RV Lot Land Swap Raises Questions
The Columbia Association's deal with the Rouse Co. over land for a recreational vehicle storage lot may stand as one of the most shameful episodes in Columbia's history. It gives the people of Columbia yet another compelling reason to change the way Columbia is governed.
In a nutshell, the deal would require CA to pay $1 million to the Rouse Co. for land that is actually worth much less. There are indications that hazardous wastes may be on or adjacent to this marginal piece of property, which the Rouse Co. hasn't been able to sell to anybody else. In return for CA overpaying for the property and taking over this potential liability, the Rouse Co. says it would make the Snowden Square commercial area and a nearby potential residential development subject to the CA tax.
On the surface, it sounds like the deal would at least bring some tax money to CA that it wouldn't have otherwise. But, one very troubling question is why isn't Snowden Square already paying CA taxes? After all, Snowden Square is built on land that was originally subject to the CA tax. Yes, in the early years of Columbia, the Rouse Co. apparently worked out a deal to waive the tax on the property in order to coax General Electric to locate in Columbia. Well folks, GE came, and several years later, GE left. Ever since, the condition for exempting the former GE property from CA taxes has not existed, so why haven't the new property owners been paying CA taxes? By all rights, the Rouse Co. owes the people of Columbia back taxes for the property since the year GE left.
And as far as the residential property is concerned, why isn't the developer of Columbia routinely placing that property under the CA tax? Why must that property be held hostage to a questionable land deal?
Some people question whether CA should build a recreational vehicle parking lot at all. Even if such a lot could be justified, common sense points to selecting land that is not fraught with potential problems and paying only what the land is really worth. The Rouse Co. would do well to donate a couple of acres at a better location for this purpose, since it wrote the covenants that restrict parking recreational vehicles at residences in the first place. And, the owners of Snowden Square and the nearby residential area need to immediately start paying the CA tax, with no strings attached.
However, common sense is unlikely to prevail. I predict that the Rouse Co. and CA will manufacture some gibberish to justify their positions, the auditor that CA has hired will simply tell them what they want to hear, and they will approve the deal, as bad as it stinks. And, the people of Columbia will look at all of this and then render their own judgment in a very profound way.
The writer is president of the Alliance for a Better Columbia.
I would like to take this opportunity to share an experience with the local community and take the time to publicly thank our congressman, the Honorable Roscoe Bartlett, and his staff for their diligent efforts in helping our community deal with a small bureaucratic nightmare.
In March 1993, our community was established in Howard County, the Worthington Reserve subdivision in Ellicott City. Prior to the neighborhood being developed, each homeowner was to have a personal mailbox. However, the U.S. Postal Service in a situation that is not clear to this day, installed three cluster mailboxes to service 50 single-family homes.
The neighborhood, in an effort to get mailboxes with curbside service, got together and wrote the post office, met with the local postmaster, submitted a petition to the Postal Service, and wrote letters to the Postal Service headquarters in Washington. For all of our efforts, we were rejected on a quarterly basis by the Postal Service.
We then approached Congressman Bartlett with our situation. Congressman Bartlett listened to our concerns and then canvassed our neighborhood to review the matter firsthand. The congressman spoke with some of the residents of the neighborhood and then contacted the "right people" at the Postal Service. We had several meetings with representatives of the Postal Service and Congressman Bartlett attended these meetings, some of which were early in the morning. There were also phone calls that were late at night. Based on his efforts, we were able to get personal mailboxes with curb line service from the Postal Service.