RV Lot Land Swap Raises Questions
The Columbia Association's deal with the Rouse Co. over land for a recreational vehicle storage lot may stand as one of the most shameful episodes in Columbia's history. It gives the people of Columbia yet another compelling reason to change the way Columbia is governed.
In a nutshell, the deal would require CA to pay $1 million to the Rouse Co. for land that is actually worth much less. There are indications that hazardous wastes may be on or adjacent to this marginal piece of property, which the Rouse Co. hasn't been able to sell to anybody else. In return for CA overpaying for the property and taking over this potential liability, the Rouse Co. says it would make the Snowden Square commercial area and a nearby potential residential development subject to the CA tax.
On the surface, it sounds like the deal would at least bring some tax money to CA that it wouldn't have otherwise. But, one very troubling question is why isn't Snowden Square already paying CA taxes? After all, Snowden Square is built on land that was originally subject to the CA tax. Yes, in the early years of Columbia, the Rouse Co. apparently worked out a deal to waive the tax on the property in order to coax General Electric to locate in Columbia. Well folks, GE came, and several years later, GE left. Ever since, the condition for exempting the former GE property from CA taxes has not existed, so why haven't the new property owners been paying CA taxes? By all rights, the Rouse Co. owes the people of Columbia back taxes for the property since the year GE left.
And as far as the residential property is concerned, why isn't the developer of Columbia routinely placing that property under the CA tax? Why must that property be held hostage to a questionable land deal?
Some people question whether CA should build a recreational vehicle parking lot at all. Even if such a lot could be justified, common sense points to selecting land that is not fraught with potential problems and paying only what the land is really worth. The Rouse Co. would do well to donate a couple of acres at a better location for this purpose, since it wrote the covenants that restrict parking recreational vehicles at residences in the first place. And, the owners of Snowden Square and the nearby residential area need to immediately start paying the CA tax, with no strings attached.
However, common sense is unlikely to prevail. I predict that the Rouse Co. and CA will manufacture some gibberish to justify their positions, the auditor that CA has hired will simply tell them what they want to hear, and they will approve the deal, as bad as it stinks. And, the people of Columbia will look at all of this and then render their own judgment in a very profound way.
The writer is president of the Alliance for a Better Columbia.
I would like to take this opportunity to share an experience with the local community and take the time to publicly thank our congressman, the Honorable Roscoe Bartlett, and his staff for their diligent efforts in helping our community deal with a small bureaucratic nightmare.
In March 1993, our community was established in Howard County, the Worthington Reserve subdivision in Ellicott City. Prior to the neighborhood being developed, each homeowner was to have a personal mailbox. However, the U.S. Postal Service in a situation that is not clear to this day, installed three cluster mailboxes to service 50 single-family homes.
The neighborhood, in an effort to get mailboxes with curbside service, got together and wrote the post office, met with the local postmaster, submitted a petition to the Postal Service, and wrote letters to the Postal Service headquarters in Washington. For all of our efforts, we were rejected on a quarterly basis by the Postal Service.
We then approached Congressman Bartlett with our situation. Congressman Bartlett listened to our concerns and then canvassed our neighborhood to review the matter firsthand. The congressman spoke with some of the residents of the neighborhood and then contacted the "right people" at the Postal Service. We had several meetings with representatives of the Postal Service and Congressman Bartlett attended these meetings, some of which were early in the morning. There were also phone calls that were late at night. Based on his efforts, we were able to get personal mailboxes with curb line service from the Postal Service.
We all know that Congressman Bartlett has more important things to do than become personally involved in a neighborhood dispute with the Postal Service. He could have assigned a staff member to handle this matter, but he chose to become involved himself and to see to it that our neighborhood got the best possible service from his office and our Postal Service. The Postal Service is very easy to criticize. However, Congressman Bartlett was able to cut through the red tape and the bureaucracy to help our neighborhood. In fact, in our neighborhood, we feel we have the best mail carriers and the best service from our local post office.
Since this time, I have come to contact Congressman Bartlett's office in regards to important issues that face our nation as well as our congressional district. I encourage everyone in our area to use the services of Congressman Bartlett and his staff. He has town meetings at various locations within his district to meet constituents and listen to the concerns of the public.
The residents of Worthington Reserve in Ellicott City would like to thank Congressman Bartlett for his sincere efforts in resolving our situation.
Donald L. Catanzarito
As Howard County struggles to fund the education budget, the Bonnie Branch/Ilchester Community Association has a good suggestion; namely, defer the clearing for a middle school that is to be built on Ilchester Road in three to five years and for which there presently are no definite building plans until it is actually constructed.
First, some background. In December 1993, the Howard County Board of Education held a hearing on the site for Northeastern Elementary No. 2 on Trinity property on Ilchester Road, Although the parcel included 38 acres at the time and a number of people questioned the use of the land not needed for the elementary site, the board indicated no plans for it.
However, when the site plan for Northeastern Elementary 2 was shown to executive board members of our community association on Dec. 8, 1994, it included a middle school as well. In the intervening year, our community was not informed of this addition to the plans. Furthermore, we were distressed to learn that although the middle school will not be built for three to five years, its site is to be graded now instead of waiting until definite plans are drawn for it.
Ilchester Road is no ordinary road. Last June, this narrow, winding road was designated a scenic road along with other unique rural county roads. The Trinity property is a major wooded asset with beautiful dogwood, beech and mature oak. To clear the entire roadside the length of the property before all land is needed will create a great void. The removal of the woods for the elementary school alone will cause a gaping hole in the landscape. That the school system waited until nearly flat
farmland was covered with homes before deciding that another school was needed and choosing this site to begin with is a travesty.
Our community is not only saddened about the loss of a major wooded area, but we also are concerned about the aftermath. We have passed the dirt piles and rubble in front of Elkridge Elementary on Montgomery Road for almost four years. Leftover construction debris does not contribute to the beauty of a scenic road.
The school system asserts that waiting to clear the middle school site would increase the cost eight to 10 times. Current cost, according to Superintendent Michael Hickey, is estimated at $52,000. We find it hard to believe that competitive bidding would result in such an exorbitant figure as $400,000 to $500,000.
County Executive Charles Ecker estimates that construction costs increase about 5 percent per year. With interest rates on bonds more than that, we would save money by not borrowing the $52,000 now. Since Howard County has been warned about overextending its borrowing limit, deferring the bond money until construction begins would seem a wise thing to do. We understand that deferring the middle school clearing would mean that bulldozers would have to be delivered a second time. But since no precise plans exist for the middle school now, we expect that bulldozers will be needed anyway to complete grading for parking lots as well as for the foundation excavation.
Thus, it would seem reasonable to allow the trees to remain on the middle school site to show respect for the community and the scenic character of Ilchester Road. Dr. Hickey says that the school system desires to be a good neighbor. This is a golden opportunity to show our community that he means it by deferring the clearing of the middle school site until it is built.
For the next three to five years, Ilchester residents, Northeastern Elementary No. 2 students and staff and travelers on our scenic road will continue to enjoy the unique wooded beauty of the Trinity site. The school system will have built a lot of goodwill in our community, and at the same time, Howard County would need to borrow less money for the coming capital budget.
The writer is with the Bonnie Branch/Ilchester Community Association.
In the Feb. 5 issue of The Sun was an article written by Sheridan Lyons and Glenn Small entitled "Sitting in Judgment on Maryland's Judges." That was a very good article on the sad state of affairs in the judicial system in Howard County and Maryland. . . . I would like to see some kind of a follow-up article to see what response has been received. On a strong topic like "the court system," I would expect some feedback. When no feedback is forthcoming, I get somewhat suspicious and ask myself has someone "put the clamp" on this issue and hope it goes away. . . .
Only One Race
On Sept. 30, 1994, we wrote: "For some time, we have been stressing the need for us all to think, speak and write that there is only one 'race,' the human race. We human beings derive our strength and beauty from our ethnic diversity and from the fact that we allow all of our ethnicities to participate in our governance at all levels. Howard countians have an excellent opportunity to show our children that we practice what we preach and mean what we say by electing Delroy L. Cornick to the Howard County school board."
Well, we failed to elect Dr. Cornick to the board, and as such, we have a board that does not reflect our ethnic diversity. We are disturbed and disappointed (if not surprised) to read school board member Karen Campbell in an article headlined, "Black help program scrutinized" (Feb. 20), say, "I don't believe by virtue of their race, African-Americans . . ." Superintendent Michael Hickey, in the same article, says, "a group of kids . . . identified by race . . ."
We don't believe Dr. Cornick would have made such statements because he thinks, speaks and writes that there is only one "race," the human race. All of the commendable efforts now under way in Howard County and across the nation to improve intra-ethnic relations will come to naught if our policy-makers, journalists, lawyers, sociologists and demographers persist in using such archaic, divisive and mischievous language.
. . . Let's use words such as, "intra-racial," "inter-ethnic," "mixed heritage," "multi-cultural" or "multi-ethnic." Failing that, we propose that when words such as "race," "bi-racial" or "inter-racial" are used, let them be enclosed in quote marks at all times to show that the user is enlightened and aware of their inappropriateness and incorrectness.
Emerson C. Walden Sr.
Celona B. Walden