West county soccer clubs propose leasing county land


TWO SOCCER clubs that serve western Howard County are talking with the Department of Recreation and Parks about possible business arrangements that could lead to five or more soccer fields being built at a county-owned farm in West Friendship.

Gary J. Arthur, who heads the department, said the agency is willing to listen and, if possible, work with the groups.

Western Howard County Youth Soccer, which operates recreation-level leagues that serve well over 2,000 players each fall, and the Thunder Soccer Club, a smaller, more specialized travel-level club, broached the subject at a recent meeting of the rec department's advisory board.

The meeting put the ball back in the youth groups' court, so to speak, but Dave Gould, the Thunder club's president, said both would be talking with each other and intend to come back with a proposal.

Such a deal would entail some sort of lease arrangement, which would put the financial onus of any development on the clubs rather than county government, Arthur said. He said that with state and local governments being so cash-strapped, his agency simply can't afford to pay for any improvements.

That could be a stumbling block for any deal, given the cost of grading and the need for storm-water management and parking, for example. But the clubs are willing to explore the matter further, spokesmen for both said, simply because buying land for soccer fields is out of the question financially for them.

"We told them we'd even be willing to look at some type of short-term arrangement, maybe for five or six years," Arthur said.

Another possible problem, though, he said, is that because much of the acreage was purchased through the state's Program Open Space, any development must be recreational in nature (which would be addressed) and open to the general public.

How the word "public" is defined is important, although parks generally serve essentially their immediate communities, and the Western Howard County club, for example, with such a large membership - plus a yen to also play soccer in the spring - might satisfy the criterion.

The farmland, about 340 acres, is directly opposite the entrance to the Howard County Fairgrounds. The front 150 or so acres have been owned by the county for more than 25 years, Arthur said, and the agency bought the rest of the land in two separate transactions. A golf course proposed for the site was shouted down several years ago, and today, the department leases the acreage out for farming.

Between 80 and 100 wooded acres cannot be developed under forest preservation covenants, and wetlands laws restrict development on some other parts. Arthur said grading, which is expensive, would be necessary before any soccer fields can be built.

Jogging into print

Recreational running has been credited with making changes in the lives of many people, so maybe the experience of Gerald Otten, 59, who lives in extreme western Ellicott City, isn't unique, but it is unusual.

Jogging as much as 25 miles on weekends along roads in the Triadelphia Road area in recent years, he found a muse.

The result: He's now a published novelist, with a couple of wrinkles. One, he paid to get published, and two, he's applying technology, as well - his first novel is available on demand from a computer-age company that prints manuscripts only when the book is ordered. Cuts overhead.

Gone, Otten's novel, is a sci-fi thing - set in Howard County - that was released in June. You may have seen copies in a couple local bookstores.

As Otten outlines it, his "basic story line is that most of humanity disappears for some unknown reason and the four main characters [two of them male and female joggers] are left to deal with the aftermath."

Running really loosed his muse, said Otten, benefits manager for National Geographic in Washington, to the point where he had to devise a mental shorthand for getting his thoughts onto paper before they vanished.

You can check out the book at www.trafford.com. It also can be purchased via Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.

Call the writer of this column at 410-332-6525 or send e-mail to lowell.sunderland@baltsun.com.

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