'Slum' trend feared in Harper's Choice

January 25, 1995|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Sun Staff Writer

Harper's Choice Village neighborhoods are falling into disrepair despite strict maintenance guidelines, a trend that already is leading to declining property values in Columbia's second-oldest village, several residents told elected representatives last night.

"It's beginning to look like a slum," 25-year Columbia resident Amelia Rogers told county and Columbia Council officials at a town meeting in Harper's Choice last night. She noted that streets aren't clean and many residents are failing to fix broken lampposts and maintain their properties.

About 75 residents attended the meeting at which County Executive Charles I. Ecker, County Councilwoman Mary Lorsung and Columbia Council Chairwoman Karen Kuecker presented their visions for the future.

Residents' questions ranged from neighborhood issues, such as street lighting, sidewalks and Harper's Choice Village shopping center improvements to countywide concerns, such as taxes, education and economic growth.

They also asked about the Columbia Council's position on incorporating Columbia as a city and reforming the town's property-based voting rights policy to allow "one person, one vote." In an interview, Ms. Rogers said elderly residents in Harper's Choice and newcomers aren't taking the same pride in their properties evident in the village's earlier years. "I can really see the change," she said.

Another resident said the "quality of life is going down" as well and charged that landlords and rental property managers have been lax in maintaining their properties.

James T. Edmonds, a Harper's Choice Village board member, said declining property values are a "double-edged sword," leading possibly to reduced taxes but also to lower resale prices for homes. He asked whether falling values could prompt a county property tax increase.

"I'm not recommending any property tax or [income] tax increase," Mr. Ecker responded, adding that his pledge depends on state and federal actions.

Mr. Ecker said Maryland hasn't overcome the recession and predicted a tight county budget, with revenue sluggish from both property and income taxes.

"The decade of the '90s will be tightening belts and making do," he said. "This year will be the worst fiscal year we've had."

Ms. Lorsung emphasized improving the county's transportation system and finding creative ways to maintain quality schools with more limited resources.

Ms. Kuecker said the nonprofit Columbia Association (CA) will focus on reinvesting in recreational and community facilities, making programs accessible to more people and broadening options for growing population segments, such as the elderly.

She said the Columbia Council -- CA's elected board of directors -- is "not ready" to take a position on whether Columbia should be incorporated. A citizens group is running a campaign to put the issue on the ballot as a referendum.

Ms. Kuecker said the council needs more information on how a Columbia city government would work, including its powers and taxation authority.

"We're still in the dark on the whole thing," she said. "There's not enough hard data on how it would affect you, me and our pocketbooks."

She added that the council has scheduled three symposiums with guest speakers in March and April to discuss advantages and disadvantages of incorporation.

The Columbia Council sets policy and the budget for CA, which runs Columbia's services and recreational facilities and maintains parkland.

Harper's Choice resident Nicki Stenzler, who described herself as a "very satisfied 22-year resident," said she wants CA to become more efficient and limit its scope to parks and recreation issues. For example, she said, CA shouldn't be involved in developing a recreational vehicle storage facility, a proposed $1.4 million project in the fiscal 1996 budget.

"I'd like to look forward to the [property] assessment going down and Package Plan [recreational membership rates] going down," she said.

She also said the council should heed advice from residents urging CA to reduce costs and increase efficiency and accountability, adding that more residents support those goals than the council might expect.

Columbia Management is expected to meet with the Village Board Feb. 7 to discuss improvements.

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