North Laurel property plan full of holesI...

THE BALTIMORE SUN

North Laurel property plan full of holes

I attended the June 22 Columbia Association council meeting where Rafia Siddiqui presented the numbers in support of annexation of the North Laurel Key property to Columbia.

Somehow the figures were no longer quite as attractive as the earlier figures that were leaked to the press.

The $3 million investment that was to bring in $30 million in revenues over 20 years has evolved into a $1.8 million gain or a $2.4 million loss in the latest scenarios respectively over the same time span.

We can certainly dismiss the optimistic scenario presented since CA has never met any optimistic or even realistic projections for any of its development projects.

Clearly the CA Council/Board decisions to annex the Key property, as presented by CA Management/Rouse Co. cannot be based on the numbers, which are, at best, break-even.

So the question that the board must answer is this: Why should CA undertake the annexation of a property located in North Laurel which is not even contiguous with the rest of Columbia?

CA Management, acting as usual in concert with the Rouse Co., proposes to saddle the Columbia lien-payers with a $7.3 million price tag (not including projected operating losses in early years) for the following items that are normally paid for by the developer:

Five parks, a ball field, 14,000 feet of pathways, 10 secondary entrances, nine Tot Lots, three public tennis courts, a swimming pool and a neighborhood center.

If there are compelling reasons for annexation (I cannot think of a single one at the moment) then the next question that needs an answer is how much of the Columbia Association's funds should be invested in the project.

If the Rouse Co. is so anxious to capitalize on the Columbia label for its new development, then let the Rouse Co. pay for the amenities it proposes.

The time has come for CA to grow up and to stop acting like a subsidiary of the Rouse Co.

The Rouse Co. is in the business of making money, not in the business of looking out for Columbia's lien-paying residents.

After all these years, the Rouse Co. is still calling the shots and Columbia Association management is acting like a subservient child of a benevolent parent.

The time has come for the CA Council/Board to put an end to this unholy alliance and start acting independently.

Arie Eisner, Wilde Lake

Unlocking mystery of the Key annexation

At the June 22 meeting of the Columbia Association Council, we heard a presentation prepared by staff working with Rouse Co. input, listing the economic pros and cons of annexing Rouse's Key property.

The Rouse Co. is asking Columbia lien-holders to invest from $3 million to $5 million now, in the hope of making a profit in 20 years.

The Rouse Co.'s development arm is pressing for an answer by September and some members of the Columbia Association staff and council are apparently anxious to oblige.

Is it just a coincidence that the zoning of this property is still in litigation and an early agreement by CA would certainly strengthen Rouse's case?

This carefully prepared presentation had a hypnotic effect. Some of the council members, attempting to break free of this effect, tried to discuss other considerations. The council, however, forged ahead with plans to disseminate this package of numbers without including the following points for public discussion:

Folk wisdom tells us, "If it's too good to be true, it probably is." Consumer advocates tell us, "If you're offered a deal with a time limit, stop, look and listen very carefully."

Is bigger better? How will adding another village to Columbia improve the ambiance, the comfort, the safety or the value of our homes?

CA has just proudly announced that they ended the last fiscal year with its first surplus ever, but it still has a $90 million debt outstanding. Is the surplus burning a hole in CA's pocket?

Why take on additional debt? Shouldn't the needs of our current villages take precedence over this proposed venture?

It has been reported that the Rouse Co. said that if Columbia rejects its proposal, they would find another developer.

This would be no threat to Columbia; perhaps they should.

The Key property issue is a critical one with wide ranging, short- and long-term effects on Columbia residents.

Why should the Rouse Co. continue directing Columbia's future?

Henry Shapiro, Lillian Shapiro, Wilde Lake

Maple Farms editorial 'gives ill-informed view'

Your editorial "High Stakes at Maple Farms" (June 27) gives an ill-informed view of what transpired at the June 19 Howard County Zoning Board work session. At this session, zoning board members Allan Kittleman and Chris Merdon proposed reducing residential density, increasing employment density and linking construction of the large Maple Lawn Farms Mixed Use Development to Rt. 216 improvements.

To label their plan "a late-hour proposal" implies that the months of hearings on the merits of the development should be considered an irrelevant, unnecessary interlude.

In fact, the Kittleman-Merdon plan was proposed during the second work session of the Zoning Board following completion of six months of hearings. This is the proper time for the board members to act on the developer's proposal and decide whether it should be approved, denied or modified, as the mixed-use development regulations required.

The Kittleman-Merdon proposal states that the developer's plan does not meet the criteria with regard to traffic, and proposes a delay until Route 216 can be adequately improved. State plans to do this, incidentally, are at an advanced stage, so we are not talking about some far-off time.

To react to this reasonable conclusion with the statement: "to accept major new proposals at this stage would amount to gross unfairness" implies that such decisions should have been made at some earlier stage. There is no earlier stage.

Two other mixed-use developments, which together produce more homes and employment centers than does Maple Lawn, have already been approved along Route 216 and both have restrictions regarding traffic. It just makes sense not to approve another large development that would put additional traffic on a failing road until that road can handle the increased load.

The editorial's outlandish characterizations of the Kittleman-Merdon proposal as a "gambit" to "kill the project" is an insult to two freshman councilmen/zoning board members who obviously have done their homework and take zoning board procedures seriously. All Howard County residents should applaud their conscientiousness and thoroughness.

Harry Brodie, Fulton

The writer is president of the Greater Beaufort Park Citizens Association.

Prayer should not be public school spectacle

For the life of me, I've never been able to fathom the moaning of clerics and pastors about the recent Supreme Court decision, or any of the earlier ones that ban public prayer in schools as an exercise.

Hence, I have real misgivings about the Rev. Stewart Deal's recent missive ("Court's prayer ruling defies God's commands," letter, June 25). The fact is that any and every student is perfectly entitled to pray before, during and after school to his/her heart's content.

They can pray during every class and even recess, or during detentions. The main thing, however, is they pray on their own time -- and for their own private purposes without making it a public spectacle with the public school a formal sponsor.

Because if the prayer goes beyond the personal, then it trespasses other students' rights, such as students who may have little truck or care for the Judeo-Christian establishment. The student body may include Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists or atheists. It also violates the principle of church-state separation first articulated by Thomas Jefferson, since the school becomes a de facto prayer sponsor.

Forcing people to pray against their will won't increase effectiveness. And it certainly won't solve endemic societal problems of which Columbine is one manifestation.

Philip A. Stahl, Columbia

Overdevelopment in harbor, Ellicott City

The article by Edward Gunts ("Barging in on the Inner Harbor," June 25) on the insidious overdevelopment of the Inner Harbor is superb. He speaks as an ardent preservationist.

We are undergoing similar growth problems in the 18th/19th century mill town of Ellicott City -- problems not connected to the Patapsco River, but to the town's significant setting.

Just now, a developer is proposing a bulky, four-building office complex at one of the gateways to the historic district, totally overpowering the 1830s Heine House and its site as well as the larger landscape surrounding it.

Citizens have reacted strongly. I fear this trend is what a good economy brings -- too much poorly planned construction to accommodate too many businesses.

Soon, the very qualities that have made these special places draw visitors from around the world to see and appreciate "history" will be lost to inappropriate change.

Kay Weeks, Ellicott City

Abortion drug is risk to lives

Ellen Goodman's commentary ("Approve RU-486 before abortion foe Bush gets elected," June 22) greatly downplays the dangers to women taking the abortion drug.

After taking RU-486, it must be followed by another drug, prostaglandin, which potentially has deadly side effects.

French guidelines for preventing RU-486 deaths include keeping the woman lying quietly for several hours after administering the drug, checking the patient's blood pressure regularly, having resuscitation equipment on hand and performing an immediate EKG on any patient reporting chest pain.

So, in addition to always killing their babies, women taking RU-486 risk their own lives as well.

Jon Shoemaker, Columbia

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