Critics assail traffic plan for Turf Valley development in Howard

Board of Appeals will revisit case Nov. 30

November 10, 2010|By Larry Carson, The Baltimore Sun

Critics of development at Turf Valley attacked traffic studies of intersections along Marriottsville Road at a four-hour Board of Appeals hearing Monday night, but the developers contend that they have met all of Howard County's requirements.

It was the latest installment in a seven-year campaign by Turf Valley resident Marc Norman and his allies to derail the project by Mangione Family Enterprises, based on arguments that the county does not do enough to ensure that major projects will have sufficient infrastructure such as roads and schools.

This time Norman, through his attorney G. Macy Nelson, is appealing Planning Board approval for a new shopping center and supermarket, condominiums and a relocated golf maintenance shed — all part of the redevelopment of the 800-acre golf and hotel complex in western Ellicott City that is slated to add more than 1,300 homes, a shopping center, apartments and offices that were originally approved in the mid-1980s. The board continued the case until a Nov. 30 hearing at the George Howard Building.

Other residents of Turf Valley, where several hundred homes now stand, have backed the project. Many supported a 2008 rezoning that would have allowed a proposed 55,000-square-foot Harris Teeter supermarket in the shopping center, though the measure provoked a petition drive to bring the issue to a referendum. Norman is seeking court action to get that rezoning issue on the 2012 ballot.

The contentiousness of the dispute resurfaces occasionally, as happened Monday night when the board spent the first 90 minutes listening to arguments about whether Norman had been deceptive in getting an earlier hearing postponed from Oct. 5. Norman had said he would be out of town on business that day, forcing a cancellation, but postponed his travel plans at the last minute, he said, because of business complications.

Mangione Family Enterprises attorney Sang Oh moved to dismiss the case, but the board rejected the move after more than an hour of testimony and argument. The board had rejected an earlier motion to dismiss the case Sept. 22 when it ruled that Norman has legal standing to appeal.

"The board's rules require compelling circumstances for a postponement," Oh said. He said Norman's failure to produce written evidence of his changed travel plans until the hearing began forced him to pursue the issue.

"Nobody was trying to do anything nefarious here," Norman said at one point as Oh questioned him.

Later, Paul Gilliam, an independent traffic engineer, disputed the method used by the Mangiones' traffic consultant, The Traffic Group, to measure congestion along Marriottsville Road on the western edge of the property. He said traffic should have been measured at Interstate 70 and Marriottsville Road, where congestion is already a problem. That interchange is 1,500 feet from the nearest intersection that was evaluated, at Marriottsville and Turf Valley Roads.

"They're missing the entire picture," Gilliam said.

Oh said Gilliam and other witnesses called by Nelson were merely repeating arguments heard in earlier hearings where Norman lost, though the Board of Appeals hears issues "de novo," or as if they are new.

Mickey Cornelius, senior vice president of The Traffic Group, said his firm measured intersections as required under Howard County law, and that traffic counts done in March show that traffic has declined in some places near Turf Valley since similar counts in previous years. In addition, the Mangiones and Howard County plan to widen Marriottsville Road and install traffic signals where needed for safety.

Most of the Turf Valley project is exempt from the county's Adequate Public Facilities growth-control laws regulating traffic and school congestion, enacted in 1992, because the law was passed years after the project was approved.

"There's no reason to do a new traffic study," Cornelius testified. "Overall traffic has decreased on U.S. 40 over the last five years."

Norman said later that he hopes the board will apply a broader standard in making its decision in the case, rather than concluding that the Mangiones met county requirements and thus that their project should be approved.

"What ensures the public safety and well-being of citizens and schoolchildren?" he asked, noting that he has not had an attorney to argue on his behalf or a traffic expert testify before. "The Board of Appeals has the latitude."

larry.carson@baltsun.com

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