'Cheese hole' residents are city's outsiders


One of the nagging questions in defining Columbia is what to do with what have been described as "cheese holes" in the planned city.

When the Rouse Co. acquired land for Columbia in the 1960s, not all landowners wanted to cooperate, and some subdivisions had been built in the area.

These gaps are known as outparcels, and their residents will play a part in any attempt to create a municipality or a special tax district for Columbia. Those options are being studied by the Columbia Forum's Governance Initiative.

About 20 communities are surrounded by what is known in zoning parlance as "new town" property, and would have to be included within a city or tax district. At least 13 other parcels or small groups of houses would have to be included, as would the 300-acre Smith farm between Long Reach and Oakland Mills villages.

Residents of these outparcels don't pay the Columbia Association's annual property charge, but under an incorporation or tax district, they would start paying an extra property tax for the privilege of living in Columbia.

"It's my impression that people were adamantly opposed to being a part of the Columbia Association," says Frank S. Turner, former president of the Orchard Hill Community Association.

Not having to pay the charge, or "lien," is often touted as an advantage when outparcel homes are for sale. Yet many who pay the property charge say outparcel residents enjoy easy access to free facilities such as pathways and tot lots built by the association, and should have to pay for that advantage.

Turner, who attended the Columbia Forum Governance Initiative meeting on June 6, disagreed. "Somebody suggested that because we live in an outparcel, we might not be paying our fair share. I would suggest that we are smart consumers, and we chose property that does not pay the [Columbia Association] tax."

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