Columbia's covenants are ignored, residents say


Four angry Hickory Ridge village residents told the Columbia Council last night that many in their village are ignoring Columbia's strict covenants, a citywide trend that's threatening property values.

The residents said they have worked for as long as two years to address violations in the Clemens Crossing neighborhood, but the response from village staff has been weak.

"People have lost respect for the covenants. They know people aren't going to do anything about it," said Carole Surbrook, urging the council to target more money and resources to enforce the strict property maintenance guidelines.

"Columbia is supposed to be such a special city. I don't think it is anymore," Ms. Surbrook said.

In the past few years, residents have frequently expressed frustration over enforcement of the guidelines. Columbia's restrictive rules have long been recognized as a standard nationwide.

Greg McBrien suggested that the council change the legal system for enforcing the guidelines, which are intended to maintain neighborhoods' appearances and are contained in covenants signed by homeowners. He said he's watched his neighborhood decline over 20 years.

"This is only the beginning of what you're going to see throughout Columbia," he said. "Without a structural improvement with what's being done with covenant violations, I think you'll see a continuing decline of property values."

Ms. Surbrook said overgrown lawns, decaying fences and homes falling into disrepair are causing neighborhood blight.

The Hickory Ridge village residents said the village's part-time covenant adviser appears to be overburdened with cases.

Council members responded that they've formed a covenant committee -- for the second time in the last two years -- to determine how to speed up the enforcement process. But they added that Columbia's 10 village associations are legally charged with enforcing the rules, and that the Columbia Association (CA) only becomes involved when requested by a village.

The council directs CA, a nonprofit organization that manages Columbia's facilities and parkland.

In other business, the council deferred action until Aug. 10 on a proposal to reopen most of Wilde Lake to anglers who want to fish from boats.

Current policy prohibits fishing on the southern half of the lake to protect waterfowl and nearby residents concerned about privacy and security. The center of the lake is not marked, making enforcement difficult, say CA officials.

The new proposal would continue a ban on fishing from the southern banks, but would open the lake to fishing from boats except for a small cove. Most council members said they favored the new proposal, despite objections from homeowners.

"It's the council's job to look at the cost and benefits for all residents of Columbia, and not just a few," said Council Vice Chairman David W. Berson.

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