The Columbia Council approved last night the construction of a recreational vehicle storage park, even though several Columbia RV owners said proposed parking fees would deter people from using it.
The 10-member board -- the board of directors of the nonprofit Columbia Association (CA) -- also tentatively agreed to grant the association's roughly 180 full-time employees merit raises averaging 3.5 percent in the next budget year, which begins May 1. That increase will be reflected in the draft budget the CA staff submits to the council next month, but it could be changed.
The council plans to build the RV parking lot, at an estimated cost of $315,000 to $350,000, on one of two parcels it bought from the Rouse Co. for $1 million last month. The two parcels, totaling 5 acres, were once part of the old General Electric manufacturing park off Snowden River Parkway.
The parcel intended for the RV park has soil and ground-water contamination, but a consultant concluded that a storage park could be built at the site with minimal public health risks. The council is considering several options for parking fees, ranging from $120 to $960 annually.
The parking lot for campers and boats -- intended to help people comply with rules prohibiting oversized vehicles on residential properties -- has been criticized by some who say demand for a storage yard hasn't been demonstrated.
Opponents also have charged that the land deal with the Rouse Co., which developed Columbia and formed the association 30 years ago, is too cozy.
Others say the parking lot is necessary to give violators of the property rules an alternative.
Several owners of motor homes said they were disappointed that parking wouldn't be provided free and questioned whether residents would pay to use the lot.
Gurney Basnight, an Oakland Mills village resident who parks his camper at home, told the council he is not willing to pay as much as $840 annually for his vehicle.
"I'm going to obey the covenants, but I'm not going to park my vehicle out there," he said.
John E. Conlon, chairman of the citizens financial advisory committee to the council, also was doubtful whether residents would use the parking lot unless the council strengthens its enforcement of the architectural rules.
"If there's no fine, a lot of people are going to ignore you and leave it where it is," he said. "We're going to end up with a white elephant on our hands and have to keep paying for it every year."
Some council members urged that more market research be done before the 214-space lot is built, but others said they were vTC confident that demand would be strong, based on surveys of other storage yards in the region.
Covenant advisers in Columbia's 10 villages have identified nearly 200 RV owners.
Under the land-purchase agreement with Rouse, the association gained the right to impose its tax-like annual property levy on two large properties now excluded from the charge -- the Snowden Square retail center and a nearby parcel planned for up to 650 housing units.
Those properties are projected to generate about $300,000 annually for the association eventually, prompting most council members to call the deal a bargain even if an RV park loses money.