Yoga-loving 'Visionary' Is Behind Drive to Incorporate Columbia

October 16, 1994|By ADAM SACHS

Every morning, James V. Clark arises at 3:30 a.m. and goes to the patio of his Columbia home to gaze at the stars and meditate. "It focuses me for the day," he says.

These days, Mr. Clark, 70, is switching focus from his management consulting firm to leading a movement to incorporate Columbia -- a drive to turn the 27-year-old planned community into Maryland's second largest city.

Columbia "has been good to me and my family, and I feel a great need to give something of significance back," says the 23-year resident of the new town.

Opponents of turning Columbia into a city often cast those working on the incorporation drive as anti-authoritarian grumblers. But Mr. Clark, a man of wide-ranging interests and experience, considers himself a "visionary."

He has advanced degrees in drama and educational administration, attended law school and has worked as a high-school teacher, trash hauler, prison instructor and public relations director for the University of California system. He came to this region to serve as dean of Antioch University's Graduate School of Education in 1972.

But in recent years, Mr. Clark says, spiritual pursuits have been his passion. He practices yoga and ventures monthly to the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York to meditate.

In 1992, he went on a one-month mission, sponsored by the Church of the Savior, to work on construction projects in Kenya, Ethiopia, India and Thailand. "After that trip, I came back thinking I had enough money," he says.

Mr. Clark's Wilde Lake village home is stocked with reflections of his varied life: photos of his yoga guru and of Mother Theresa, whom he met in India; books on business, philosophy and religion; incense sticks; computer equipment and technical reports, and a large map of Howard County's voting precincts.

He says he became more interested in Columbia affairs in 1992 after a dispute involving late-night rowdiness at a park adjacent to his home. The village board that governs his area of Columbia worked against him, he says.

And right afterward, he received a citation for alleged violations of his village's architectural covenants. "That experience drew me out of my cocoon," he says.

It perhaps was only natural that he then would became active in the Alliance for a Better Columbia, a 7-year-old citizen advocacy group that helped launch the incorporation drive.

To bring the incorporation question to a vote, Mr. Clark's group must collect roughly 10,000 signatures, 25 percent of Columbia's registered voters. The Howard County Council then would have to approve putting a referendum on the ballot.

At issue is whether the Columbia Association (CA) -- the private, nonprofit agency formed by developer James W. Rouse to provide services to the new town and collect an annual levy on property owners -- will remain in charge of Columbia.

Mr. Clark and others favoring incorporation believe Columbia, with 80,000 residents, has outgrown CA, which is essentially a huge homeowners association. The association's supporters contend it is uniquely structured to efficiently manage Columbia.

In a two-hour interview with The Sun last week at his home, Mr. Clark talked about the incorporation movement. Here is an edited version of that conversation:

L Q: What do you hope to accomplish by incorporating Columbia?

A: I say this with great respect to Jim Rouse . . . we need to enrich this town, take another giant step toward making this a modern town, heading into the third millennium. . . . The best way to do it is through incorporation, to have an accountable, responsive, elected type of governance.

The Columbia Association has outlived its merits, its relevance. I perceive the Columbia Association as being run essentially by a small, tired clique. . . . They do not have an attorney of their own. . . . They do not have a budgetary arm.

Q: You've collected about 1,400 signatures. How difficult will it be to raise roughly 10,000 signatures, gain approval from the County Council for a referendum and overcome CA's influence?

A: We're in . . . for the long haul. Hopefully we'll get it before November '95 . . . We know it is a difficult task, and we also know it has to have the approval of the Howard County Council and we realize that Howard County by definition favors status quo.

We realize that less than 12 percent of Columbia residents voted in the last Columbia [Association Council and village board] elections. We recognize the lethargy, the inertia that exists here, in part promoted by the Columbia Association.

HTC We expect opposition from the status quo, from the deep-pocket Columbia Association. Just as what happened in [Virginia] where Disney, with millions of dollars, wanted to build that park, the people stood up and were counted. And we expect the same thing to happen here.

Q: Would it be difficult for the County Council to deny a referendum?

A: If they deny it, they'll have to put it in writing -- and hopefully face the wrath of Columbia residents.

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