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Wilde Lake makes move toward revitalization


Wilde Lake village board member Howard Feldmesser wants Columbia's oldest village transformed from its "drab, 1960s earth-tone" look to a more bold, modern appearance -- one of many improvements the community is seeking in a fledgling revitalization project.

"We want to bring Wilde Lake into the 1990s," Mr. Feldmesser said. "We're kind of letting the place slide a little bit."

Public and private agencies and a utility have joined in an effort to stem the effects of aging in Wilde Lake, which opened to the new town's first residents in 1967.

In the process, the agencies that own property or enforce property-maintenance guidelines in the village hope to create a model of revitalization for other older Columbia villages and aging areas of the county to follow.

A leader of the effort, Howard County Councilwoman Mary Lorsung, D-4th, said the county's older communities must begin taking stock of their physical appearance and infrastructure, such as roads, sidewalks and lighting. Wilde Lake "certainly has problems related to aging but it's not such a desperate situation that people throw up their hands in despair," said the West Columbia representative.

Signs of aging in Columbia are becoming more apparent as more homes and apartment complexes fall into disrepair, villages struggle to enforce the property maintenance guidelines, and village shopping centers lose tenants and customers. County and Columbia officials emphasize the need to keep public facilities and private properties in good condition to avoid a decline in property values and an increase of other problems, such as crime.

"I don't think any of Columbia's villages have reached any kind of severe or critical stage in this aging process," Ms. Lorsung said. "But at this point in our history, you certainly can anticipate the need to keep close watch and keep on top of things."

Mr. Feldmesser, chair of the village's Revitalization Committee, agreed that the village's problems associated with aging are "at the preventive stage now rather than the corrective stage."

Mr. Feldmesser is surveying homeowners associations within the village to see what can be done to "put a shine on the neighborhood," from painting homes brighter colors to resurfacing roads. "There's the dust and dirt and grime of 30 years," he said.

Coordinators of the project -- the county government, the Columbia Association (CA), Wilde Lake village, Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. and the Rouse Co., Columbia's developer -- plan to compile an inventory of improvements that could be made.

They also aim to encourage residents to make repairs to their own properties and work together to spruce up common areas. To that end, the agencies have suggested organizing a trade fair of home improvement contractors, pooling resources to gain discounts on contracting work, mobilizing volunteers for beautification projects using CA or county equipment and seeking low-interest rate bank loans.

"We'd like to create a contagion so it's the thing to do," said CA President Padraic Kennedy, a Wilde Lake resident.

However, the effort has moved slowly since it was launched in February, Ms. Lorsung admits. "We're not much beyond where we were when we started," she said.

Organizers say Wilde Lake is a good community to try a broad revitalization effort because some major improvements already have been made or are in the works. For example, the Slayton House community center and the Wilde Lake Village Green have been renovated, the Bryant Woods Neighborhood Center was rebuilt after a fire and a new high school is being constructed.

The presidents of several homeowners associations in Wilde Lake say they see room for improvement, such as replacing dying trees, fixing sagging walkways and installing better lighting.

"It's not that I think things are bad here, but it's entirely appropriate to have people come together to make things better," said Philip Schulz, president of the Beechen Hill Owners Association.

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