Golf course fears seem unfounded retroactive OK of changes sought

Neighbors worried about flying balls, invasion of privacy

August 07, 1996|By Erica C. Harrington | Erica C. Harrington,SUN STAFF

As the Columbia Association attempts to get the county's retroactive approval of changes made to the Fairway Hills Golf Course before its contentious opening last year, some nearby residents have found that their fears about flying balls and invasion of privacy have not been realized.

The Howard County Planning Board is being asked to approve "red-line" changes CA made to the original plan for the course. The changes to tee heights, green locations and landscaping were made to the $5.2-million course during construction. If the board does not approve the changes at its Aug. 14 meeting, CA will have to make revisions to the 204-acre course.

The golf course has been a source of acrimony since it was proposed in 1990 and approved in 1993. Neighbors in Wilde Lake and Dorsey's Search villages complained about poor landscaping, course design and environmental protection.

But since the back nine holes opened nearly a year ago and the front nine opened in April, residents have noted few problems.

Although living next to the course has not produced the troubles he and others envisioned, Whetstone Drive resident Don Gensler said the retroactive review of changes to the course shows "a level of arrogance" that does not sit well with residents.

"What developers have to understand is that when they present a plan, the public expects that that's what's going to be built," Gensler said. "There's an impression of arrogance that [CA] can do whatever" it wants.

Director of Planning and Zoning Joseph Rutter said red-line changes are fairly common with golf courses, but course architects usually apply for approval before making physical changes.

"You design a course on paper, but the architect may have a feel for how the fairway is going to play and helps reshape it," Rutter said. CA "worked with the architect to make the changes instead of coming back at each step, so they take the chance that it may not be approved."

Rob Goldman, Columbia Association's director of membership, said he is confident that the changes will be approved.

"We cleared wooded land, so we didn't have a good look at the land at the time the engineer planned it," Goldman said. "We made some small changes for safety, residents, the environment and better golf."

Since the course opened, some residents whose homes line the golf course have not experienced the nuisances of flying golf balls, loss of privacy and environmental damage that they expected.

William Wood, who also lives on Whetstone, said he thought about moving when the Columbia Council first approved plans for Fairway Hills in 1993. Now, he has no problems with the golfers.

"I'd rather have [the golf course] than night baseball or something," said Wood, who has lived in his home for 23 years. "This is the best thing they could have put here. I never thought I'd say that."

Whetstone Drive resident Peter Van Egmond, who was doing yard work in a bright yellow construction worker's hard hat labeled "Peter's Golf Hat," said he only has the occasional golf ball whiz through his back yard.

"We have a few extra hard hats for company," he said. "I like the wide open space -- it looks a lot better than the overgrown field" there before the golf course.

But noise from the course on Saturday mornings and the policy allowing alcohol to be sold in the clubhouse still concern Ten Mills' Road resident Pat Donadio. Residents had opposed the license for beer and wine sales.

"I was hoping they couldn't serve alcohol," she said. "Once the furor dies down, they'll bring alcohol on the course anyway."

Pub Date: 8/07/96

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