It will be another month before the Planning Board reaches a verdict on the proposed expansion of Turf Valley, the resort and residential community west of Ellicott City, but one thing is certain: The fight has only begun.
"It's going to appeal," said Frank Martin, who has led the effort against the development during a six-month hearing process that taxed the patience of many people, was often combative and produced few, if any, victories for opponents.
The one, and perhaps only, issue the critics raised that may have resonated - an attack on the results of a developer-commissioned traffic study - was effectively left in shambles Thursday during the final evening of the quasi-legal hearings.
Both sides have until Feb. 17 to file written summations and a week after that to submit written rebuttals to those summations.
Tammy J. CitaraManis, chairwoman of the Planning Board, said the panel would reconvene March 7 to decide whether to approve the fourth comprehensive sketch plan filed by the developer, Mangione Family Enterprises.
Martin's vow of an appeal left little doubt that the opponents realize they have lost. It was the second time in less than a month that he indicated he believes the board would approve the developer's plans.
Mangione's cause received a significant boost Thursday night after a key witness for his side expertly defended an analysis that concluded, in part, that expanding Turf Valley would produce no significant increase in traffic on Marriottsville Road or U.S. 40, key thoroughfares serving the area.
Critics, late last month and Thursday, attempted to discredit the study, performed by The Traffic Group, a Baltimore-based firm that specializes in traffic engineering and planning. They challenged the results, saying the firm's figures were unacceptably lower than the state's.
They contended that Mangione's plans would result in nightmarish traffic congestion.
The results of the traffic study done on the developer's behalf are "wholly unjustified and should be rejected," Craig Fingerman, an opponent, testified Jan. 19.
But Mickey A. Cornelius, senior vice president of The Traffic Group, defended the study and documented how its and the state's traffic counts and projections are consistent. He noted, for example, that his study identified 1,478 vehicles eastbound on U.S. 40 during the morning rush hour, compared with the state's count of 1,490.
"My traffic volumes were criticized as being inaccurate," Cornelius said. "Comparing them with the state is very valid. We were within 12 vehicles."
He also discredited claims by the opponents that substantial numbers of motorists were "cutting through" Pebble Beach Drive in Turf Valley to avoid U.S. 40.
Cornelius said his firm on Jan 11 counted 172 vehicles traveling south on Turf Valley Road during peak morning rush hour, and only three of them turned onto Pebble Beach - two of which were school buses. Six days later, 160 vehicles were counted and only two turned onto Pebble Beach, both of them school buses.
The developer is seeking approval to:
Add 119 acres to the development - expanding Turf Valley to 809 acres.
Build an additional 267 homes. Those units would be phased in between 2008 and 2015, and, because of the added acreage, would not increase the overall density - homes per acre - of Turf Valley. The development is zoned now for 1,151 units.
Realign Resort Road, a major street in the development, for improved traffic flow.
Make permanent the location of several golf holes in the residential areas to act as buffers for residents and to open land in the multiuse district for future development.
Turf Valley is an upscale planned community that includes a hotel, two 18-hole golf courses and luxury homes and plans to add commercial businesses.