To some, Columbia casts a long shadow


A photo caption in Sunday's Howard County Sun incorrectly stated Ellicott City Realtor Jean Quattlebaum's position on growth in the Columbia area. Quattlebaum and members of a group she represents oppose a zoning petition for Waverly Woods II, a planned Ellicott City development that has been compared to Columbia's villages.

We regret the errors.

Although it is revered by community planners and its residents, Columbia could be called Spoiled Sibling by the county's western farming community, Den of Democrats by county Republicans, and Cul-de-Sac City by delivery men.

"I think Columbia is great, but let Columbia stay in Columbia," says Jean Quattlebaum, an Ellicott City Realtor.

Quattlebaum and her neighbors have been waging war against those who want to let Columbia out of what they see as its proper place. A proposed development in neighboring Mariottsville would be a combination of commercial development and apartments, town houses and detached homes similar to a Columbia village.

In the tradition of county meetings governing non-Columbia issues, they invoke the observation, "If we had wanted that, we would have moved to Columbia."

The Columbia of public perception is where the grass may be greener, but it had better not be taller. It's where "neighborhood Nazis" confiscate umbrella clothes dryers, pink flamingos and Dad's old Chevy in the name of covenants.

"That's where all the crime is. And they get everything, and we get nothing," says Lois Cissel, 59, who has lived in Clarksville for 30 years. "My husband says it's the ruination of Howard County."

While that may sound reactionary, even those who work within the system say there's some truth there.

"I don't know that if we had known in the '60s what Columbia would be, we would have been as complacent about it coming in," says Martha Clark, president of the county Farm Bureau.

Clark, whose family has owned property in Howard County since the early 1700s, grew up in the Savage area and watched her neighbors sell off their land to the Rouse Co. to help create the planned city.

"Columbia has brought some good things to the county, but some of those things were brought to the county at the expense of other people who were unable to have those things," Clark says.

During the first half of Columbia's development, she says, schools in the western county became run down while new schools were built in Columbia, partly at the expense of western taxpayers. The central library was built in Columbia, but the western county is still waiting for one branch library other than a shopping center storefront in Lisbon.

The county has caught up on schools and other western county facilities, Clark says, but it's hard for some western residents to forget those years.

Pat Colandrea also lived in Ellicott City and Clarksville before Columbia existed, but sees the city in a different light.

"It's really a beautiful place. You don't often see a city that's planned so well," she says.

Colandrea says she remembers the 1960s, when the Rouse Co. was buying up land for Columbia and countians feared what was to come.

"Everybody heard all kinds of crazy things about what was happening, including that it was going to be a huge sewage disposal facility for D.C. or something like that," she says.

"When we did find out, there were a lot of mixed feelings," Colandrea says, mainly about the number of people who were supposed to live in Columbia. "The more I heard about it, the more fantastic I thought it would be. . . . It was really amazing, the amount of work that went into planning it."

She moved into Columbia in 1976, then left 10 years later for Solomon's Island in Southern Maryland.

"Columbia was finally getting too busy and too crowded," she said. "I think that's why a lot of people moved away from Columbia."

Don Sanchez of the St. John's Lane area in Ellicott City sees another problem with Columbia.

"The problem with Columbia is that there's too many Democrats. There isn't any Republican force in Columbia. That's what's caused the growth in government," he says.

The County Council's three Democrats are from Columbia; its two Republicans are not. The only Democrat among Howard County state delegates lives in Columbia. Her four Republican colleagues do not.

Like everyone with Columbia complaints, Sanchez sees a positive side.

He likes the Columbia Medical Plan, the nearness of The Mall and other shopping. In fact, he's willing to accept the entire village of Dorsey's Search near his home.

However, Sanchez opposes the "breakdown in zoning" prompted by Columbia, allowing half-acre lots to be replaced by town houses and apartments.

"Now they're constantly making zoning exceptions, because the pattern was well-established by Columbia: Break the zoning. The Zoning Board is primarily composed of Columbia residents," he says. "The less-populated area of the county does not have adequate representation."

And they, of course, are all Democrats.

Perhaps the most joked-about part of the Columbia experience is its geography, with loops and cul-de-sacs and esoteric street names that have earned the ire of more than one delivery person.

"Most places can be challenging to find, but in Columbia, they could be classified as impossible," says Dan Bolita, office manager of World Wide Delivery Service in Laurel.

Besides the curving, looping street layout and confusing names without "street," "avenue," "court" or any other ending, house numbers in Columbia tend to be harder to read than elsewhere, he says.

"The street signs are poorly lit," he says, adding to the list, "with the Columbia blue being the background choice for the street signs instead of the traditional reflective green."

But even the most adamant complainers have something good to say about Columbia.

Asked about how she felt about the planned arrival of a village shopping center next to downtown Clarksville, Lois Cissel was generous.

"A lot of people are waiting for that, especially for grocery stores. You've got to go to Route 40 or down to Burtonsville to get your groceries," she said, adding: "If they put a Wal-Mart there, that would be great."



knocks on Columbia that residents are tired of hearing . . .

10. "That we have a snobbish air about us. Like we're all rich people."

9. "It's that 'little new town.' "

8. "We're preconceived as outsiders in the county."

"Plastic city."

6. "Everyone thinks you're a liberal."

5. Rural Howard countians call it "Gotham City."

"People know you're from Colum- bia when your street is High

Beam Court."

3. "Stepford Wives Community."

2. "Everyone who doesn't live in Columbia lives in an out-parcel."

1. "Street names, street names, street names."

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