Parents fight to save tot lot


A 4-foot wooden sign posted near the now-closed Lake Elkhorn tot lot screams: "Don't let C.A. Take Our Playground Away !!!!!"

The Columbia Association has posted its own signs, declaring the playground closed after the CA board's directive last week in response to a toddler drowning at the nearby lake last fall.

But parents yesterday ignored the signs. Instead, as more than a dozen children played on the equipment, the adults lamented the fate of the popular play area.

"Removing the playground is way overkill," Amy McDaniel, who has two children, said of the CA board's decision to close the playground indefinitely as it decides what to do next with the structure.

"What are they going to do next, remove the playground near Wilde Lake and fence every playground near a street?" she said.

McDaniel and other concerned residents will have the chance to ask the board those questions at a meeting regarding the tot lot today at 6:30 p.m. at CA headquarters, 10221 Wincopin Circle.

McDaniel and the other parents, as well as their children, were "technically" trespassing, said CA spokeswoman Karen Hawkins.

But the placement of the orange construction fencing and enforcement of trespassing issues will be determined after tonight's special board meeting, she said.

CA board Chairman Tom O'Connor called the special meeting after hearing criticism that Thursday's vote was taken without resident input, and because the Owen Brown architectural committee needs to approve the playground's removal.

"This gives our community another shot," O'Connor said.

Other board members said they welcome the meeting because it will allow residents the chance to offer their opinions on the tot lot.

"The community was not included, and they're right," said Pearl Atkinson-Stewart, board member for Owen Brown, the village where the playground is located.

Owen Brown village manager Ruth Bohse said village staff have received dozens of communications from residents seeking a way to change the board's decision.

Garrett Tache, a spokesman for CA, said the association received several e-mails and phone calls from residents.

"It seems they just don't understand why the decision [was made] and they want to understand why a 'drastic decision' was proposed," Tache said. "What they are trying to do is find out how they can alter the outcome."

Some residents have changed their minds.

"Some folks that had either not felt strongly about the fence or did not like the idea of a fence would rather have a fence to keep the tot lot there," said Barbara L. Russell, board member for Oakland Mills.

After the death in September of a 23-month-old boy who wandered from the tot lot and drowned in the lake, a group of parents lobbied the CA board to consider fencing-in the playground.

The board voted to spend up to $20,000 to hire a consultant to review the safety of the playground.

But the consultant's report that the playground was safe and did not need a fence was disregarded, and the CA board approved fencing or a natural buffer for the playground.

Last month, CA staff presented the board with a series of barrier designs. Patrick von Schlag, board member for River Hill, offered a motion to approve a fence enclosing the entire playground.

Thursday, the board voted 7-3 against the motion. The board then unanimously approved a decision to close and remove the playground.

Von Schlag said that while removing the playground was not an option as heavily advertised as fencing the structure, it was an idea he spoke about at a board meeting in October and on following occasions.

Von Schlag said he urged the removal of the playground in October because it has changed from its intended use.

The small tot lot transformed into a "large playground" with more amenities, attractive not only to local residents, but for other residents and even day care facilities all over the county, he said.

"We created an amenity that people like a lot and - in the end - we have to look at all the groups using the site and if they are using it in a way that people are in risk, then we have to take action," he said.

Robin Cohoon, a mother of a 4-year-old and an 11-month-old, said she thinks the playground is safe the way it is. She purchased her townhouse, which is near Lake Elkhorn, because of the waterfront and the nearby tot lot, which they visit a few times each week.

Cohoon was dismayed by the CA board's decision. She said she did not hear much discussion about the option of removing the tot lot.

"We were just so caught off guard by the decision to close the playground," Cohoon said.

Sun reporter Laura Cadiz contributed to this article.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad