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Annexation opponents mobilizing


As it weighs what could be its most important decision in decades, the Columbia Council is asking residents what they think of a plan to annex a future Rouse Co. development in North Laurel.

The council will hold the first of two public hearings on the proposal at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at The Other Barn in Oakland Mills.

But some residents haven't waited for that opportunity to voice their opinions.

Alliance for a Better Columbia, a residents watchdog group, has been distributing hundreds of fliers door to door, raising financial and philosophical questions about the plan.

"We want to just raise the level of awareness," said Alex Hekimian, president of the alliance. "So many people don't know that much about what the Rouse Co. is proposing."

The Howard Research and Development Corp., an affiliate of the Rouse Co., has asked the Columbia Association to annex the planned 665-acre Key development and provide it with Columbia's trademark recreational amenities.

For providing such amenities as parks and pathways, Columbia would collect assessment revenue from about 2 million square feet of commercial space, and about 1,200 townhouses, apartments and single-family homes.

Association staff members have said the project would add from $2.7 million to $22.8 million to the association's coffers over 20 years. The estimates were based on Rouse Co. data that association staff said they confirmed when possible with third parties.

If it is annexed, the Key property would become a fourth neighborhood in Kings Contrivance. A second public hearing is scheduled in that village for Aug. 29 at Amherst House.

Alliance for a Better Columbia has questioned the rosy financial projections. Members of the group also say Columbia should address problems in its older neighborhoods rather than focus on a new development that is not contiguous to the planned community.

"Diverting attention to a brand-new area like that, all the time, all the resources, will take away from taking care of our problems with the infrastructure in our existing villages," Hekimian said.

Some council members have come to the same conclusion, though others say they are waiting to hear what residents have to say before making up their minds.

"I oppose it," said Councilman Vince Marando of Wilde Lake. "I'm pretty much against it unless something happens that dramatically alters it."

Marando said he is skeptical of the financial projections and is concerned that the project would add to the association's debt.

Councilman Robert Conors of Dorsey's Search is among those on the fence.

"I would like to hear from the public," Conors said.

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