On Belmont, let's seek a win-win
The quote by Del. Gail H. Bates in The Sun's Feb. 9 article about Belmont's future is not an accurate prediction of what the future would hold for Belmont if Howard Community College Educational Foundation sells the property. Bates stated: "You all as a community are willing to take your chances with whomever buys it? If you sell it to a developer you'll get a lot of additional problems."
In fact, the property was, for all intents and purposes, sold to a developer when developer Chip Lundy entered into a still secret agreement with Howard Community College Educational Foundation to purchase the property. This occurred despite the property being advertised as nonsubdivideable and the seller making clear that development was not an option, due to the restrictive easements on the property. Two attempts at large scale development have already been made by Mr. Lundy. What does Del. Bates suppose a "new" developer would attempt?
There is a preservation buyer ready to purchase the property, place additional conservation easements on the property and keep it open to the public - and all without building new buildings all over the property. The president of HCC, Mary Ellen Duncan, has thus far refused to enter into discussions to make this a reality.
If, as the college claims, their goal is to open the property to the community and respect the historic easements on the property, then they will do the right thing for the property and the county and move forward toward a real win-win situation for Belmont.
More planning input needed from citizens
Thanks, Del. Liz Bobo for holding the recent town meeting to discuss the status of the charrette. I agree with you that the county process was moving too quickly. I also appreciate that due to your diligence, you convinced the county planning staff to slow the process down.
The county needs to include community input other than the hand-picked 20 Focus Committee members. This group may be making great recommendations. However, the community needs to share in hearing what this focus group is visioning for over 250,000 Howard County residents.
The overwhelming large attendance at the meeting sends a message that there are many that had questions/concerns. Community meetings allow for a diverse segment of the population to be present to hear what is being proposed. I hope this has sent a message to the county to hold more community meetings for updates in the process.
I also agree with you that the community needs to be vigilant throughout this process. Speaking as a CA homeowner, I am particularly concerned about the comments by the county planning staff about CA's ability to absorb additional amenities debt for the downtown development. CA has more than $50 million in debt, and will be adding more after this budget process.
CA is a nonprofit homeowners association, not a government. And although it is large, CA is defined by state law as just a homeowners association.
If in the future there is an unanticipated financial windfall, I'd rather see CA pay down existing debt, revitalize existing CA facilities, or lower the assessment rate for all members to benefit.
Yes, Liz, you are right. Our community needs to be alert and vigilant on all of the phases in the plan to urbanize downtown Howard County.
Pearl Atkinson Stewart
The writer is a Columbia Association board representative, but this letter represents her personal viewpoint.