Staying the (Golf) Course

June 28, 1994

In a society as litigious as ours, it can take a strong stomach not to fold under threat of legal challenge, no matter how groundless and irrational the threat. The Columbia Council faces just such a quandary regarding its decision to construct the 204-acre Fairway Hills Golf Course.

The Wilde Lake village board has asked the council to halt work on the 18-hole course while a resident's appeal is heard before a state administrative law judge.

The village board, which has long opposed the course, is warning the council that Columbians could lose money if work continues and the judge rules in the complainant's favor.

That may be true. But it is a risk the council, which manages recreational facilities in Columbia, should take.

Barring information to the contrary, nothing currently suggests that the Columbia Association may have erred or failed to follow necessary procedures in obtaining state and local permits to build the course.

Environmental impact, including the effect that the course would have on wetlands, was considered and ameliorated where warranted. The projectwas pursued as one for which the demand was deemed present and the benefits to the community were assured.

There will always be those who feel the state's environmental regulations should be ever stronger. Wilde Lake resident Virginia H. Scott's challenge to an environmental permit that the state Department of Natural Resources granted to the association strikes us as just such a belated attempt at regulatory second-guessing. It appears unlikely to result in a ruling in Ms. Scott's favor.

Any recriminations on the part of the Columbia Council will betray a political miscalculation, not a legal error. Approving the golf course for a community whose village board did not want it invited ongoing opposition. Steps already taken to address community concerns have been extensive.

But no concessions will be enough for those whose goal it is to stop the facility from being built. The council is now in the position of having to decide whether it will stick to its word. To back off now would show a lack of fortitude that will embolden all sorts of critics to mount frivolous legal challenges to achieve political goals.

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