It takes an Olympic village? Smith Farm: Howard County recreation chief goofed in proposing huge coliseum there.

December 18, 1997

GIVE JEFFREY BOURNE a medal for imagination, at least, for proposing a 75,000-seat coliseum ringed by an Olympic village on farmland that preservationists and policy-makers are striving to keep green. As director of Howard County's Department of Recreation and Parks, Mr. Bourne floated the idea of building a "Millennium Park" to serve the 2012 Summer Olympiad being sought by Baltimore and Washington.

County Executive Charles I. Ecker didn't react well, to put it mildly. Not only did he instantly reject the idea of a major stadium on the Smith Farm in east Columbia, he canned Mr. Bourne. Talk about the agony of defeat.

Directors serve at the pleasure of the county executive. Mr. Ecker apparently was tired of learning through the media of major pronouncements from his recreation director. Forcing Mr. Bourne to resign seemed unduly harsh, based on what is known, but we can't quibble with the opinion that the Olympic proposal clashed with the notion of spending millions of public dollars to protect Smith Farm.

The land belonged to Elizabeth "Nancy" Smith, who died last February without a will. She never married and had no children. Two heirs will decide the fate of the land.

As Columbia grew and encircled Ms. Smith's land, she refused )) to sell to the Rouse Co. or other developers. She never even cashed a $149,000 check the state sent her when it took part of her property to build Route 175.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening has directed state officials to identify $4 million that could be used toward purchasing this rare green space in the middle of the Baltimore-Washington corridor. The non-profit Soccer Association of Columbia has offered to kick in another $1 million. A modest facility for youth and community sports, another proposal floated, would be better than a behemoth that could become a white elephant.

Ms. Smith's heirs, who will decide, are aware of their relative's steadfast opposition to development. Preservationists hope the woman's wishes are honored.

The state and county must make a financial commitment to save at least a substantial piece of this property, but only for sensible uses. If there is any saving grace to the Olympic idea, it's that it helped sharpen the focus on what should not be done with Smith Farm.

Pub Date: 12/18/97

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