Turf Valley foes' appeal is rejected

Board's ruling is unanimous, but opponents vow that their fight is far from over

November 05, 2006|by a sun reporter

Even after suffering a resounding defeat in their challenge to the Planning Board's approval of an expansion of Turf Valley, a luxury resort and planned community, opponents vowed their fight is far from over.

The Board of Appeals unanimously turned back the multi-pronged attack, saying to do otherwise in the face of the facts would be "arbitrary and capricious."

Louis Mangione, vice president of the owner and developer of Turf Valley, Mangione Family Enterprises, praised the board's vote Thursday night.

"The decision was absolutely right," he said. "It's another step in the process, and it shows that we're in accordance with all the rules and regulations. "

Moments after the board's 5-0 vote, though, one of the opponents, attorney Paul F. Kendall, said he will file an appeal in Circuit Court challenging the decision.

He also said he will present state and federal authorities with evidence of what he claimed was "deliberate and fraudulent" tampering with the county's formal transcript of the Planning Board's hearings on Turf Valley, which stretched over six months.

The Board of Appeals denied efforts by Kendall to have the case remanded for new hearings because of allegations that the county's tape recordings of the hearings are incomplete and contain large gaps and that language was added to the transcript that was never given during the hearings.

"I am personally dismayed that an administrative body would take such a light view of a deliberate attempt to distort the record," Kendall said.

Frank Martin, another party to the challenge, said that there was "an 80-minute gap" in the Sept. 15, 2005, recordings of the Planning Board's quasi-judicial hearing. Kendall said that included an estimated 15 to 20 minutes of his cross-examination of a key witness who testified on behalf of a traffic study commissioned by the developer.

County officials have acknowledged that a portion of that tape is missing because the recorder was inadvertently turned off. But they have dismissed the notion that 80 minutes of testimony was lost, and believe the time is closer to a minute or two.

Robert Sharps, chairman of the Board of Appeals, said the panel's responsibility was to determine if the Planning Board had acted in accordance with county law and regulations.

The evidence in the case was "voluminous," and Sharps said he found no basis on which to overturn the Planning Board's decision.

The Planning Board "went through the right processes and followed the law," said Maurice Simpkins of the Board of Appeals.

The opponents were contesting the approval this year of the developer's fourth comprehensive sketch plan to expand Turf Valley to 808 acres by adding 119.7 acres. That would permit an additional 239 housing units to be built, for a total of 1,618 units. The plan also would permanently fix the location of nine golf holes and allow for the realignment of a major street in the development.

Kendall said he was "not surprised at all" that the appeal was denied. He said he would contest the Board of Appeals decision in Circuit Court.

Kendall and Martin have filed a lawsuit in Circuit Court challenging 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 made up of the five council members.

Mangione said his company will "keep doing the right things to make Turf Valley a superior place" even in the face of multiple challenges to the development.

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