Lawsuit planned against decision

Action would contest appeals-board ruling allowing expansion plan by Turf Valley

March 04, 2007|BY A SUN REPORTER

Despite suffering a string of defeats, opponents of the expansion of Turf Valley, the luxury resort and planned community on the edge of Ellicott City, will continue their fight by taking the case to Howard County Circuit Court.

Frank Martin, one of the appellants, said in an interview that a lawsuit would be filed tomorrow, the deadline to contest a Board of Appeals decision upholding the expansion of the development.

The filing would represent a consolidation of what had been a two-pronged attack on the development in that it would challenge a ruling by the Board of Appeals as well as renew a broader test of the county's fundamental regulations and procedures governing the 800-acre project.

The opponents hope to stop the expansion of the development as now planned.

Although the board voted in November, it did not release its formal, written decision, until last month.

The 25-page document, formally known as a decision and order, rejects every issue raised by the opponents. It also states unequivocally that several branches of the county, as well as the developer, acted legally and ethically in their handling of the case.

The decision is a strong defense of the Planning Board and the Department of Planning and Zoning, both of which supported the expansion of Turf Valley and have been the subject of allegations by some that they have subverted regulations in approving various developments and rezoning cases.

The document also rejects the assertions that an attorney with the county's Office of Law had a conflict of interest and should have removed herself from the case, and that the developer, Louis Mangione, perjured himself while giving testimony during the board's hearings.

Martin acknowledged that the decision was decidedly unfavorable but dismissed its veracity.

"Just because the county government states its opinion, the public should not construe it as fact," Martin said. "It is more of the same canard that has been offered for some time."

Martin, who lives near Turf Valley, and attorney Paul F. Kendall, who until recently lived in the development, appealed the Planning Board's approval in April of the fourth comprehensive sketch plan filed by Mangione Family Enterprises, the owner and developer of Turf Valley.

The board approved the plan after conducting seven evenings of public hearings, which stretched over six months.

That plan expanded the development to 809 acres by adding 119.7 acres, thus permitting an additional 230 housing units to be constructed, for a total of 1,618 units; the realignment of Resort Road through the project; and permanently fixing the location of nine golf-course holes.

In May, opponents challenged that decision by taking the case to the Board of Appeals and also filing a lawsuit in Circuit Court. That lawsuit was dismissed.

While the issues raised in both actions were similar, they sought different objectives.

Seeking a review by the Board of Appeals was aimed at the Planning Board's decision. But the lawsuit was a challenge to the county's regulations and regulatory system.

There were several components to the appeal, but at the heart of it was the claim by Martin and Kendall that the Planning Board acted illegally because it engaged in "zoning actions," which, they said, is reserved to the Zoning Board.

They also challenged the county's regulations, which, they said, granted "plenary," or absolute, power to the Planning Board on property that is zoned as a planned golf course community. Turf Valley is the only development in the county with that zoning.

The opponents also claimed that the Planning Board's 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 said.

In its written decision, the Board of Appeals said the Planning Board's decision "is supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole and is neither arbitrary or capricious ... nor clearly erroneous."

It also said that the Department of Planning and Zoning's technical staff report on Mangione's application "contains specific findings and conclusions to support the decision of the Planning Board."

The decision and order stated "that the Planning Board's conclusions were well supported by the evidence and record in this case."

It also declared that the county regulatory system with respect to Turf Valley conforms to state laws and court rulings.

Martin said there has been a "clear bias" at all levels of county government in favor of Turf Valley.

"A properly led grand jury will convict that ham sandwich," he said.

He and Kendall also alleged that the Department of Planning and Zoning's official tape recording of the Planning Board's hearings was incomplete, and that its transcript of those hearings was tampered with.

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