Bill targets Columbia's woodlands

March 15, 1994|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Sun Staff Writer

A state legislative committee will attempt to determine today whether Columbia's woodlands need protection.

raflead,1 To Charlie Scott, a University of Maryland natural resources management student, the answer is they do.

Not that he has much quarrel with the way the community, which started in the mid-1960s, has treated its trees so far.

Mr. Scott, a legislative aide to Del. Martin G. Madden, wants to ensure that the vision of Columbia's founder, James Rouse, "is not lost in the future."

To that end, Mr. Madden, a Republican from District 13B, is sponsoring an amendment to the state's Forest Conservation Act that would remove an exemption for planned unit developments of more than 10,000 acres. At 14,000 acres, Columbia is the only such development in Maryland.

Columbia was exempted from the 3-year-old conservation act under the assumption that requirements for open space in its original plans would be sufficient.

Members of the House Environmental Matters Committee will hear testimony on the bill today at 1 p.m. in Room 160 of the Lowe House Office Building, Bladen Street and Rowe Boulevard.

The prospect of losing the exemption and being required to preserve 15 percent of each remaining undeveloped parcel for forest is being taken very seriously by Alton J. Scavo, Rouse Co. vice president and director of Columbia's development.

"Day one, we had requirements for builders . . . that today still exceed requirements for Howard County and adjacent jurisdictions," Mr. Scavo said.

"There have been major parts of Columbia that have been saved," and even made greener than before Columbia was developed, he said. Among those sites is the 1,100-acre Middle Patuxent Environmental Area, which the company plans to turn over to the county for a park.

"Just go through Wilde Lake. Wilde Lake was not a heavy forest. Most of it was agricultural, cleared," Mr. Scavo said of the village that's part of Columbia. "The majority of Owen Brown was unwooded, by a long shot, and yet today most of the village is wooded."

Columbia already has 37 percent of its land designated as open space, and to require additional acreage would be punitive for a developer that has done more for forest preservation than most, Mr. Scavo said.

Most of that open space already has been dedicated to the Columbia Association, the nonprofit organization that runs Columbia. Other sites, including flood plain areas, parkland and other public areas, were deeded to county government early in Columbia's development. However, such sites would not be counted under the conservation act, Mr. Scavo said.

"That may be OK for the environmentalists, but for someone who's already set aside 37 percent open space, an additional 5 percent could very well be the difference between success and failure," Mr. Scavo said.

Mr. Scott said his research shows that the Rouse Co. would not be severely affected by the legislation and the company might even be allowed to count some acreage that already has been designated as open space.

In one project in Wilde Lake village, Mr. Scott points out that the Columbia Association is building a golf course next to a forest area along the Little Patuxent River. Although it is too late to save land cleared by the Fairway Hills Golf Course, bringing Columbia under forest conservation rules would protect similar woodland sites in the future, he said.

Columbia Association spokeswoman Pam Mack said she had not seen the legislation, but thought it probably would add a layer of expensive engineering work to the already cumbersome process of building pathways and tot lots.

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