Drawing the Line at a Soccer Protest

COMMENT

June 19, 1994|By KEVIN THOMAS

If you want to see how far a human being will go in defense of his own self-interest, do something that impacts negatively on his property value.

Nothing is quite so rabid as a person settled comfortably onto his quarter-acre, when suddenly a threat appears on the horizon.

It's downright primal. The adrenalin starts pumping. All rational thought is put aside. Battle gear is donned. It's off to war. How else do you explain the response of several Howard County residents who live near the site where a youth soccer complex is being proposed?

Let's face it, Scrooge lives. And he owns land in Columbia.

Several residents from the Hickory Hollow Community Association recently expressed their strong reservations about the soccer complex, which would sit on several acres at Howard Community College in Columbia.

The residents, who live in a nearby townhouse development off Hickory Ridge Road, told HCC's Board of Trustees last week that they were concerned about the amount of traffic the complex, with its six soccer fields and stands for spectators, would generate.

While one resident said the community felt the complex was "inappropriate at this time," it was unclear how widespread the opposition really is.

Still, the situation has all the earmarks of another no-growth campaign in the making. Admittedly, such opposition is more typically directed at a proposed jail or a landfill or even a Wal-Mart.

But in Columbia, where aesthetics have been elevated to mythical heights and the vagaries of residents are allowed full expression, it doesn't take much to get the tomahawks flying.

There is really a sense of entitlement at work here.

It's as if upon arriving in Columbia, every resident claws his way to the highest point on his little plot of land and, like Scarlett O'Hara, proclaims: "As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again!"

Some of this is understandable. A home, particularly in Columbia, can be an expensive proposition. The tacit understanding among Columbia residents is that when they buy a house, they're buying more than shelter. They're buying an environment; good schools, open space and lots of other amenities.

Also, the average Columbia resident, highly educated if not a little spoiled, knows full well how to make the wheels of officialdom turn in his favor.

I've been known to take up a cause or two rooted in selfishness myself.

It may be that we are all really victims of our time.

It seems that so much is slipping away these days. The nice home and bright future we all thought we would have isn't so easily secured. And once secured, it seems harder and harder to hold on to.

Of course, it's a sure sign of nauseating self-pity that Columbia residents sit in the midst of an embarrassment of riches, complaining about not having enough. But, as I've said, I've been seduced this way myself.

Still, I have to take exception to the apparent opposition brewing over the HCC soccer fields.

If there's a line to be drawn between expressing reasonable concern and irrational self-protectionism, it should be drawn with children.

A top-notch soccer facility is a natural for Columbia, where the sport enjoys unprecedented popularity among the city's youth.

The Columbia Soccer Association, which has struggled long to create such a facility, should be commended for its effort.

This is a project long overdue.

Of course, the trustees at HCC should be mindful of the traffic, noise and litter problems that a complex might generate, and all reasonable steps should be taken to address those concerns.

But the residents of Hickory Ridge should avoid the temptation to want to scuttle this project.

HCC's trustees undoubtedly want good relations with its neighbors.

But they must also consider the larger community that doesn't sit directly on its borders. In doing so, they cannot be guided by narrow fears about property values and traffic flows.

As educators, they have to consider the thousands of children who will benefit from a complex in ways we will never be able to measure.

We should all consider that the next time we take up arms in defense of ourselves.

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

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