The wooden snap of the utility pole sounded like an explosion, and then the power went out.
A startled Linda Spencer peered out of her home on Turf Valley Road in Ellicott City, where she has watched the planned Turf Valley golf community rise all around her for the last two decades.
The driver of a dump truck, one of the many that have been rumbling up and down Spencer's residential street for weeks, delivering dirt to a construction site up the hill, was trying to disentangle the extended bed of his truck from the power lines it had brought down from above. Four utility poles were on the ground, snapped like matchsticks.
Spencer felt a familiar sense of frustration as she watched other local residents begin lining up in their cars along the street, which is the only point of access for dozens of homes up the hill. The truck, the wires and the utility workers and police who arrived soon after closed off the street entirely.
"Everybody was stuck and the police weren't letting anyone through," said Marc Norman, another local resident and a longtime critic of Mangione Family Enterprises, developer of Turf Valley's 809 acres and the company operating the dump trucks. "If there was an emergency, what would they have done?"
Spencer and Norman say the temporary road closure and the problems it caused for local residents on the morning of Feb. 20 were no isolated incident. Rather, they insist, they indicate just how inadequate Turf Valley's roads are now and will be in the future, as plans for hundreds of new homes in the community come to fruition in the next few years.
While road improvements are underway — Mangione is using the dirt in its efforts to connect Resort Road between Turf Valley Road and Marriottsville Road — the residents say the planned changes will not be enough.
"This is a development that is going to be extremely large once it's built out," Spencer said. "We are extremely worried what this is going to mean for the safety of our street."
Spencer said she and her neighbors aren't "a drawbridge type of community" opposed to new neighbors and development in general. But when it comes to the local network of roads, they feel their concerns aren't being addressed, she said.
"Nobody has an interest in the people who lived here first," Spencer said.
The concerns are just the latest expressed about Turf Valley by Spencer, Norman and other local residents, who have consistently challenged the Mangione family's plans for almost a decade — an approach Louis Mangione, a principal in the family firm, said he considers disingenuous.
"None of this is new to anybody," Mangione said of the firm's development plans, which are part of the county's master plan. "If it is, it's because they didn't do their due diligence."
Momentum and misgivings
According to Mangione, challenges and legal appeals from residents — especially Norman, whose name can be found in folder after folder of Turf Valley planning documents on file with the county — have combined with the weak financial market in recent years to slow progress on Turf Valley.
But the delays appear to have come to an end.
Recent victories at the county planning level, including a Howard County Board of Appeals ruling against Norman last year over the Town Square at Turf Valley project, which includes a supermarket and other commercial space, have combined with the strengthening economy of late to change the tide, Mangione said.
"With a lot of our stuff, we've put the pencils and pads down to wait for the economy and appeals," he said. "And now we're picking them back up."
Projects throughout the Turf Valley community — which sits between Interstate 70 to the north, Marriottsville Road to the west, Route 40 to the south and Bethany Lane to the east — are gaining momentum, and changes are already apparent.
The senior assisted-living facility known as Encore at Turf Valley is already built on Marriottsville Road.
A 48,000-square-feet Harris Teeter supermarket planned for the Town Square project, just off Marriottsville Road on Resort Road, is expected to open in the spring of 2013, with more than 100,000 square feet of restaurant, medical and office space following close behind.
Construction on new housing developments, specifically the Villages at Turf Valley, is expected to start as early as this year, Mangione said.
"In anticipation of that, we are building a tremendous amount of infrastructure right now," Mangione said.
Mangione called Resort Road the "spine road of the entire community," and said its expected completion in 2014 will come before any new residences — including the planned Vantage Condominiums at Turf Valley, also expected in 2014 — are opened east of Turf Valley Road.
"Obviously as more houses are built, more traffic will be on Turf Valley Road, but that will be offset by Resort Road," Mangione said.
'It's a devastation'
Residents said they take little comfort in that fact, saying their street will be a major artery for traffic to the hundreds of homes planned east of the intersection with Resort Road, which will remain the single point of access for those homes.
"I'm always for development, growth," said Hollys Allen, a 21-year resident of Turf Valley Road. "But it's a devastation what they've done here to our quaint little neighborhood."
According to Kimberley Flowers, deputy director of the county's Department of Planning and Zoning, Mangione is responsible for building all of the public roads in Turf Valley, in accordance with county regulations.
Still, the county has been working with the developer to ensure the planned developments have sufficient emergency access.
While the intersection of Turf Valley Road and Resort Road will remain the only point of vehicular access to homes east of the intersection, Mangione said his company is building another emergency road north of Resort Road that will provide access to emergency vehicles.
Golf cart paths that are part of the golf course running throughout the community will also be widened to allow for use by emergency vehicles, Flowers said.
Flowers said the design is not uncommon, and cited the Blue Stream development in Elkridge, which has one point of access and is designed to accommodate 1,330 residential units and 540,000 square feet of commercial space, as being similar to the development in Turf Valley.
Flowers said Mangione was not required to obtain any special waivers or exceptions to take the approach it has.
But Norman said Mangione has repeatedly been given wide latitude in making its development plans, and hasn't been held to the same standards as other developers.
He said Club Road, a private road serving the Turf Valley Country Club and connecting Turf Valley Road to Resort Road, should be made public. In addition, he said, Mangione should be required to either connect Resort Road east to Bethany Lane or turn it into a loop that has two connections to Turf Valley Road.
Flowers said there are no plans for Club Road to become public, that county recreation and parks land prevents a connection to Bethany Lane, and that a loop design for Resort Road east of Turf Valley Road is not considered necessary.
She said there are no plans to widen or add sidewalks to Turf Valley Road, though such changes were talked about years ago.
Mangione said that while some residents would like to see more access points, such as a connection to Bethany Lane, other residents like the closed-off nature of Resort Road's east end. A connection to Bethany Lane would only cause more through traffic, he said.
"It's not meant to be a through-traffic place. It's meant to have more control," Mangione said. "I see the east side of Turf Valley Road as one big, safe cul-de-sac, in terms of what people like cul-de-sacs for.
"People may say, 'That's horrible. I've never seen a cul-de-sac like that,' but to me it's a good thing."