Now, Robin Leach Can Visit Columbia!


September 19, 1993|By KEVIN THOMAS

Well, it's time to move on up.

I'm putting the "For Sale" sign out front, collecting cardboard boxes and setting aside those things that need to go out for the garage sale.

I've got my eyes on a $1 million manse -- that's mansion for the uninformed -- that's going to be the latest addition to the housing landscape in Columbia.

The Rouse Co. is planning an upscale -- emphasis on the "up" -- housing development on a 61-acre parcel flanked by the Hobbit's Glen Golf Course and the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area. About 30 homes will be built on lots of up to three acres, with selling prices from $500,000 to $1 million.

They're calling it Forest Glen.

Got a nice ring to it, right?

Alton J. Scavo, a vice president at the Rouse Co., says Forest Glen should appeal to Columbia residents who have become, as he puts it, "very successful."

Having been blessed with the bounties of this life, I figure Mr. Scavo is speaking to moi.

As a matter of fact, for sometime now I've envisioned myself as lord of a small estate, circular driveway out front, swimming pool and tennis court out back.

Good things come to those who deserve it. Or something like that.

Actually, the truth be told, I'm not moving. And I certainly can't afford to live in a place like Forest Glen. This is but a delicious fantasy on my part.

But isn't that what it's all about, selling fantasies to people?

Forest Glen is selling fantasies to people who have "arrived." Luxury homes on three-acre lots have existed in Howard County for years, but not in Columbia. So in a sense, with Forest Glen, the whole city has arrived.

As part of the package, Forest Glen is selling prestige and seclusion.

Says Ken Steil, president-elect of the Howard County Association of Realtors, "It's going to be Columbia, but it's not."

Mr. Steil says the existing properties in Columbia lack the privacy and space necessary for backyard swimming pools.

I say let's not stand in the way of progress. But then I've already confessed to being close to delusional about such things.

Truthfully, I've occasionally been critical of Columbia for not having enough homes at the lower end of the market, which was part of the city's original plan when it was carved from farmlands a quarter-century ago. It would be easy now to say that Columbia has abandoned all its ideals by having a community such as Forest Glen.

Mr. Scavo, however, contends that criticizing Columbia for not having enough low-income housing is unfair.

It ignores the federal and state governments' retreat from low-income and affordable housing, and it fails to acknowledge that Columbia has, in fact, done a better job of creating diversity than most places in the country.

"Now we are concentrating on a product that is top of the market," he says. And he is right. Columbia villages do have a wide diversity of homes, including subsidized and market-rate apartments, town houses and single family residences.

A majority of its residents are middle to upper-middle class, but the city does better than the county as a whole or than many other jurisdictions in Maryland in providing housing for poor and moderate-income residents.

Most of Columbia's single-family housing is on relatively small lots.

If Forest Glen opens a new chapter, why not? Begrudging the wealthy the kind of living quarters they can afford is a form of reverse snobbery.

I'm actually more inclined to encourage conspicuous consumption on the part of the rich.

It helps keep the economy going, and it sort of levels the playing field between those who have a lot and those who don't. Of course, when the game is over, they still end up with more material possessions than the majority of us.

But there is a hidden benefit in all of this, as Mr. Scavo points out. Because 60 percent of the single-family homes in Columbia are sold to Columbia residents, the majority of homes purchased in Forest Glen will go to residents already living here. They will be "reinvesting" in Columbia, Mr. Scavo says.

That can't be a bad thing.

As the development of Forest Glen gets under way, however, forgive me for occasional lapses into fantasy and twinges of jealousy.

Kevin Thomas is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Howard County.

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