Community seeking out a new vision; 100 'stakeholders' put ideas on paper, look to final report; Deadline is a month away; Group's members focusing on concerns crucial to residents


With a deadline for a final report a month away, the scores of people working to create a new sense of community in Howard County through the privately sponsored United Vision process are getting down to specifics.

After more than six months of work, the 100 participants, or "stakeholders," who regularly attend meetings at Savage Mill are drafting their suggestions for concrete ways to make the pro- cess work years into the future.

The ideas for taking action don't have to be complicated. One idea is "to heighten public awareness of the historic resources we have," said T. James Truby, leader of the Stewardship of Resources Committee.

To do that, the stakeholders of Howard County -- A United Vision propose two actions: forming a private, countywide preservation group, thus linking the several smaller groups that now exist, and having the county Recreation and Parks Department create a division to promote historic places and buildings.

Another idea is to compile an inventory of historic places in the county, something that Marsha McLaughlin, deputy county planning director, said has not been done since the early 1980s.

To promote environmental preservation in the county, the stewardship committee suggested printing a yearly report of leading environmental indicators and seeking funding from the state to create a center for Innovative Environmental Technology.

"That's our job. This is a vision," said Carole Conors, a committee member from Ellicott City who added that she and her colleagues are serious about their work.

"We're always planning for growth, but not for preservation," said Mary Catherine Cochran, quoting another committee member, Ann Jones. The group's priorities, Jones said, are to save large blocks of undeveloped land and small parcels where birds breed, for example. In addition, the group wants to disseminate information on how individuals can make a difference.

The stewardship committee created a two-sided, 13-page preliminary report, one of the most detailed proposals so far from the eight United Vision committees.

The Growth and Development Committee is examining ways to promote new types of housing with features that would encourage Howard's rapidly aging population to stay. To do that, information must be gathered about where Howard's older residents are going to live in retirement, said committee leader George Parker of Columbia.

On the growth side, Parker said, his group's goals are similar to the county government's -- neighborhood preservation and balanced growth in undeveloped areas.

Lynne Nemeth, United Vision project director, said the committees will submit final draft reports in a week or so. She said several members of each committee will help make revisions for the final report, which will be presented at a two-hour celebration ceremony Nov. 21 at Jim Rouse Theater for the Performing Arts at Columbia's Wilde Lake High School.

A core group from each committee will promote the agendas and Nemeth said a permanent organization devoted to furthering the goals of the United Vision process could be created over the next few months.

Former County Executive Charles I. Ecker, one of two co-chairmen of the United Vision process, said he thinks the group's ideas will live on after the report is presented.

"I'm hopeful that different people will take ownership of parts of this and see it come to fruition," he said, adding that many of the ideas will show up in the county's new 10-year General Plan.

"We had a lot of individuals work on this, and I don't think it will die."

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