Organizers of a challenge to a recent Howard rezoning bill are confident they've gathered enough signatures to put the legislation to a referendum.

This week, leaders of Citizens for an Open Process for Everyone (COPE), planned to turn in a second batch of petitions containing more than 2,000 signatures. The group is working to gather 5,000 verified signatures of Howard voters so that the County Council's March rezoning of dozens of properties will be put on the ballot in November 2006. The group's members say the council's rezoning was a confusing process that was manipulated by developers and special interest groups.

"I know it's going to be validated," COPE organizer Angela Beltram said of the petition drive. About three weeks ago, the citizens group turned in 4,824 signatures.

Gus Mickley, acting deputy director of the Howard Board of Elections, said this week that elections officials had validated 4,475 signatures from the original batch. That's an acceptance rate of nearly 93 percent, "which is very high for a petition drive," he said.

Even if the group is successful in getting the rezoning ordinance on the ballot, members will continue to monitor individual zoning cases, Beltram said. She mentioned an upcoming case involving property along Route 100 and Meadowridge Road.

"We're going to watch and see," said Beltram, who served on the County Council from 1986 to 1990.

Turf Valley Concerns

A public hearing on a state permit for the planned Turf Valley expansion is expected to draw residents worried about the environmental impact of building on former golf course property.

The Mangione family, which owns and operates the Turf Valley Resort and Conference Center west of Ellicott City, is seeking permission from the Maryland Department of the Environment to excavate wetlands on its property near the Little Patuxent River. The Mangiones received approval from the county in 1986 to build nearly 1,400 units on 689 acres surrounding its golf course and resort, but much of the project remains unbuilt.

The public hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday at the George Howard Building, 3430 Court House Dr. in Ellicott City.

Marc Norman, co-chairman of a neighborhood group that has been critical of Turf Valley's recent development plans, said he would like state and county officials to look into whether decades of pesticide application on Turf Valley land have left toxic residues in the soil and water.

A consultant's report, submitted to the county last month by Richard B. Talkin, an attorney for Turf Valley, found slight amounts of pesticides and metals such as mercury in surface soils, but the report added that the levels "would not be expected to trigger any state or federal requirements including further investigation or site cleanup."

"We feel the report is incomplete in the scope of testing and in terms of the conclusions drawn," Norman said.

Horse Center Memorial

It's been a rough spring for the operators of the Columbia Horse Center, where six center-owned horses were euthanized after contracting an unusual neurological virus that has kept the center under a limited state quarantine for more than two months. Besides fielding calls from worried horse owners and anxious riding students, general manager Nanci Steveson also has heard from the horse center's landlord, the Columbia Association.

"We feel awful for them, as I'm sure everybody does," said Bob Bellamy, director of operations for CA's Sport & Fitness Division. Bellamy managed the horse center for a year before the association leased it to operator Mike Smith in 2001.

"Any landlord would try to do anything they can to support the tenant," he said.

When Steveson mentioned that she would like to plant a tree to remember the six horses that were euthanized, Bellamy and CA landscape architect Jan Clark had a large maple quickly hauled to the site and planted, along with a wooden sign, in time for the center's Preakness Party on May 21.

"It really meant a lot to our students," Steveson said.

Development Decisions

The county's Planning Board voted 3 to 1 last week to turn down an increase in density for developer Stewart Greenebaum's Maple Lawn project near Fulton.

With only board member David Grabowski voting for the density change, Chairman Tammy Citara-Manis, Jennifer Terrasa and Gregory Tornatore rejected a proposal that would have allowed Greenebaum to expand his development now that he has acquired more property, near Routes 29 and 216 in southeastern Howard County. The fifth board member, Linda Dombrowksi, did not attend the meeting May 25.

"I guess they saw the point we were trying to make -- that there needs to be a buffer area" without denser housing, said local activist John Adolphsen, a longtime resident who lives near the former turkey farm. The Planning Board's vote was advisory; the case now goes to the Zoning Board.

Also last week, the Planning Board unanimously agreed to reopen hearings on General Growth Properties' proposal to build 1.2 million square feet of commercial space on the so-called crescent property next to Merriweather Post Pavilion in downtown Columbia. The board has conducted public sessions on the proposal for more than seven months.

But board members spent almost two hours last Thursday discussing whether they had enough information about the project's potential effect on residences. Citara-Manis alluded to a recent public meeting during which General Growth officials presented a slide show and spoke extensively about a possible mixed-use development on the same site.

"I think it is just unfortunate -- everybody else out there is looking at plans, and we see zip," she said.

Dennis W. Miller, General Growth's local vice president, said last week that he would provide the Planning Board with a similar presentation when the next hearing is held, probably in late July.

Citara-Manis also referred to General Growth's pending lawsuit against the county stemming from the Zoning Board's rejection last year of the company's proposal to build housing on the site. The company subsequently submitted the mixed-use development plan for the crescent property.

"From a policy standpoint, they have two things going that are contrary to one another," she said. "Which one do they want?"