Columbia Council to vote Thursday on funding course


December 06, 1992|By JOHN STEWART

The Baltimore metropolitan area has long been targeted as one of the golf-course poor regions of the country, based on population and available facilities.

This is especially true in the public sector, where the five city-owned and three Baltimore County-owned courses are played to the limit. It is also reflected in data showing at least half the play in southern York County, Pa., comes from the Baltimore area.

This is true, too, for two newer layouts, Queenstowne Harbor on the Eastern Shore and Geneva Farm in Harford County.

All of which probably focuses more attention than usual on Thursday night's meeting of the Columbia Council, the city's governing body, which will vote whether to include the funding ++ for rebuilding the old All View Golf Course in its budget for the fiscal year 1994.

As might be expected, the lines are sharply drawn.

On one side are those who have expressed reservations to the council and its individual members; on the other, an advocacy group called the Citizens for a Better Columbia, which presented a position paper on course construction at last month's council meeting.

"We have been exploring these issues for some time, and [opposite the position paper] many have expressed concerns regarding the environmental, safety and financial factors," said John Hansen, Columbia Council chairman.

"They are worried about trees being taken down, potential pollution of the Little Patuxent River, pesticide runoff, the impact building a course would have on safety features [little children getting hurt, for instance] and whether the cost of such construction is economically feasible. Some of our citizens who are experienced in this field have looked at the information and suggest such a facility would not even break even past the year 2002.

"The council will look at this and look at ways to solve the issue."

In response, CBC, said that much of the acreage that would need to be cleared would be offset by new plantings; no clearing is planned in the Running Brook area (site of three planned holes, which has drawn the most concern) and there will actually be a gain because of landscaping and buffer plantings.

Hobbit's Glen Golf Course, a part of the Columbia community from the beginning, adheres to strict pollution codes, and similar rules would be in effect at the new course.

As for safety, CBC reported the course designer would be charged with planning a safe course. There is no record of complaints from property owners adjacent to Hobbit's Glen, and the Columbia Association has an excellent record of addressing potential concerns.

Although there has been some discussion of a nine-hole course, CBC rejects this, saying that the profits would be greater with 18. Building just nine would not meet the demand, and building nine now and nine later would increase costs.

As far as course construction, estimated at $5.5 million, each side can show figures reflecting opposite viewpoints: the concerned group says a course would lose money; CBC says the debt could be cleared -- based on estimated demand -- in nine years.

Taking into consideration that the Columbia Association owns the land, it means that if one were to pay the $5.5 million, and then sell, there would be an instant profit because of the land value.

Two things are clear: One, there is no question about the demand. Crowded local course conditions have been well-documented.

Two, the Columbia Association has spent $775,203 in surveys and permittings.

Paul Amico, speaking for CBC, said: "If you use population figures and numbers of rounds played, the average was about 1.3 rounds per resident in 1970. By 1989, the figure was up to 1.9 rounds actually played.

"Figuring there are nearly 75,000 residents in Columbia, that translates to 140,000 rounds played. If Hobbit's Glen handles 50,000, that means 90,000 are unaccommodated -- going elsewhere, for instance -- and increasing the load on some other facility."

Although a Columbia and Howard County question, the ramifications spill over into Baltimore County and Baltimore City and all of the area golf facilities.

Even for non-golfers, the fact the land is free (and a profit on selling available at any time) makes the cost of construction seem a good idea from a business standpoint. And there's the thought that since three-quarters of a million dollars have been -- spent, why don't they go ahead and finish the job? At least that way, there might be a chance to recoup some of that money.

There's no question about it from a golfing standpoint. Each new facility helps ease overcrowding and perhaps stimulates more play.

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