The development of Turf Valley into a huge mixed-use residential-commercial community is one step closer to construction after a unanimous Planning Board vote on what a member called a technical issue, but critics of the project are furious that their warnings about chemicals in golf course soil were ignored.
The 4-0 vote Thursday night approved the county planning staff's recommendation and confirmed that the final development plan for Turf Valley conforms to what is called the sketch plan, as required under county law.
Louis Mangione, vice president of Mangione Family Enterprises, owners of the 809-acre golf-hotel resort, said he hopes to see construction start on the first six-story condominium near Marriottsville Road next summer, despite continuing opposition from a group of local residents. Plans call for more than 1,300 residential units, a nursing home and office and retail buildings.
The Mangiones said extensive soil testing would be done at the hotel and golf resort between Interstate 70 and U.S. 40 in western Ellicott City in the course of processing the development, but some residents contend the issue of arsenic and lead contamination has not been adequately addressed.
Frank Martin and Marc Norman, two principal critics of the project, urged the board not to approve anything until the contamination issue is resolved, but the board ignored their request.
"Basically, we're dealing here with a technical issue. The chemical issues need to be addressed when we get to the site-development plans," said board member Gary Rosenbaum. The site-development plans will detail what will be built on each parcel of the roughly 500 acres designated for construction.
Martin urged the board to "consider the bigger picture of this," saying that to "promote the health, safety and welfare of the county" is a general mandate in planning and zoning regulations.
He and Norman argued that the Mangiones concealed for two years a test that showed arsenic levels 60 times higher than normal near a maintenance shed on the property. A bill requiring them to clean the property is pending before the County Council.
"For you to vote to approve this would, in my estimation, be crazy. Dismiss it until the County Council has heard this. The joke is there were no WMDs [weapons of mass destruction] in Iraq; we found WMDs in Maryland, at Turf Valley. Use good judgment," Martin said.
Norman said he has examined the county's records on Turf Valley and found no copies of the tests revealing the arsenic and lead. "The developer withheld information from the government and the public. We're very concerned about this," he said.
At that, Richard B. Talkin, the veteran county zoning attorney representing the Mangiones, stood and said angrily, "If he's referring to me, that is totally incorrect."
Sam Mangione, Louis' brother and a family spokesman, then told the board that he attended a County Council public hearing Monday night and "I listened to people attack my family and our integrity. There's a great deal of misinformation and distortion."
He said, "It is a misconception that we withheld soil test results. We've consistently followed a normal development process for a project like this, except for the fact that, although not required, we did testing and voluntarily released those results." Of 62 test results "all but one had acceptable levels of arsenic and lead" which was limited to a small paved area near a maintenance shed, he said.
Mangione said the family "went even further than necessary" in enrolling 40 acres in the state's voluntary cleanup program
Last month, Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, the county health officer, said he was "truly outraged that [the Mangiones] did not divulge this, though they clearly knew it for all these years."
The arsenic revelations prompted the County Council bill that would require soil testing of any current or former golf course proposed for development - a measure Beilenson called "a backstop bill" for Turf Valley in testimony before the council Monday.
Beilenson said Mangione Family Enterprises "seem to be quite ready to enter the voluntary cleanup program of the state of Maryland." If for some reason they don't, however, the bill would force them to join the program.
"We believe they will," Beilenson told the council.
No speakers at the council's public hearing opposed the bill, but several suggested that it be made stronger, with more specific testing requirements.
"It is your job to protect your constituents," said Stuart Kohn of North Laurel.
Martin said at the hearing that contamination could extend beyond the 452 acres used for the golf courses. He also accused the Mangiones of paving over with a new entrance road land where chemicals could be found.
Michael Powell, an attorney for Turf Valley, told the council that "Turf Valley is going into the voluntary cleanup program. We will complete that program." Louis Mangione denied the new entry road covers any tainted land. "There's nothing there," he said.
The council is to discuss the bill at a work session tomorrow and vote on it Oct. 1.
On Thursday night, the Planning Board also voted, 4-0, to approve "flex space" at a proposed four-building, one-story office project in the southwest corner of I-70 and Route 32. The 32 acres would house two 25,840-square- foot buildings, one 44,120-square- foot structure and one building at 54,120 square feet.
The flex-space designation will allow the two larger buildings to have warehouse and storage space, and an area between them for truck deliveries and loading.