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Residents, association at odds over golf course, fishing policy


Wilde Lake village residents are in turmoil over the very activities that contribute to Columbia's highly touted quality of life -- golf and lake recreation.

At a contentious, three-hour meeting Monday night, residents accused the Columbia Association (CA) of secretly changing its golf course design without regard for adverse effects on residents.

Residents also argued over a policy that prohibits fishing from boats on much of Wilde Lake and expressed frustration because that issue has ping-ponged from the Wilde Lake board to the Columbia Council and back again for two months, with no resolution.

The long-running disputes pit residents against CA and one another as they argue for peace and quiet on private property.

The Wilde Lake Village Board -- which has no power other than making recommendations to CA or county agencies -- tabled the fishing issue until July.

But in the golf dispute, the board decided to ask the county planning office to require CA to comply with originally approved plans for the Fairway Hills Golf Course and to improve landscaping for homes near the course.

Residents from the Running Brook area -- where three golf holes are being constructed -- say they've lost faith in CA, charging the non-profit organization hasn't met expectations for landscaping, course design and environmental protection for the $5.2 million, 18-hole project.

The latest example, they say, is the shifting of a tee on the 13th hole closer to homes along Ten Mills Road without approval from nearby residents, the village board or the county.

Angry residents say the tee shift would bring golfers within a few yards of one house and increase safety hazards for several homes.

"One thing that came across repeatedly from CA is, 'We want to be a good neighbor,' " said Ten Mills Road resident Louis Marmo. "They've been anything but a good neighbor."

Robert Goldman, the association's director of membership services, defended CA's actions, saying it's common for golf course developers to modify plans slightly once construction begins.

He said CA would work with homeowners to resolve landscaping and safety concerns, as it has with Hobbit's Glen Golf Club neighbors for 27 years.

"I've been with CA for six years, and I can assure you everything that's happened during that time, we've lived up to our word," Mr. Goldman said yesterday.

The issue is at a stalemate. Mr. Goldman said CA doesn't intend to change its current tee alignment plan until it negotiates further with Audrey and James Poole, who CA says own the only home directly affected by the tee shift. CA wants to satisfy the Pooles with improved landscaping.

However, Mrs. Poole told the Wilde Lake board Monday that she opposes the tee shift out of concern for her neighbors.

The county has ultimate authority to approve golf course design changes or require CA to move the tee farther from residences to its originally approved location. However, CA hasn't submitted plans for changes yet.

Residents say unexpected changes on the golf course -- a project they fought for years before the Columbia Council

approved it in 1993 -- are a pattern. This spring, the association erected a 1,000-foot-long chain link fence behind Wilde Lake's Hannibal Grove townhouses without seeking architectural approval.

At issue in the fishing controversy is the association's authority to restrict use of the 21-acre lake primarily to protect the privacy of nearby homeowners. Waterfowl protection also was a consideration.

Most residents argued that a policy CA adopted in 1992 that prohibits fishing in the southern half of the lake -- where homes are close to the water -- is an ideal compromise. That policy bans fishing from the southern shore and from boats in the lake's southern half.

"This is about the opportunity for voyeurism and harassment to residents and waterfowl," said J. William Miller, a resident of The Cove condominiums, which overlook the lake. "This is about the peaceful use and enjoyment of my home."

But others argued that their right to use the lake for recreation is being unfairly restricted for the benefit of a few. Furthermore, they said, the policy is unenforceable because the lake's north-south boundary is not marked in the water.

"People living around the lake don't own the ground adjacent to the lake or any of the water in that lake," said Wilde Lake resident Harold Simon. "There's a principle here: property rights vs. public rights."

Wilde Lake resident Stuart Sklar has battled to change the policy for several years. In April, he convinced the village board to recommend opening up the lake to anglers in boats -- except for a small area reserved for swan protection near The Cove -- while maintaining a ban on fishing from the southern shore.

But the Columbia Council, CA's policy-making board, sent the issue back to Wilde Lake under pressure from residents.

"I'm trying as a lien-holder to make sure the few privileges I have are still upheld," Mr. Sklar told the village board. "Somebody sitting in a boat with a fishing rod can't be a criminal anymore."

Despite objections from homeowners, the Wilde Lake board is leaning toward loosening restrictions. "I'm very much against restrictions on any of CA's facilities," said board member David Gardner. "It comes down to doing what the majority who have expressed themselves seem to want vs. what we think is right."

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