Planning Board delays decision on golf course in Town Center, Wilde Lake COLUMBIA

January 20, 1993|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,Staff Writer

After almost two hours of testimony yesterday, the Howard County Planning Board put off for two weeks its decision on whether to approve an 18-hole golf course on 204 acres in Columbia.

Board members said they needed time to review background information, citizen petitions and environmental reports presented by supporters and critics of the controversial proposal. Some planning board members also said they want to visit the site before making a decision.

The undeveloped property, owned by Howard Research and Development, a subsidiary of the Rouse Co., weaves through the villages of Town Center and Wilde Lake. It is currently designated as open space property, but the zoning for the site would allow a golf course.

Planning Board Chairman William Manning said that when the board reconvenes Feb. 2, no further testimony will be taken. The board, which could approve, deny or require changes to the site development plan, will discuss the proposal and then vote, he said.

That vote will come a month before the March 1 deadline set by the Columbia Council to make its own decision on whether to approve money in its 1993-1994 budget to build the course, called Fairway Hills. The council is now considering whether to build an 18-hole or a nine-hole course.

Meanwhile, a county Department of Planning and Zoning staff report recommends approval of the $5.5 million project with minor changes, including additional soil erosion control devices.

Late last month, the nonprofit Columbia Association, which operates the unincorporated city's recreational facilities at the direction of the Columbia Council, began working on the proposal in February 1991.

The county granted waivers to development restrictions, allowing grading and clearing on land lying within the 100-year flood plain, on steep slope areas and on wetlands and wetland buffer areas. Those waivers are good for one year.

Pam Mack, vice president for community relations for the Columbia Association, said no grading or clearing work could commence until the council approves construction money in the new budget.

Among six Columbia residents testifying at yesterday's hearing was Bernice Kish, the Wilde Lake village manager, who said the village board opposes the project. Several residents of Columbia's Running Brook neighborhood, where some homes abut the golf course site, told the board they oppose the project.

"Resident safety is the primary concern here. Why should we be made to suffer?" said Richard West, a Running Brook resident whose home would back up to a fairway. "To permit their bad design may be a momentary decision for you, but it's a bad design people like me will have to live with for a long time."

Ginger Scott, another Running Brook resident, also testified against the proposal. She presented the board with petitions she said were signed by Running Brook residents opposed to the three proposed fairways in their neighborhood and a map showing which residents approved of the project and which opposed it.

Her testimony focused on concerns about the loss of mature trees and the adverse effect the project might have on the Little Patuxent River, which flows through the proposed site.

James Brazel, supervising environmentalist with the RBA Group, the planning firm hired to design the course, testified that his company firm had taken pains to design the project so that wetlands, woodlands and flood plain areas would be minimally affected, and safety of nearby residents would be ensured.

"This course will in no way be a detriment to the environment," he said.

Evelyn Richardson, a member of the Columbia Council who has been an advocate for the course, presented the board with a letter from Columbia founder James Rouse, noting that his company has considered the land a likely site for a golf course since Columbia's start 25 years ago. But she said Mr. Rouse did not want the letter to be construed as an endorsement of the proposal.

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