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Advance Screening Gets Mixed Reviews


The next Columbia Association official who promises to erect "screens" to shield residents from a CA project should volunteer for an experiment I've devised.

Let's locate the next major construction project by the city's homeowner association right in the backyard of that official. I'll guarantee that you'll hear a different tune.

First of all, the kind of "screen" referred to by CA Executive Robert Goldman typically involves a couple of saplings that in 20 years might provide a partial buffer.

Mr. Goldman was trying to reassure residents who live adjacent to the proposed Fairway Hills golf course that any safety hazards would be met with a speedy response.

It's the kind of promise that Columbia Association officials are notorious for making, and it is at the root of why so many residents distrust the organization, including yours truly.

Try as I do to muster support for some of the association's endeavors, inevitably officials in the organization will do something to deflate my optimism.

The truth is I have always supported the $5.5 million Fairway Hills course, even though I have absolutely no interest in golf. I thought that overall it would be an asset to the community, including those residents whose homes would share a property line with it.

But as time has gone on, officials have managed to inject wholesale ambivalence into my attitude.

First, there was the failure to make clear to residents how "tight" the course would actually be, a situation that has caused even avid golfers to raise their eyebrows.

Then there was the decision to surreptitiously move some of the holes on the course so that they were closer to residents' homes. This was one of CA's usual little design changes that they never bother to tell anyone about until after the fact.

Finally, there was news that the association planned to sell beer and wine from beverage carts bringing refreshments directly to golfers on the links.

With a little research, I found that this practice is actually not unusual on the nation's golf courses.

But I can still sympathize with those residents who are concerned that an inebriated golfer will veer onto their property and do damage.

CA Spokeswoman Pamela Mack assures otherwise, saying that "in the 27 years that the Hobbits Glen Golf Course has been doing this, I have never heard of any drunken golfers."

Besides, she said, the Columbia Council has yet to decide whether to have the beverage carts or to limit the sale of spirits to the club house. Here's betting the carts will be darting about the fairways this fall.

That's pretty much the way CA seems to operate. Promises. Disappointments. Promises . . .

I have had my own experiences with CA that bear mentioning again.

The neighborhood pool that was constructed behind my house afforded me a brief opportunity to dovetail personally with the homeowners association.

It's not that I opposed the pool. I knew when I bought my house that it would be built there, and I still consider it a great asset.

The problems began when the association failed to live up to its promise to leave a buffer of trees between the pool and neighbors' houses.

Then, after mowing down all the foliage, they proceeded to build the pool so high on the berm where it was planned that it was no longer invisible to residents.

Finally, the infamous landscaping promise was made. But what officials wanted to plant hardly fit the definition of a screen.

Residents' insistence that more be done was met with defensiveness, arrogance and outright subterfuge. What could have been easily resolved dragged on for months.

I have heard similar stories from many other residents over the years, even those who on another level take great pleasure in the services CA provides.

That's why Robert Goldman's promises ring so hollow to these )) ears and to others who have witnessed the association in action.

It's too bad that the grand opening of the new golf course this weekend couldn't be one of pure celebration.

Instead, we'll have to hear more about guarantees that were not kept and residents who feel betrayed.

CA has seen to that.

Kevin Thomas is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Howard County.

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