Critics of plans to build a large mixed-use community at Turf Valley Resort in Ellicott City are looking forward to a new chance to voice their objections at a Howard County Board of Appeals hearing.
Marc Norman, who opposes the project that would add more than 1,300 homes, a shopping center and offices to the 800-acre golf and hotel resort, will get a shot before the Board of Appeals after a developer's motion to deny him legal standing to appeal four site-development approvals by the county planning board was rejected Sept. 23.
In April, the county planning board rejected his arguments that roads and other infrastructure are inadequate to accommodate the decades-old plans of Mangione Family Enterprises for the property.
"The standing issue is essential," Norman said after the hearing, noting that developers have tried to block appeals in other cases by contesting the legal standing of those who protest. "It was significant for everybody across the county who may want to appeal."
He contends that Howard County laws allow approvals of major projects based on localized requirements, without taking into consideration the bigger picture on roads, schools and other public needs. He says a new shopping center would hurt older centers on U.S. 40 and worsen congestion.
The developer and county officials counter that the project has been long planned, the growth it would bring has been accounted for, and that new schools and road work are planned to accommodate it.
Mangione spokeswoman Gina Ellrich said site preparation work is under way for the shopping center, though no building permit has been granted. She could not say when construction might begin.
"There have been more than 30 appeals and lawsuits," Ellrich said, though the basic zoning for the project was approved more than two decades ago.
County planning director Marsha McLaughlin said the down economy has affected every project.
"My guess is in this economy, everything's moving slowly," she said.
The Mangiones say the issue of Norman's standing is routine and won't change anything, contending that most Turf Valley residents want the new center.
"We fully expect the Board of Appeals to uphold what the planning board decided," said Louis Mangione, the company's vice president for development.
Sang Oh, the Mangiones' lawyer, did not appear to strongly oppose Norman's bid for legal standing, since Norman's home is virtually adjacent to the eastern edge of the Turf Valley property, though he is too far away to see the shopping center site. He told the board that a person appealing to them must merely be deemed an "interested party," while anyone wanting to appeal further in circuit court must prove they are "especially aggrieved."
Norman's lawyer, G. Macy Nelson, argued that "no matter what standard this board elects to use, any interested person can appeal."
Helen Carey, a Turf Valley resident who has supported the shopping center, said she wishes Norman would stop opposing it, though she doesn't object to his being heard.
"My feelings and the feelings of our community are that it can't be built soon enough," she said of the proposed shopping center. "We will be very happy when it is completed."
Norman and several allies have been protesting plans for the large mixed-use community near their homes for about seven years. Although they haven't blocked the project, they have slowed it and caused the Mangiones to spend heavily for expert legal and environmental help.
Norman remains undaunted. His new appeals could block or delay the shopping center, some condominium buildings, a relocated golf maintenance building and wetland mitigation projects.
Norman's complaints about poor chemical testing on the golf courses embarrassed the developer by revealing high concentrations of chemicals around a golf course maintenance shed, and he led a seemingly successful petition drive to place approval of the much larger supermarket by the County Council two years ago on the election ballot. The petitions were later ruled inadequate for lack of enough valid signatures under Maryland's strict standard. Norman and his allies are still trying to overturn that ruling in court.
"I fully expect the referendum signatures decision will be reversed," he said, which could put the issue on the 2012 ballot and further delay the Mangiones.
"It's an infrastructure issue," he said. "The roads can't support the project. Their traffic study is deficient."