On the surface, the latest fight over Turf Valley involves a wetlands permit covering less than an acre. But emotions have reached such a fervor that critics are seizing on any issue to delay or deny plans to expand the upscale planned community in western Howard County.
The extended debate is often contentious and seems unlikely to change. Neighbors and opponents have brought up a smorgasbord of issues, some of them under the control of the owner and developer of Turf Valley, Mangione Family Enterprises, many of them not.
Those issues include school crowding; the number of homes planned; the quality of well water beyond Turf Valley; traffic congestion; architectural design; and the perceived distant relationship between the Maryland Department of the Environment and county planning officials.
"A lot of things are not the developer's fault," says Marc Norman, a Turf Valley resident and co-chairman of a coalition opposing the development's proposed expansion. He regards that point as incidental.
"The key issue is the safety of our children and community," he says.
Some of those most opposed to expansion of the 800-acre development argue that elected and appointed officials are ignoring their concerns and passing the buck whenever possible.
"We feel that the county and MDE don't seem to be working together on this issue," said Frank Martin, the other co-chairman of the coalition of residents in and outside Turf Valley who are fighting expansion of the development. "If not for the residents, a lot of information would fall through the cracks."
They are not the only ones frustrated.
Don Sadler, who represents another group of Turf Valley residents, said Mangione has done everything to accommodate his critics and urged approval of the wetlands permit to make road improvements that would be needed to accommodate further development.
"We support the permit application," Sadler said. "We believe every reasonable effort has been made by the [applicant] to comply with the requests and the requirements of the MDE, and see no reason to delay the issuance of the necessary permits."
The permit sought by Mangione would affect almost an acre of nontidal wetlands and move the company closer to winning approval to extend Resort Road to Marriottsville Road, build access roads, widen Marriottsville Road and install underground utility lines. A decision on the permit will be made in about six weeks.
Turf Valley has about 150 homes and condominiums, a hotel and resort center and two golf courses. Zoning for the 800-acre development permits an additional 1,379 housing units and about 1 million square feet of commercial space.
Mangione has sought to increase the overall density from two homes an acre to 2.15 homes an acre, which would mean 121 more units. That proposal that has generated most of the opposition. The company withdrew its rezoning application this year.
Because Mangione is widely expected to renew the request, critics are using any tool available to halt - or at least slow down - the expansion of Turf Valley.
That was evident during a hearing on the wetlands permit held last Wednesday by the MDE in conjunction with the Army Corps of Engineers.
A Mangione-commissioned soil analysis that concluded chemicals and pesticides used to maintain the golf courses pose no health hazard was questioned, and the frustration of some rose when MDE officials said that report is beyond the permit review.
"The intent of our testimony is to request that MDE, or the responsible state and local agencies, appropriately address potential chemicals or environmental contamination from products, such as pesticides, used to treat the land that may impact the health [and] safety of our children and community when this property is converted," Veronica Carella said on behalf of the PTA Council of Howard Council.
Gary T. Setzer, administrator of the state's wetlands and waterways program, said such environmental analysis generally isn't part of the permit process.
"There's obviously within the Maryland Department of the Environment a waste management administration that deals with hazardous waste," Setzer said.
"None of the contaminants that I'm aware of that have been discussed and are present at the golf course would fall into that category, not in terms of what MDE would regulate."
The use of pesticides and herbicides on golf courses is regulated by the state Department of Agriculture, he said, "and they have not indicated ... that they have found any problems" in Turf Valley.
"I know that's not the most satisfying answer, but that's the reality of the situation," Setzer said.
Louis Mangione, vice president of the family-owned development company attended the hearing, enduring in silence personal attacks on him and his family.