Recreation restrictions in Columbia HOWARD COUNTY

November 09, 1992

Should the Columbia Association restrict the use of recreational facilities it runs to Columbia residents only?

"Yes" and "no" is our answer, and that is not intended as a waffle on this matter.

The unique structure of CA and its facilities presents an unusual dilemma to members of the Columbia Council, who must decide soon whether to approve resident restrictions.

Council members must weigh carefully the effect restrictions would have on the association's purse strings, as well as the damage they could do to the city's image of goodwill toward its neighbors.

Because Columbians pay a property lien to support CA athletic facilities, which include a golf course, numerous swimming pools and two athletic clubs, some residents believe they alone should be allowed to use the facilities.

But CA has always exercised an open-door policy that allowed non-residents to join the facilities even though they don't pay the lien. Instead, non-residents may purchase memberships at a premium -- the equivalent of what they would pay if they lived in Columbia. That sort of fee structure for non-residents is fair and should be maintained.

A blanket, residents-only policy might suit those Columbians who think they are subsidizing the recreational needs of outsiders, but it would fly in the face of reality as well as practicality. The temptation should be avoided.

A sweeping ban on non-residents would cause a revenue loss for CA estimated at $6 million to $8 million over 10 years -- a loss that would not be absorbed easily.

However, restricting non-resident use to those facilities that are not overcrowded would seem an incremental, reasonable approach that the association should consider.

Currently, overcrowding exists at only one CA facility -- the Hobbits Glen Golf Course. Barring non-resident membership there would be fair to Columbia residents who, after all, are the people CA was created to serve. The revenue loss generated by a small-scale ban would be minimal. Moreover, the ban would be temporary if council members decide to move ahead with plans to build a second golf course, Fairway Hills, by 1995. That's why we answer "yes" and "no" to residential restrictions on recreational facility use in Columbia.

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