Everyone has something to say about proposed golf course in Columbia Council could decide issue tonight

November 12, 1992|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,Staff Writer

With the Columbia Council scheduled to debate tonight whether to approve a new golf course, the question is whose report to believe.

During the past week, the nine-member council has been presented with a flurry of reports, most from citizen groups for and against the proposed 18-hole Fairway Hills Golf Course.

The reports -- at least four of them -- either support or attack the Columbia Association's projections that within four years 50,000 rounds would be played at the course annually, and that by its ninth year the course would generate a profit. The Columbia Association is a non-profit organization that manages Columbia's facilities.

But the last-minute efforts aren't sitting well with everyone.

At least one new group -- the Citizens for a Better Columbia Committee -- has formed in reaction to the spate of heavy lobbying.

Leaders of the group argue that the politicking on the golf course issue is symbolic of a deterioration in the way the council, which acts as a board of directors for Columbia, operates.

"If the council gets away with the way they've let this decision be made, things won't get better; they'll get much worse," said Louis Buchsbaum, a 20-year Columbia resident who is heading up the new group.

"The council needs to realize it's a board of directors, and its responsibility is to run the business of Columbia. They have to be more business-like. They aren't doing that; instead, they play this sneaky political game. That's [why] you have all these groups coming up with these reports."

Critics say the council has split into political factions focusing on strategies to get projects included -- or not included -- in a long range capital plan for the unincorporated city. It's that plan the council will be debating -- and possibly making some decisions on -- tonight.

The Columbia Association, which would operate the course, has weighed in with its own 10-page summary of answers to questions raised by skeptics. The association also is preparing detailed responses to the recent citizen reports for tonight's meeting. Association officials decline to comment on any of the reports, saying written responses will be presented to the council.

Among the arguments submitted to the council in the past week are:

* A report by a group of golfers and supporters of the project, arguing there is a large unmet demand for golf courses in the county and that the new course would quickly be in the black.

The group bases its conclusions on much of the data that the Columbia Association has used to conclude that the course would be profitable and the debt incurred to build it would be paid off quickly.

* Victor Bailey, the husband of council member Gail Bailey and an economist with the U.S. Commerce Department, prepared his own analysis. That analysis says the statistics that the Columbia Association based its projections on are flawed.

* A report by Columbia resident David Gardner, who said he's had years of experience as a financial analyst with several major corporations. Mr. Gardner's analysis concludes that the Columbia Association overestimates usage of the facility. Using lower usage figures, he projected a profit and loss statement in which the course would wind up being a financial drain for the Columbia Association.

* A report by opponents who live in the Running Brook neighborhood, which borders land where the course would be built. They also question the conclusions of the Columbia Association's golf demand study, arguing that projected usage figures are inflated in the study.

"The real issue isn't which report is accurate," Mr. Buchsbaum said. "The real issue is whether the council is helping Columbia fulfill its promise to citizens."

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