The Columbia Council decided last night to proceed with grading of the planned $5.2 million Fairway Hills Golf Course even while a state hearing on a resident's challenge of an environmental permit is pending.
However, the council's approval is contingent upon the state Department of Natural Resources denying two other appeals.
The council, which approved the Columbia Association's 18-hole course last year, decided to try to avoid a potentially lengthy construction delay and associated financial losses, noting the association has received all permits necessary to proceed.
"I feel uncomfortable having borrowed $10 million for a project approved by the council and doing nothing with it," said Council Chairwoman Karen Kuecker.
The association recently borrowed $10 million, largely to finance the 204-acre course, which would be south of Md. 108 and west of U.S. 29. The Little Patuxent River would bisect the course, and construction would occur in its flood plain.
The DNR last month granted Wilde Lake village resident Virginia H. Scott a "contested case hearing" before a state administrative judge, based on Ms. Scott's assertion that work authorized by the agency's waterway construction permit could increase the risk of flooding on her adjacent property.
The hearing process can be lengthy and can result in a permit being modified or rescinded, said Gary Setzer, DNR's water and wetlands programs director. He said the association legally can proceed, "but at its own risk."
The council's approval to begin grading work -- a $2 million contract that could become more expensive over time -- is contingent upon DNR denying appeals submitted by Ms. Scott and Wilde Lake resident Mario Jorquera.
Mr. Setzer denied their requests for hearings to contest nontidal wetlands construction permits because they hadn't demonstrated how construction in the wetlands would directly affect them.
The residents appealed, asking Mr. Setzer's supervisor to overturn the ruling. The council decided to wait for decisions on those appeals before proceeding with construction. It also decided to avoid grading work for three course holes in the Running Brook neighborhood, the area in question in Ms. Scott's case.
Several council members expressed concern that the council was acting too quickly without a full understanding of all implications. They said they anticipated an update from the association on the project, but didn't expect to make a decision. The council formed its action plan based on consensus but didn't vote.
"This is the largest expenditure CA will make over a several-year period," said Councilwoman Norma Rose of Wilde Lake. "It's much too important to take up with this kind of notice. Others in the community might want to speak to it."