Turf Valley development petition fuels resistance

The Baltimore Sun

The fight over an attempt to block a 55,000-square-foot supermarket from being built as part of a village center-style development at Turf Valley in western Ellicott City is intensifying.

The County Council approved a bill in November allowing the supermarket to be larger than the 18,000-square-foot limit in earlier regulations, but some residents objected and began a petition drive for a referendum in the November 2010 elections.

Marc Norman, a Turf Valley resident and persistent critic of growth plans at the 800-acre hotel/golf course community submitted petitions Feb. 3 containing 6,079 signatures. The county election board previously approved 2,603 names submitted in December and because 5,000 valid signatures were needed before Feb. 4 under county law, Norman expects to have enough.

County election board administrator Betty Nordaas said the board will need several weeks to validate the signatures.

But lawyers for Greenberg Gibbons Commercial, developers of the proposed Turf Valley Town Square project, are responding with a lawsuit alleging that much of the process, from the way the petition was designed to the way signatures were gathered, is illegal.

In the Jan. 27 suit, which names the county and state election boards, Norman and county government as defendants, Greenberg Gibbons lawyers Richard B. Talkin and Sang W. Oh said that most of those gathering names were affiliated with United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 27, whose members work for Giant and Safeway. Their interest is to block a nonunion store, the suit alleges. A Harris Teeter store is the likely tenant, according to a spokeswoman for Turf Valley's owners, Mangione Family Enterprises.

Despite signed disclosure forms submitted with the petitions stating that none were paid for their work, Talkin and Oh's suit alleges some were paid and the disclosures added later.

The suit also charges that some petition gatherers told potential signers that they were seeking to block "big box" stores at Turf Valley, though the County Council specifically prohibited any other store there exceeding 20,000 square feet. The 55,000-square-foot size is now standard for current supermarkets. No date for a court hearing has been set.

Brian Gibbons, CEO of Greenberg Gibbons, declined to comment. Norman denied any fraud or other irregularities.

"The developer is trying to thwart the will of the people," he said.

Norman said he sent e-mails to dozens of people seeking volunteers to gather signatures, and he said he didn't know if volunteers were affiliated with the union.

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