How do you spell relief? No CPRA? Howard County: Signs play on desire to be near, but not pay for, Columbia's amenities.

April 15, 1997

COLUMBIA RESIDENTS have good reason to be miffed over a tactic of local real estate agents to sell properties just beyond the border of the planned community. The "No CPRA" phrase in ads and on for-sale signs is a code to prospective homebuyers that they can live near Columbia and freeload off its amenities.

Truth be told, there is nothing false about the advertising. Anyone can buy a home on the outskirts of town and still enjoy Columbia's parks, bike paths and lakes, which are maintained by liens that Columbia residents pay in addition to their Howard County taxes.

The CPRA stands for Columbia Park and Recreation Association, whose members pay a yearly fee based on the value of their homes.

The owner of a $180,000 home in the town would pay $657 a year to the Columbia Association.

It is sport for outsiders to mock Columbia's features. Yet real estate agents at times work both sides of the fence, emphasizing to buyers looking inside the city of lien-payer discounts for the use of swimming pools, athletic clubs and an ice rink. Outsiders pay about twice as much to use the facilities.

Of course, agents feel no compunction to stop using the "No CPRA" selling proposition; more compelling is the bottom line. The simple acronym probably elicits as many double-takes from homebuyers as mentions of "gas heat," and that's exactly what agents seek. So expect the practice to continue, despite letters of protest from Columbia Council representatives to stop it.

Columbians' frustrations sound ironically familiar. Baltimore and other metropolitan areas have long pointed out that many of the families they lose to the counties return to enjoy the urban culture and entertainment without contributing to city treasuries.

In Columbia, the discussion must continue: Do residents benefit from the CPRA as much as outsiders? The Columbia Association's growth has caused it to depend heavily on recreational fees from outsiders. Pricing non-residents out of the market could impact facilities for residents, too.

The issue is one more reason Columbians should care about elections for eight council seats that take place Saturday.

Pub Date: 4/15/97

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