Closing off open spaces at night proposed to curb illegal activities


Annoyed with long-running problems of vandalism, drinking and other illegal activities along Columbia's pathways, the Columbia Council suggested last night legally closing all open -- space areas at night and making it easier for police to patrol the properties.

Councilman Michael Rethman said Hickory Ridge village is leaning toward asking the nonprofit Columbia Association (CA) -- which maintains about 3,000 acres of open space, 70 miles of pathways and 137 tot lots -- to place all CA open space property in the village under a county ordinance that restricts access.

"Implicit in that is that we may want to do it citywide," said Mr. Rethman, the council representative from Hickory Ridge.

The ordinance, known as Title 19, allows county police to erect barriers and enter property to make arrests or take other enforcement action without the property owner being present. About 300 acres of CA-owned open space property is under Title 19, which typically is used to prohibit access between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

The council voted to place eight open space lots totaling 7 acres in the Clemens Crossing neighborhood of Hickory Ridge, including four children's playgrounds, under the ordinance. The Hickory Ridge village board made the request because of frequent incidents of vandalism, fires, drinking, drug use and late-night gatherings of teen-agers and pre-teens.

The council asked the association staff to prepare a memorandum outlining the advantages and disadvantages of placing all its open space property under Title 19.

Hickory Ridge's request coincides with a recent increase in vandalism and graffiti at CA recreational facilities, community buildings, pavilions and parkland citywide. Such damage has cost the association an estimated $80,000 to correct in the past year.

In other business:

* The council decided to take no position on a July 26 county Zoning Board hearing to consider the Rouse Co.'s request to rezone land adjacent to Merriweather Post Pavilion for high-density residential use. Residents have expressed concern that condominiums or apartments would be incompatible with the Rouse-owned amphitheater in Symphony Woods and that conflicts eventually could contribute to the closing of the Town Center pavilion.

"This would be a huge mistake to put residential buildings on the property," said Councilwoman Hope Sachwald of Harper's Choice village.

* About a dozen residents, mostly from Wilde Lake village, presented opposing views on whether boating or fishing should be restricted on any part of Wilde Lake.

The council adopted restrictions about three years ago in response to nearby homeowners' complaints about violations of privacy.

Residents and association officials have questioned whether prohibiting fishing from boats on parts of the lake is legal, because the state may have jurisdiction over the water. The council requested a legal opinion from the CA's attorney.

Several residents opposed any restrictions on recreational activities at the lake, arguing that residents pay for it through the CA annual property charge and shouldn't be barred from using it to protect nearby homeowners.

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