River Hill to get seat on Columbia Council Final village gets voting privileges

April 22, 1993|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff Writer

If the weather is pleasant Saturday, Columbia Council candidate David W. Berson figures he'll take his dogs for a walk around the neighborhood and, if he's lucky, turn out half of River Hill village to vote at his next-door neighbor's house.

"In 15 minutes, I could cover everyone by foot," said Mr. Berson, a nonvoting council member since last fall from River Hill, Columbia's 10th and final village.

This election will put River Hill on Columbia's political map and will afford Mr. Berson, who has no challengers, voting privileges on the 10-member council rather than the mere power of suggestion.

River Hill, which has between 100 and 150 houses in one looping neighborhood off Trotter Road, held a hurried election last fall to establish a village board to monitor the county's proposed changes to Trotter Road. But Saturday will mark the first time the village will vote to elect a board for a two-year term and a voting council member.

Since River Hill doesn't have a community meeting center, the election will take place in the Curtin residence garage, next door to Mr. Berson's house.

"We're kind of running it by the seat of our pants," said Kerrin Curtin, who, along with Mr. Berson's wife, Anne Bradley, has prepared ballots and distributed election fliers.

Mr. Berson said the village had offers to have its election at other village centers but declined. "The big advantage to having it here is that each person can walk," he said.

The west Columbia village will grow much bigger -- and fast. Its population is projected to grow from 357 at the end of 1992 to more than 1,700 in 1994, according to the Rouse Co., River Hill's developer. Construction projects surround thecompleted houses in the Pheasant Ridge neighborhood, which backs up to the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area. The amenities of other Columbia villages -- shopping and community centers, pools, paths and tot lots -- are still on the drawing board.

"It's exciting to think about being a pioneer in the area," said Mr. Berson. "I think the community is very close because of that."

Village board candidate Dina Michels said being a resident of a new community has inspired her to become involved. Her husband, Peter Engel, served as River Hill's first board chairman, but he decided not to run again.

"With so much of the community still being developed, the board has a unique opportunity to participate in the development process and influence it," Ms. Michels said.

The village board's top priorities are getting a tot lot built, addressing traffic concerns, guarding against illegal hunting in the environmental area and establishing an architectural committee, Mr. Engel said.

Mr. Berson said one of his top priorities will be to ensure that the council doesn't "overlook" River Hill and that the village receives resources to "actively participate in what Columbia is."

"I want to make sure the development of the main part of River Hill is done expeditiously and with good planning," he said.

Mr. Berson, 38, the chief economist at the Federal National Mortgage Association, will bring expertise to the council. He advises Fannie Mae's chairman and operating committee about the economy.

The council acts as a board of directors for the association, which operates recreational and community facilities and maintains property. Several council members and residents have questioned the Columbia Association's finances and its annual property charge.

Mr. Berson said he's noticed two salient characteristics about the Columbia Council during his apprenticeship -- one positive and one negative. All council members "are very committed to making Columbia a better place," he said. But there's "far more divisiveness and friction than there should be."

"The good point far outweighs the bad," he said. "One thing I'd like to accomplish is to reduce the polarization on certain issues."

The most divisive issue has been striking a balance between those who want to reduce the association's spending and the property assessment, and those who want Columbia to continue offering a "significant amount of service," Mr. Berson said.

"It's an issue that's not going to go away any time soon and will only get worse," he said. "We need ideas that meet demands, but at the lowest possible cost, and maybe we can reduce rates."

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