After 32 hearings, more than a hundred hours of testimony, and several tense work sessions, the Maple Lawn Farms case - at last - appears to be drawing to a close.
Stewart J. Greenebaum, developer of the project, said yesterday that he plans to reduce the proposed number of houses in the Maple Lawn Farms project by 52, as the Howard County Zoning Board requested Wednesday night. His willingness to work with the board suggests that Howard County's longest-running zoning case is reaching its conclusion.
The board will hold another work session Oct. 2 to discuss Greenebaum's response to its request, said Zoning Board member Guy J. Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat. He said board members need to decide whether the 52-unit reduction is substantial enough to warrant more public hearings. If not, he said, and if the developer complies with their request, it is likely that the board - which doubles as the County Council - will cast its final vote.
Even though he has not received official approval for his project, a confident Greenebaum said he is looking forward to the next phase.
"The heavy lifting starts now," he said. "In other words, we have to make sure that the development is one everyone can be proud of. That's our charge."
The development, in southeastern Howard County, will have 1,116 homes, according to the latest plan, and 77 acres of commercial space on 508 acres of a former turkey farm in Fulton. It will be one of the biggest mixed-use developments built in the county since the planned community of Columbia more than 30 years ago.
Many residents who live nearby had opposed the project, saying it would overwhelm roads and schools, and be incompatible with their neighborhood of mostly single-family homes.
The residents who have most vehemently opposed the project say they have no plans to appeal. Somebody else could appeal the decision, but that would be extremely costly: To appeal, the individual or group would have to order transcripts of the more than 30 Zoning Board meetings - at $4 a page, that would total thousands of dollars - and hire a lawyer.
"They won, no question about it," said John Adolphsen, a retired aerospace engineer and one of the development's most vehement opponents. He said he doesn't think an appeal is likely.
"You can't appeal simply because you think it's wrong. You can only appeal based on whether there was some technicality violated by the Zoning Board," he said.
"I think we had our day in court," agreed Peter J. Oswald, vice president of the Greater Beaufort Park Citizens Association. "We certainly did have our chance to speak."
Thomas E. Dernoga, an attorney who volunteered to help residents with the case, said he has not given an appeal much thought but doesn't feel a lot of support for one. "You've got a sense from people that it has gone on long enough, so that's probably a fair indicator," he said.
The Zoning Board ended its public hearings in May. In a June work session, Republicans Christopher J. Merdon of Ellicott City and Allan H. Kittleman of western Howard proposed decreasing the number of homes by 152 units and increasing the amount of commercial space from 77 acres to about 120 acres.
Columbia Democrats C. Vernon Gray and Mary C. Lorsung opposed that plan. They support density in the eastern part of the county, where public services exist to support it, and adding more townhouses and condominiums for moderate-income families.
Guzzone, the swing vote, had by turns sided with the Republicans and with the other Democrats. At a work session in July, he voted with the Republicans to ask that Greenebaum reduce the number of homes and increase commercial space.
Greenebaum refused, saying the changes would cause suburban sprawl in other parts of the county, and later said the changes would ruin his plan for a neotraditional community.
At the board's work session Wednesday night, Guzzone proposed a compromise: decreasing the density by 52 homes and keeping the commercial acreage the same. The two other Democrats reluctantly voted for the plan. Merdon and Kittleman voted against it, saying this proposal was hardly different from the original.
Despite the criticism the project has received, Greenebaum said he is confident that when people see the finished Maple Lawn Farms, they will support it.
"Sometimes, fear of the unknown troubles people," he said.