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Council may vote tonight on RV storage facility


The Columbia Council may vote tonight on a controversial $1 million land deal with Rouse Co. that would clear the way for a recreational vehicle storage facility, a transaction that hinges on a study of surrounding land and ground water contamination.

Council members, who serve as the nonprofit Columbia Association's (CA's) board of directors, also could vote on a citizen group's request for $3,000 to help pay for a University of Maryland study on the implications of incorporating Columbia as a city.

The land deal has drawn charges of cozy dealing between Rouse -- Columbia's developer -- and CA, the homeowners association it created 30 years ago. It involves the association's proposed purchase of two parcels totaling 5.3 acres in the former General Electric Co. manufacturing park off Snowden River Parkway in east Columbia.

One 3-acre parcel, tentatively targeted for the $400,000 RV storage yard, is near two GE hazardous waste dumps that have been capped and are being cleaned up and monitored for pollution under the supervision of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The council hasn't determined a use for the second parcel -- a 2.3-acre lot in the nearby Gateway Plaza, a Rouse-developed business park on the old GE site. Association officials have suggested building a $1 million "executive fitness center" aimed at Gateway businesses.

In exchange for the land purchase, Rouse has agreed to place under CA's annual property levy two properties excluded from the charge -- the Snowden Square retail center and a future 600-unit Owen Brown village residential development.

The Snowden Square and Owen Brown properties are projected to generate about $300,000 annually for the association -- income that most council members contend makes the deal a bargain even with an inflated purchase price.

The council in April tentatively approved the land purchase. Several members contend that an RV facility would help resolve violations of Columbia's architectural guidelines, which prohibit parking such vehicles on residential land.

But the environmental study performed by PMT & Associates of Timonium still could scotch the deal, said David W. Berson, the council's vice chairman. The council will have a closed session before its public meeting tonight to discuss the study. "It may say there's no problem or it's another Love Canal. Those are the two extremes," Mr. Berson said.

And even if the council decides that environmental risks are minimal and approves the purchase, it still might not build the storage facility, he said. That decision depends on demand and alternative uses for the land, he said.

In requesting an association grant for the University of Maryland incorporation study, Columbia Municipal League President James V. Clark is seeking help from an organization his group wants to replace with a city government. "Although you may not be friends [of incorporation], we hope that you see the need for providing the community with expert, objective information," he wrote in a letter to CA officials.

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