Columbia weighs who may play at crowded sports facilities Rule could change for non-residents

November 01, 1992|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,Columbia AssociationStaff Writer

An article in Sunday's Howard section about proposals to restrict non-resident use of Columbia recreational facilities should have said that the suggestions are being considered as part of a long-term capital spending plan.

The Baltimore Sun regrets the errors.

If you're among the thousands of non-residents who use Columbia's golf course, pools or athletic clubs, the rules of the game could be about to change.

The prickly issue of whether restrictions should be placed on outsiders who pay to use the community's enviable array of recreational facilities will be a priority in the coming weeks as the Columbia Council attempts to make final a long-term recreational management plan.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

The council would like to wrap up the plan before Thanksgiving so capital spending and budget projections can be settled for next year's budget. It has delayed a public hearing from Nov. 5 to Nov. 12 so the results of a resident survey can be included in the discussions.

"There are so many ramifications to this issue that it's going to be very difficult to decide which way to go," said Columbia Councilwoman Evelyn Richardson.

The debate will include a range of issues. Among them:

* By restricting non-resident use of Columbia's vast recreational facilities, would Columbians perceive they get more "value" out of the annual property lien of 73-cents per $100 of assessed value they pay to the Columbia Association?

* Would restrictions on non-resident use of Columbia facilities be viewed as exclusionary and foster political and financial repercussions from county government?

* How should the Columbia Council balance the potential loss of millions of dollars in non-resident membership fees?

Proposals from council members include everything from phasing in a total ban on non-resident memberships to $l restricting non-residents to memberships at individual facilities, rather than "package plan" memberships that allow use of multiple facilities.

While there is some debate over whether restrictions would solve current and anticipated overcrowding at some athletic facilities, the main sticking point is whether lien-payers, who pay the property assessments and membership fees, would perceive they get their money's worth if restrictions on non-residents were imposed.

"It's a philosophical notion, but we hear it so often," says Columbia Council Chairman John Hansen. "People say, I pay my lien assessment but someone down the street whose house isn't in Columbia doesn't pay the lien but can use the same facility.' "

Mr. Hansen believes that because lien revenues are used to build and maintain facilities, only Columbia residents should be allowed to use its pools, tennis courts, athletic clubs, and other facilities.

Initially, Mr. Hansen proposed that the 3,497 non-Columbians who hold memberships could renew them. But no new memberships to non-lien payers would be sold and over time non-resident memberships would be reduced or eliminated through attrition.

But Mr. Hansen said he's found little support among his council colleagues and is backing an alternative proposed by Councilwoman Fran Wishnick. Her proposal would ban new package plan membership sales to non-residents.

Package plan memberships are considered a bargain.

For example, a family membership for a package plan allowing use of virtually all Columbia's recreation facilities costs $1,237 for non-lien payers and $987 for those paying the lien.

Ms. Wishnick's proposal would allow non-residents to buy memberships at individual facilities, but only if that facility was not overcrowded.

Individual memberships aren't quite the bargain that package plans offer.

For instance, a non-lien payer purchasing a family membership at the Supreme Sports Center -- featuring racquetball courts, an array of weight lifting and Nautilus equipment and a new, 25-yard training pool -- must pay $623, almost two-thirds the cost of a package plan.

Under the Wishnick proposal, rates for non-residents also might be increased as the Columbia Association, which operates all community facilities, begins charging a market rate for the memberships.

Mrs. Wishnick argues the proposal "doesn't exclude you if you aren't a lien payer" and "would add value to being a Columbia resident."

Don Dunn, an Ellicott City resident who belongs to the Hobbit's Glen Golf Course, argues that the proposals are "outrageously exclusionary."

"What this boils down to is a non-resident cleansing effort," he says.

Mr. Dunn argues that the council's decision two weeks ago banning non-residents from heading any of its advisory boards is a clear signal of the council's sentiment for non-Columbians.

The policy move cost Mr. Dunn the chairmanship of the Columbia Golf Committee, a position he's held for 10 years.

Instead of waiting for his term to expire, as the council requested, he resigned in protest.

Council members deny Mr. Dunn's characterization. Still, some are worried about the repercussions the membership restrictions could have outside Columbia.

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