeal and lawsuit challenging the Planning Board's approval of the expansion, made the allegations Monday after spending almost two hours comparing the original tapes against copies of them and a transcript provided by the county.

He said both the tapes of the hearings and the transcript of them are both incomplete. And he said the transcript was changed to include testimony that was never given.

"They have fabricated the transcript," Martin said. "There are words that don't appear anywhere on the tapes."

Marsha S. McLaughlin, director of the Department of Planning and Zoning, summarily dismissed the notion that the transcript was altered.

"It's a very serious charge," she said. "We have no reason to fabricate the record."

She also said the department would work with Martin if he possesses information that would make the record complete.

The Board of Appeals is scheduled tomorrow to resume its hearings on a challenge to the approval of a fourth comprehensive sketch plan which expanded Turf Valley to roughly 808 acres by adding 119.7 acres and thus enabled another 239 housing units to be constructed, for a total of 1,618. It also permitted the realignment of Resort Road through the development and permanently fixed the location of nine golf course holes.

The Planning Board approved the plan in March after often-heated hearings that stretched over six months.

Martin said the Board of Appeals should remand the case to the Planning Board for a new set of hearings. "Essentially, start over," he said. "The developer should be required to submit a new comprehensive sketch plan, and the board should begin the hearings from scratch."

He and attorney Paul F. Kendall, who is also a party to the appeal, claimed this month before the Board of Appeals that about 80 minutes are missing from the county's tapes.

That assertion was dismissed, although it was acknowledged that a brief portion of testimony might not have been recorded because of a mechanical glitch. Attorneys for the county and the developer argued that it is incumbent upon those bringing the appeal to help make the record complete.

"To my knowledge, there was a tape that cut off, and there was a short period that was not on the tape," McLaughlin said this week. "My understanding from the staff is it's about a minute long."

Martin said neither the tapes nor the 871-page transcript from the Planning Board's hearings contain parts of prolonged testimony from Mickey A. Cornelius, senior vice president of The Traffic Group, which performed an analysis of the impact on traffic if Turf Valley were expanded.

That study concluded that there would be no adverse effects from the development.

Opponents of the expansion said throughout the hearings that the analysis was flawed and its findings should be disregarded.

Martin said the tapes of the Sept. 15 quasi-judicial hearing are missing some of the questioning of Cornelius by Kendall. Some of those exchanges also are missing from the transcript.

Martin said there are other discrepancies in the record from the multi-evening hearings, although he has not had time to document them. "It's a very slow, painful process," he said.

McLaughlin said she is satisfied the record is complete, with the exception of a brief period that was not recorded because of corrupted tapes.

She urged Martin to assist the county is making the record as complete as possible.

"If he has evidence, I would certainly be interested in knowing," McLaughlin said. "Clearly, if they have any information of what is missing from the tape, he can provide that to us. He can even provide his notes [and] what they think happened in that missing period."

Martin said it is the county's responsibility to assure the completeness and accuracy of the record. He accused the county of "placing every obstacle that they can in or way so we can't fairly present our case."

This dispute is but another wrinkle in the continuing fight over Turf Valley, an upscale planned community off U.S. 40 on 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.

Martin and Kendall are also parties to a lawsuit filed in Circuit Court challenging the Planning Board's jurisdiction over Turf Valley.

Martin said he is pursuing every angle possible because "you need to preserve your arguments - your issues" in the lawsuit. "If you don't, they don't get heard by a higher court."

The developer, Mangione Family Enterprises, has accused opponents of raising frivolous claims simply to delay the completion of Turf Valley.

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