The expansion of Turf Valley, Howard's only planned golf course community, has attracted the kind of vehement neighborhood opposition that's typical for big developments. But in recent weeks, it has also drawn the concern of the county's school board.
Officials have asked the Howard Planning Board to require that Mangione Family Enterprises, developer of the residential resort community west of Ellicott City, reserve 25 acres of its complex for a school site. The request was presented last week during a crowded Planning Board hearing. More than 200 people from neighborhoods near Turf Valley attended the meeting, and most stood to show their opposition to the expansion.
"We're just trying to protect the ability of the school system to provide seats for all the new houses coming in," said Courtney Watson, chairman of the Howard County Board of Education.
But developer Louis Mangione, project manager for Mangione Family Enterprises, said he was surprised by the school board's proposal.
"I don't know how they came to that request," Mangione said. "They didn't talk to us at all about the possibility of that."
In 1986, the Mangiones won county approval to build 1,386 homes, more than 444,000 square feet of office space and two 18-hole golf courses. The project, however, has kept a relatively low profile as the Mangiones developed only about 150 homes, concentrating instead on building the golf courses and a 220-room hotel and conference center.
Now, Turf Valley developers want to expand the development from the original 689 acres to 809 acres and increase density to a total of 1,740 units in a mix of condominiums, townhouses and single-family detached homes, according to planning and zoning officials. Because they want to expand beyond the scope approved in 1986, the Mangiones must seek approval from both the Planning Board and the County Council.
Mangione said the resort expansion "will not tax the schools anywhere near as much as the residents claim it will." He said Turf Valley will be paying substantial amounts to the county in school and road excise taxes and in property taxes. "Turf Valley will have tremendous fiscal benefits to the county, which should translate to good things," he said.
The original plan for Turf Valley was approved several years before the county enacted a law requiring that sufficient public facilities, such as roads and schools, be available as development occurs. Because the county's adequate facilities law applies only to the recent changes the Mangiones are seeking, school officials fear they won't be able to guarantee that there's enough classroom space available.
"We don't have a lot of tools to make sure we are providing capacity," said Watson. "I think that's the thing that spurred the [school] board to make this request." She said that school officials would be willing to purchase the land.
David Drown, director of geographic systems for the school system, estimated that 389 students, age kindergarten through 12th grade, would live in a completely developed Turf Valley. Opponents claim there will be even more children, burdening already-crowded schools in the area. The project, they say, also will overwhelm the surrounding roadways, particularly Marriottsville Road. The fault lies not with the developer, they say, but with the county.
"They don't have an answer for the current problem, and they don't have a clue about the future problem," said Marc Norman, co-chairman of a coalition drawn from eight neighborhoods around Turf Valley.
Norman said the 1986 Turf Valley project, styled somewhat like a self-contained Columbia village, has been undermined as the county approved newer, nearby developments such as Turf Valley Overlook and Waverly Woods.
"Is this what the county envisioned 20 years ago when they created this zoning?" he asked. "It's time to put 2004 standards in place."
Marsha McLaughlin, director of planning and zoning, said the county has been able to adequately assess the impact of Turf Valley, and she called it "definitely the kind of smart growth the [county's] General Plan calls for."