The 'I' word in Columbia Howard's planned city: Incorporation may be right someday, but it's a dead idea now.

September 08, 1997

EVERY ONCE in a while -- sometimes it feels like every five minutes -- somebody floats the idea of incorporating the unincorporated, planned city of Columbia. Eventually, incorporation could be the right move for a community with enough population to displace Rockville as Maryland's second-largest city, after Baltimore. The time, however, has not yet arrived.

Appeal for the idea lingers because the current system has its flaws. But supporters have yet to make a convincing case that a city of Columbia would have fewer problems than the community of Columbia. They have yet to demonstrate how a separate police department would improve public safety in a place that is relatively safe, and whether adding a mayor and city council would benefit taxpayers.

With a budget of $49 million to serve the recreational needs of 85,000 residents, Columbia's current form of governance does strain the notion of your typical homeowner association.

But aside from rigged bidding procedures under the auspices of the Columbia Association, residents do not seem displeased with the way it is being run. Incorporation activist Neil Noble said the community was indifferent to the idea of turning Columbia into a planned city when he announced that his Columbia Municipal League was disbanding 10 months ago. Little has changed since.

But Columbia Council member Chuck Rees is hoisting the incorporation flag again. He says the idea should be reconsidered, along with other suggestions from the council about what the town should become. (Among the ideas are to carve a horse trail from one end of Columbia to the other; commission more sculptures and artwork, and allow residents use of Columbia Association swimming pools free.)

Mr. Rees wants the Columbia Council to fund the completion of a study to determine whether incorporation is feasible. The Columbia Municipal League commissioned such a study, but abandoned it when it did not like the preliminary findings.

If and when the need comes to change the management of Columbia, proponents of incorporation will not have to beg for support. Residents will cast aside their indifference and demand change. For now, though, this horse is dead and has been beaten enough.

Pub Date: 9/08/97

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