State seeks more golf course details Alternative sites 'the big question'

July 18, 1993|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff Writer

State officials already have reviewed a wealth of information on the planned Fairway Hills Golf Course. Now they want more from the Columbia Association to justify the site selection.

"We asked CA to provide more detail on alternative sites. That seems to be the big question," said Rebecca Quinn, hearing officer for the Water Resources Administration.

Residents of Columbia's Running Brook neighborhood, through which the course would run, and others opposed to the project have aimed efforts at convincing the administration that potential environmental impacts on the Little Patuxent River and surroundings outweigh the benefits of building the course at the site.

Golf course advocates, who want a second Columbia course to alleviate overcrowding at Hobbit's Glen Golf Course, say the project has been planned in an environmentally sensitive way and that opponents' concerns are exaggerated.

Both groups have flooded the administration with letters and documents since the June 17 hearing.

The water resource permits are among the final hurdles CA must clear before construction can begin.

The agency is obligated to require applicants to show that alternative sites for a project that would have less environmental impacts would not be feasible.

In a response dated Monday, CA construction manager Dennis Mattey wrote that the Fairway Hills site -- formerly the Allview Golf Course -- "has always been contemplated for use as a golf course."

He added that no other property large enough for an 18-hole course was available in Columbia during the mid-1980s and early 1990s -- periods that councils have considered the project.

The council sets policy and the budget for CA.

Options for a shorter course have been studied, "but only the 18-hole course satisfied the community need," Mr. Mattey wrote.

The course design has been altered over the years to lessen impacts to wetlands, wrote Mr. Mattey. However, "financial considerations constrain the project to either a regulation or tournament 18-hole course. A smaller project would fail."

Opponents contend that a nine-hole course built on higher ground east of the river would have less environmental impact.

The council considered the alternative, but voted instead to spend $5.2 million to build an 18-hole course.

The 204-acre course is planned to run through the villages of Dorsey's Search, Town Center and Wilde Lake, on the southwest side of the junction of Route 108 and Columbia Road just west of Route 29. It would be bisected by the river.

Ms. Quinn said the state agency generally doesn't "redefine" a project, but will question why alternative sites with less impacts on wetlands wouldn't satisfy a project's purpose. Then the issue becomes subjective, she said.

"We don't have any hard criteria to determine when an alternative site is economically feasible or not," she said.

The agency is considering applications to withdraw water from the river, perform construction work in the river's flood plain and disturb about three acres of nontidal wetlands, which drain to the river.

CA has applied for permits to permanently destroy 350 square feet of "scrub-shrub" wetland; remove trees on 1.57 acres of forested wetland, and on another 1.2 acres within a 25-foot wetland buffer; and grade two-thirds of an acre within that buffer. Wetlands are marshes, bogs, woods and swampy areas that act as natural filters for pollutants.

Council member Norma L. Rose of Wilde Lake village wrote to the state urging the agency to deny the permits if reviewers find "any potential harm whatsoever.

The majority of people in this community do not believe there is a need sufficient to justify even a slight degradation to our water resources."

Wilde Lake village resident Charles M. Cullen Jr. echoed Ms. Rose's sentiment.

"A golf course does not justify the sacrifices that must be made," he wrote.

Council members Mike Rethman of Hickory Ridge village and Evelyn Richardson of Dorsey's Search village wrote in support of the project. Mr. Rethman said he is discouraged by "the cavalcade of half-truths and self-serving distortions promulgated" by opponents who live near the planned course.

Harper's Choice village resident Darlind J. Davis, who served on the Fairway Hills planning committee, said the group "has been vigilant in the protection of the environment, including the wetlands."

The site contains 107.5 acres of the river's flood plain -- about half the property -- and about 37 acres of wetlands, according to the RBA Group, the project engineer.

"Given the immense environmental constraints in environmentally sensitive areas throughout the property, the disturbances are minimal," said RBA environmental specialist James Brazel.

Opponents also have criticized CA for dropping an investigation within two months of a developer's proposal to form a partnership with CA and the county to build and operate a golf course on the Carroll property, adjoining Columbia north of Harper's Choice. CA "gave up its investigation only after it became clear that owner requirements could not be satisfied reasonably," Mr. Mattey wrote.

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